It’s a good thing that Essex County officials are considering other options for the old Essex County Jail, a historic landmark, rather than leveling the structure and turning it into a parking lot.
The Civil War-era building has lots of history behind it and, with creative thinking, it could become an asset to the community and an exciting attraction for visitors. There has long been a fascination with prisons by the public that can be substantiated by the popularity of Hollywood films such as “The Great Escape,” “Papillon,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “The Longest Yard,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile,” Runaway Train” and “Midnight Express.” These movies represent just a handful of riveting or entertaining films that have captured audiences throughout the years.
As far as tourist destinations, Alcatraz is a proven mecca for visitors, and some jails-turned-tourist attraction even allow paid “guests” an overnight stay at their facility.
Granted, no one likes the idea of being incarcerated, but the fact is jails and prisons do inspire the public’s imagination. Given the right situation, so too can the old Essex County Jail capitalize on this fascination. If marketed in the proper fashion, it can be a successful endeavor.
P.T. Barnum would have taken advantage of such an opportunity. And Essex County officials should consider the possibilities. Make it happen, and people will come.
One argument that was recently made by county
officials when they were leaning toward tearing down the old jail was that there is a museum across the street. That logic does not work in this case, as the old jail is a full-scale, real deal. It is an attraction unto itself, while the museum across the street has multiple exhibits and attractions.
Another problem mentioned was the upkeep of the building. With the right type of planing and investing, there would be a payoff. The people of Essex County deserve having its representatives at least explore viable options with what should be considered a resource.
It’s a fact that people love history.
A plan should be considered to at least turn the jail into a historic site with tours; then, if that works, continue to develop new ways to take advantage of it as a tourist attraction. Perhaps create a section where guests may rent a party room and special events can be scheduled for Halloween. When another prison movie hits the theater, it can be previewed at the jail. All it takes is creative
There’s still plenty of negotiations and discussions to be made before a final decision is made on the fate of the old jail. But all the possibilities would be given a death sentence if a choice is made to tear the building down. It would be nice to someday talk about how the Essex County Jail made its own Great Escape from the executioner’s grasp.