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Blues Brothers 40th Anniversary: Old Joliet Prison Back To Life

Patch logo Patch 6/16/2020 John Ferak
a man and a woman standing in a kitchen: The Blues Brothers debuted on June 16, 1980 and hit box offices four days later. © Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock The Blues Brothers debuted on June 16, 1980 and hit box offices four days later.

JOLIET, IL — It was 40 years ago today, June 16, 1980, that a new movie featuring Elwood Blues and Joliet Jake and their mission to save a Catholic orphanage premiered before a small group of suburban politicians and film crew members. The Blues Brothers hit box offices four days later and Joliet's never been the same since.

It was a story like none other: a paroled convict and his brother who were on "A Mission from God." More than 100 vehicles were wrecked in the film, a record at the time. And thanks to the likes of Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and movie director John Landis, Joliet is forever synonymous with a movie that many consider the greatest film ever produced in Illinois.

The movie begins and ends in Joliet, at the Old Joliet Prison, a giant limestone fortress along Collins Street. The Old Joliet Prison was built in 1858. The Illinois Department of Corrections closed the prison in 2002. It remained abandoned and fell into disrepair for the next 15 years until the city of Joliet, volunteers and the Joliet Area Historical Museum teamed up to save it.

Since the fall of 2018, the Joliet Area Historical Museum has operated sight-seeing tours at the Old Joliet Prison for guests. The self-guided tours of the Old Joliet Prison started this month.

The Blues Brothers is one of the most self-explanatory films around, remarked Greg Peerbolte, executive director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum.

(Article continues below this photo.)

John Belushi standing in front of a crowd: The Blues Brothers debuted on June 16, 1980 and hit box offices four days later. Image via Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock © Provided by Patch The Blues Brothers debuted on June 16, 1980 and hit box offices four days later. Image via Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock

"The notion of Joliet Jake reinforced the notion of the synonymous nature of the city of Joliet with the prison," Peerbolte told Joliet Patch on Tuesday. "It just reinforced how iconic the site already was even 40 years ago."

The Blues Brothers "united prisoners, guards, staff, everyone felt like they were special," Peerbolte added. "The pop culture aspect of the prison is something that gets a lot of interest for us and as Dan Aykroyd told me, it was a love letter to Chicago and it was a love letter to the region where it was filmed."

Last fall, Peerbolte met up in Chicago for a private meeting with Aykroyd to talk him about the possibility of returning to the Old Joliet Prison as part of a 40th anniversary celebration. Their private meeting occurred before the new coronavirus outbreak put an end on large public concerts and special events across Illinois. As a result, the pandemic hampered efforts by Joliet's museum to hold an outdoor celebration to mark the movie's anniversary this month.

On Tuesday, Peerbolte told Patch he remains cautiously optimistic the museum can still hold itss annual Great Joliet Prison Break-In on the last weekend in August, as it did in 2019 and 2018. Peerbolte said he continues to monitor the state's response to the new coronavirus as well as the number counts of coronavirus cases, which have been dropping significantly of late.

This month, the museum staff resumed offering daily self-guided walking tours at the Old Joliet Prison grounds, 1125 N. Collins St. There are also haunted history tours on Friday evenings. The self-guided tours start at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. The Old Joliet Prison's self-guided tours are $20 per adult; museum members and Joliet residents, $15 per adult, $10 per child, ages 3-12, children under 3 free, reservation required.

For more information about ticket costs and tours for the Old Joliet Prison, go here.

Visitors enter at Western Gate via Hills Avenue, north side of the prison.

a building next to a fence: This month, the museum staff resumed offering daily self-guided walking tours at the Old Joliet Prison grounds, 1125 N. Collins St. Image via John Ferak/Patch

This month, the museum staff resumed offering daily self-guided walking tours at the Old Joliet Prison grounds, 1125 N. Collins St. Image via John Ferak/Patch
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