EXACTLY what unfolded behind J Ward's old bluestone walls has long fascinated people across the state. Many knew the notorious reputation as the house for the criminally insane but whatever happened behind close doors firmly remained shut off.
Unlocking this past has remained a popular intrigue drawing people to the iconic building, hauntingly perched overlooking Ararat for more than a quarter of a century.
Friends of J Ward will on Easter Sunday open a time capsule to reflect back on Easter 1994. This was the moment in time, one year into opening the psychiatric facility to the public, the community celebrated what many from Victorian Tourism had deemed not viable.
More than 14,000 people explored J Ward in the first eight months it was open.
The Courier's senior sports journalist David Brehaut, who was The Ararat Advertiser editor, played an integral role in the early stages of transforming J Ward into a tourist venture and will be part of this weekend's formalities - not quite sure what the capsule might reveal.
Mr Brehaut said the project was driven by community passion and town pride but doubted anyone at the time expected the success J Ward would become. More than 5000 people visited the site in what initially was to be a one-off opening across four days in 1993.
"This was laying the foundations for what they have in Ararat, 26 years later," Mr Brehaut said. "Friends of J Ward are a hard-working group and their success speaks for itself and in no small way with the support of local government. There were lots of old gaols around as tourist attractions at the time. What makes this uniquely different is having those two parts of history: the mystique in its life as a prison and the intrigue that comes with its criminally insane past. It really all captures people's imaginations."
J Ward closed as an institution in January 1991 amid a time of dramatic economic change in Ararat. The historic building, such an important landmark in town, sat idle.
It was on holiday in Western Australia the next year, Mr Brehaut found inspiration in a visit to the Fremantle Prison that at the time, had not long closed and transformed into a tourist site.
The Ararat Advertiser ran a series of features, highlighting J Ward's potential, but Mr Brehaut said the community and City of Ararat grabbed hold and ran with the idea.
"Once we had permission to open, a lot of work went into setting up. We were fortunate a lot of items were still left laying around the place, like straight-jackets and gloves. Even though this was initially for a once-off, we had to set it up properly as a museum," Mr Brehaut said.
"While everyone knew about J Ward and what it was, a lot of people in the community didn't know what was going on inside. You would hear odd stories, but it was not the sort of thing people spoke about. We had to learn the history and anecdotes.
"It was an intense time and an exciting time for everyone involved."
Some of J Ward's more notorious patients were: attempted robber and self-mutilater Garry David (also known as Garry Webb); Bill Wallace who was admitted in 1926 aged 43 and remained in custody until his death aged 107; and Mark "Chopper" Read who was transferred from Pentridge Prison for a short stay after arranging for a fellow inmate to cut off his ears.
J Ward's history dates back to its construction in 1859 with the facility opening as Ararat County Goal in October 1861. It was converted to a maximum psychiatric facility for the criminally insane in 1887.