Columns

Hosey: New lease on life for old county courthouse

It might seem an impossibly long time to wait, but it’s actually less than 14 years and will be here before you know it.

By then, at some point near the end of 2035, the former Will County Courthouse will have been shuttered for more than 15 years, which is a sufficient amount of time for it to deteriorate, if the Old Joliet Prison on Collins Street is any sort of measuring stick.

The state closed down the prison in 2002 and in the ensuing 15 or so years vandals and arsonists tore the place up, breaking some things and defacing others and setting fires throughout the abandoned penitentiary.

Once the place was practically falling down, the city stepped in and took out a free five-year lease on it. This cleared the way to pay $1 million in police and public works overtime in the first year and a half, and there’s nothing to stop the city from doing the same thing with the courthouse.

will county, government, courthouse

Right now, the county board plans on tearing the courthouse down but can’t figure out how much that’s going to cost when it’s all said and done.

Not that it matters, as it makes no sense. The only way to explain how the county board would agree to spend anything at all on demolishing the courthouse is the money isn’t coming out of their pockets. Over the course of time, the building will come down on its own, and with the help of vandals, who are already lending a hand, it will happen all the faster.

But why should the courthouse, a structure that is more than 50 years old and surely more historic than the supposedly Historic Casseday Mansion, which the city ransomed at the price of potentially rampant gas station gambling, have to come down at all?

Joliet's historic Casseday mansion

No, instead of razing the courthouse, the better thing to do is let the city lease it from the county, for free of course, so its workers can rake in all that overtime.

Not that city workers would be the only ones to benefit. No, the courthouse will provide something for the rest of us as well, in the form of entertainment, at a reasonable price, of course.

The city and the museum could team up to provide guided tours of the courthouse for, let’s say just $30 a head. And for a modest increase, maybe another $10 or so, they can run delightfully frightful haunted history tours, highlighting all the horrific episodes that took place there over the years.

The tour guide could point out the hallway where disgraced attorney Robert Gold-Smith viciously attacked his wife after a hearing apparently didn’t go the way he had hoped. And then up to the fourth floor where wife-killing cop Drew Peterson stood trial for murdering the third of his four wives, Kathleen Savio, at the same time creepy former private eye Christopher Vaughn was tried for the brutal murders of his own wife and three children.

This 2009 sketch of Bolingbrook police officer Drew Peterson by courtroom artist Carol Renaud is seen at her Chicago home on Thursday. Artists have drawn legal proceedings since the Salem witch trials to the recent corruption trial of impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but their ranks are thinning as states lift courtroom camera bans.

This can work for the city and the museum, as they have proven they know how to profit off the misery of others.

While they’re at it, they might as well go all the way and set up a full-fledged haunted house somewhere in the building. You can never have too many of those.

• Joe Hosey is the editor of The Herald-News. You can reach him at 815-280-4094, at jhosey@shawmedia.com or on Twitter @JoeHosey.

Joseph Hosey

Joseph Hosey

Joe Hosey became editor of The Herald-News in 2018. As a reporter, he covered the disappearance of Stacy Peterson and criminal investigation of her husband, former Bolingbrook police Sgt. Drew Peterson. He was the 2015 Illinois Journalist of the Year and 2014 National Press Club John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award winner.