Known as one of the most haunted places in Ohio. You may remember The Ohio State Reformatory, or Mansfield Reformatory, from the movie The Shawshank Redemption. Construction began in 1834, and housed about 5,235 prisoners at one point. In May 2019, I set up my art in one of the cell blocks for the Ohio Halloween & Haunters Convention.
Outside, the building is made of stone, resembling a castle in fairy tales. Or perhaps, Dracula. It was a warm spring day in Ohio; a comfortable 75 degrees. A little warmer in the sunshine.
I pulled up to the door where I was supposed to load in my artwork. As I walked in the first thing I saw was the decay of the inside and my looked up at staircase leading up to the four floors of cells. I was given my badge and directed to my vendor spot, in front of a cell in the west cell block
The temperature had dropped at least 30 degrees inside. It was dark. I was warned to cover my table because birds were flying around. Evidence was everywhere.
I looked at the tiny cell in front of me, even darker inside. I hesitantly walked in, imagining what it would have been like for the prisoners who lived here while the sounds of drills and other vendors constructing their booths echoed through the hall. It must have been so loud.
Here are a few shots from the convention from my super talented artist friend, Only Steph Creations.
If you ever visit the Reformatory you have to do at least one tour. They offer various tours from historical to an overnight paranormal tour. Since I was working all weekend for the convention I only had time for the daytime self-guided tour which took us about 2 hours. Click here for more info about the tours offered.
tip: We passed on the audio for an extra couple dollars, but I would recommend getting it. It's hard to know what you're looking at sometimes because signs are scarce.
The tour started in the warden’s quarters where his family lived. Although it is decaying, it’s not hard to imagine how beautiful it must have been. The stained glass windows were my favorite. Its grandeur is felt even more so by the difference in living conditions throughout the rest of the tour.
Next, I moved through the halls of the reformatory. Various rooms such as, a school room, storage, and some mock set displays of the filming of The Shawshank Redemption. At the end of the maze of winding corridors there is an enormous chapel. I couldn’t help but notice a cell in the back corner.
There is a door that separates the chapel and any sense of normalcy. The height is dizzying as you are now standing at the top row of cells in the East cell block. I happen to be scared of heights, so this part was tough for me. I can’t imagine having to live in a cell, let alone that high up. I quickly went down to the next level so I could take a picture... and not pass out.
This is the point in the tour that I found most interesting. Having the chance to walk along the length of the cells was an wild experience. I had listened to the Haunted Places podcast on my drive up to Ohio so I would know all the ghost stories. The episode called the Ohio State Reformatory is now archived, but is available on Stitcher.
One of the more gruesome stories highlighted on the podcast was about prisoner John Lockhart. In cell 13 (of course), Mr. Lockhart doused himself in kerosene and lit himself on fire. I won’t spoil what happened but knowing the story and standing in the cell was eerie.
The tour goes on to the showers from your nightmares. Then on to the library, hospital, and solitary confinement - aptly named “The Hole”. I went into one of these solitary confinement cells, took a deep breath, and turned my phone light off for an “authentic” experience. A common thought throughout the tour, this must have been terrible.
The prison finally ceased operation in 1990 due to prisoners' class action suit, citing overcrowding and inhumane conditions.
I definitely recommend checking out the Mansfield Reformatory at some point. And just a heads up, the Ohio Halloween & Haunters Convention should be bigger and better next year! It's the perfect time to scoop up some fun Halloween merch and to do one or more of the tours.