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This museum offers a variety of tours in the intermediate state prison that was known as the Ohio State Reformatory. This is also the site of the movie “Shawshank Redemption” and the museum offers a Hollywood tour involving many of the most famous sites from the movie including the tunnel Andy Dufresne escaped out of. The old prison is also said to be haunted, and the museum offers ghosts hunts with the help of professional ghost hunters.
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Excerpt from a past edition of
WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT
PRISON COULD BE SO MUCH FUN?
Daytime Tours Video & Ghost Hunt Video
Out of all the wonderful things you can see and do in Ohio, I recommend doing time at Ohio State Reformatory (OSR).
No, I haven’t gone insane, but I have been to prison twice this year. My first stint was at Alcatraz, followed by OSR. Although Alcatraz has a fascinating history and location, it has nothing on OSR visually. No wonder major motion pictures like Shawshank Redemption have been filmed at this historic site in Mansfield, Ohio.
The penitentiary’s cornerstone was laid in 1886, and the doors opened in 1896. It resembles a castle. In fact, it’s the largest castle-like structure in the state and fifth largest in the country at more than 250,000 square feet. It still holds the record for housing the world's tallest free-standing steel cell block. It consists of 6 tiers, 12 ranges and 600 cells. And that’s just in the East Wing of the prison.
The massive structure combines Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque and Queen Anne architectural styles. The beautifully sculptured relic is even evident in the sublevels where you can still see ornate granite pillars. The facility’s architecture was designed to encourage the inmates back to a "rebirth" of their spiritual lives. Today, the prison is deteriorating before the eyes in a way that is unique and very photogenic. The paint on the bars cracked and peeling, entire ceilings and walls looking like a dried lake bed and the intricate passages, grand staircases and wings interconnect floor after floor after floor.
If these crumbling walls could talk, and there are many accounts that they do, the horrific stories they’d share. A warden’s wife was fatally shot by a pistol falling to the floor inside a closet where she was reaching for her jewelry box. A warden suffered a heart attack in his office. A farm boss along with his wife and daughter were kidnapped and shot to death by two parolees seeking revenge. Inmates hung themselves in solitary confinement. And the stories go on.
More than 200 unclaimed bodies rest beneath numbered markers in a nearby graveyard. Some of these people are still believed to roam the grounds and many have reported their presence day and night. A tour guide speaks of an unseen finger pressing into his side and dragging across his back. A police officer reports uncharacteristic chills and staff and visitors talk freely of hearing voices to seeing full body apparitions.
Of the living visitors to the prison, famous people such as Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russel, Glenn Close and Dianne Keaton have been there to film Hollywood movies such as Air Force One, Tango & Cash, and Shawshank Redemption. OSR’s popularity is also appealing to the music industry for shooting videos such as “Awake” by Godsmack and “Go DJ” by Lil’ Wayne. You can see the renovated cells left behind after such filming. Many other cable specials and documentaries have also featured this historic site.
Tours are offered throughout the year, as well as overnight stay for ghost hunts and ghost walks. But ghost hunts usually sellout as quickly as dates are announced. There’s a separate Halloween event where actors and props turn the building into a haunted house attraction. It is not to be confused with the ghost tours.
Special events, group tours or parties can also rent space at the prison to host their special events. The renovated Central Guard Room is a very spacious, towering room overlooking the East and West Cell Blocks, and is often rented for wedding receptions, parties, banquets and reunions seating as many as 225 comfortably with a dance floor. Business functions for 20 – 40 people are held in what used to be the Warden’s dining room. And the grounds may be rented for reunions, car or bike shows, company picnics and other purposes.
The Ohio State Reformatory is operated by the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society. It is located at 100 Reformatory Road in Mansfield, Ohio. To learn more, call (419) 522-2644 or log onto www.mrps.org.
By Frank R. Satullo, The OhioTraveler