The Inspector

By NPI, Inc.



Haunted Places Series: Ohio State Reformatory

 October 3, 2022 |  Holiday, Just for Fun |  entertaining, fall, Haunted Places Series

Location: Mansfield, Ohio
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Built: 1886–1910

There’s an eerie chill in the air and the souls of the restless are stirring. This can only mean one thing . . . the return of our haunted place series! Every year, we break from our usual content to visit some of the strangest, most unsettling locales of the U.S. and Canada in celebration of the spooky season. This year, our first edition was a clear lock: the Ohio State Reformatory!

The Reformatory
Founded as a holding for intermediate first-time offenders, the Ohio State Reformatory, also known as the Mansfield Reformatory, was designed with rehabilitation in mind. Even today, its beautiful arches and bright brick exterior make this defunct prison appear more like a mansion or a castle. These design choices were purposeful, intended to inspire all who enter its halls.

In this setting, inmates would learn practical trades (such as engineering or plumbing) and invest into skills meant to turn their lives around. This system worked remarkably in those initial years. Compared to other reformatory facilities, convicts who finished serving their sentences at Mansfield were considerably less likely to become repeat offenders. In fact, Mansfield boasted one of the lowest re-sentencing rates in the country, as the former cons took advantage of their second chances in life. Unfortunately, this system and its successes would not last.

The Penitentiary
Due to the ballooning prisoner population in the United States, the Ohio State Reformatory’s idyllic rehabilitation structure could not continue. Its funding was cut, and the facility made its transition into a maximum-security prison – a function it was never intended for. In this new iteration, inmates were no longer relatively harmless first-time offenders. Violent, unpredictable repeat offenders were added to the mix, and with them came a multitude of tragedies.

Photo by Marianodemiguel, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Frequent riots and limited space forced unheard- of conditions where single occupancy solitary confinement cells were shared by six men at a time. Fires broke out, guards were killed, and men took their own lives as the conditions at Mansfield quickly declined. This all led to a lawsuit coordinated by former inmates aimed at the state of Ohio. In the end, the facility was closed by a court order in 1990.

The Classic
Today, the Ohio State Reformatory has been preserved as a historical site and, if you thought the location looked familiar, it’s likely because of its prominent use on the silver screen. This breathtaking building was featured in films like Tango and Cash, Air Force One, and perhaps most memorably, Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption. Fans can tour the site today through the lens of this iconic film, visiting the courtyard and cells and learning about the creation of the Oscar-nominated masterwork.

The Paranormal
Over one hundred years of varied history has been concentrated into one dynamic structure. With that history, it comes as little surprise that the Ohio State Reformatory is considered one of the most haunted locations in America. Even among the inmates, there were rumors of ghostly encounters. Complaints were recorded of invisible hands grasping at men while they were in their cells at night, along with unsettling noises keeping them awake. Tour guides, likewise, attest to hearing odd noises frequently and even spotting shadowy figures. Visitors report similar experiences, hearing movement and mumbling in empty cells or down vacant corridors, while others even claim being pushed over railings.

The Ohio State Reformatory has a complex history. Although mired with its own dark periods, it has rich stories to tell, and the location is meticulously preserved. Book your tour today, whether you are a film superfan or a historian, or you want a chance to experience the paranormal for yourself!

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