It may not look like it on the surface, but Mansfield, Ohio is a hub of activity. Paranormal activity, that is. From the Bissman Building to Malabar Farm, many buildings and places in the area claim to be haunted, but none more than the historic Ohio State Reformatory.
Built and open for business, er…prisoners in 1886, this gothic like structure built by acclaimed architect Levi Scofield was built to strike fear in the heart of the young men that were lead through its gates. Originally used as an intermediate penitentiary that housed young first-time, non-violent offenders, the architecture was intended to intimidate the prisoners and cause them to be remorseful of the path they’d taken so they would be easier to rehabilitate. Eventually the prison began to house violent offenders, morphing into a maximum security prison before closing its doors for good in 1990.
The imposing façade does nothing to deter visitors from flocking to the site today which is possibly the most visited attraction in Richland County other than Mid-Ohio Raceway (which is not haunted, by the way). Tours are offered most days, with self-guided and docent led tours available. I’ve been on both and found the docent led tour less creepy than the self-guided tour. I enjoyed learning about the history of the property, how it was nearly demolished and then purchased for $1 (no, that is not a typo) and became the filming site for the famed Shawshank Redemption, based on the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by famed author, Stephen King. I guess you could say the movie saved the prison, as the filming crews showed up on the very day the wrecking ball was set to strike. The movie has also boosted tourism in Mansfield, as fans descend on the area from across the country to view the filming locations that are views along the Shawshank Trail.
The Ohio State Reformatory has been seen in music videos, Hollywood movies and the much talked about, Ghost Hunters. Those with an affinity to all things creepy may enjoy spending the night entering the dank cells, slowly making their way through the dark passageways and cells.
The prison boasts a small museum with the Old Sparky, the original electric chair on display for all to marvel at. Surprisingly, the contraption was made by a prisoner on death row. I’m not sure that would pass as humane punishment these days. The prison also features the East Cell Block which is the world’s largest, free standing, steel cell block and The Hole, where unruly prisoners were sent.
Today visitors can tour just about every inch of the prison and while you can step inside the prison cells, just do me a favor and don’t slide the door closed behind you. Most of the keys have been misplaced and you may have a bit of a lengthy stay as you wait for a locksmith to come to your rescue. Did I mention the prison is creepy? Oh yeah, I think I did.
Visit www.mrps.org to plan your visit.