Vacation Day 6: Homeward from the Reformatory

I was so tired when we got home on Saturday I just couldn’t write up the final day of our vacation. The time I did spend on the computer was devoted to processing that day’s photos from our visit to the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. It was a fascinating visit.

Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio.

Our day started with us trying to get breakfast just up the road from our hotel in Wooster, but the Bob Evans had a line out to the door. We decided to drive on through town and out the highway that crosses central Ohio to Mansfield, hoping to find another restaurant along the way. We were in Mansfield before an opportunity arose, but that Bob Evans wasn’t crowded, so we got seated quickly. A good thing, since we were starving by then.

The reformatory was just back up the highway, so we got there in no time. Trees had hidden it when we’d first passed, otherwise it would have been hard to miss.

I was interested in the visit on several levels. For one thing, the Ohio State Reformatory is reputed to be very haunted. It’s the subject of continual ghost hunts and has been featured as a haunted destination on many cable programs, such as “Ghost Hunters.” As I said in this post, I do believe in ghosts, even though I don’t tend to have encounters in the expected places. (These include Gettysburg and a haunted hotel in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, site of the Mothman sightings. No uncomfortable feelings, no orbs in photos, no overnight visitations.) However, I’ve seen and heard so much about this “haunted reformatory” that I was certainly curious to go inside.

The second reason I was interested is because many scenes in “The Shawshank Redemption” were filmed in this prison. I love seeing locations where scenes from any movie were shot, but I’ve seen “Shawshank” a couple of times, so I’m very familiar.

What I didn’t expect to be impressed by were the architectural details. I knew the reformatory building was huge and impressive on the outside. However, even in its paint-peeling, gouged, rusted state, it’s an awesome repository of artfully crafted woodwork, tiled floors, grand staircases, and in the cell blocks themselves, wrought iron.

Wrought iron in the cell block.

The reception rooms where you buy your tickets and see a short introductory film are beautifully restored and give a sense of what the various living quarters and dignitary’s rooms were like. However, once beyond the media room, the place is time-blasted. Paint and wallpaper reveal different time periods of colors and patterns. There’s so much lead paint, children under seven and pregnant women are warned to stay out, and there’s also a ton of dust and mold to afflict the allergic.

J.Hooligan on one of the staircases, which appears in a scene in "The Shawshank Redemption."

That said, the tour is marvelous. We took the self-guided tour, sans audio accompaniment; the route is so clearly marked, with signs explaining how each location was used both in real life and
in the cinema, we always felt well informed. In several posts along the tour, there are kiosks shaped like 1930s radios that play several videos related to prison life, architecture, movies that were filmed in the prison, and more.

I didn’t find the “nice” sections of the reformatory creepy, simply icky because of the mess. However, as soon as we entered the prison chapel and then moved on to the cell block, a certain creepiness did close in. For me, though, it was more about recoiling from the idea of the decades of imprisoned men coping with incarceration than reacting to anything paranormal.

We had Diamondqueen’s old “ghost meter,” which has never delivered so much as a thrill. I checked it periodically throughout the visit and it always registered normal. However, Diamondqueen had an app on her smartphone that acted as a kind of ghost meter, and she started picking up things as soon as she crossed the metal grated footbridge to the wing filled with floor after floor of cells.

"The Warden" decides whether to parole the Hooligans. This was the parole room in "Shawshank" where Red kept being denied his freedom.

I took lots of photos because the combination of paint peels, metal, stone, and light through cathedral-like windows was interesting. (I’m not a photographer; I depend on a basic digital camera and photo software, and I really don’t know what I’m doing. But I love texture and patterns, and the iron cell doors, stacked floors, and stone offered plenty to keep me fascinated.) It was all wearing thin for the Hooligans, so I shepherded them ahead so Diamondqueen could take her time looking, admiring, and investigating.

If you look closely, you'll see what appear to be orbs. Never sensed a thing when I was standing there snapping the picture.

The Hooligans and I finally made it back to the media room and sat there through several showings of the video. S.Hooligan was paranoid about washing her hands—the video said to wash thoroughly upon leaving the prison—so I sent the Hooligans outside to the bathroom, then we hung around on the enormous porch waiting for the gift shop to open.

We had looked around the gift shop as well as the small museum across the hall before Diamondqueen made her appearance. She was excited because she’d picked up electronic messages with her smartphone. (She’ll be telling all about it on The Warden’s Log.) After purchasing some smashed pennies with ghosts on them, we returned to the van for our homeward trek.

I’d bought us each a sack of caramel creams, the official candy of our New York journey, at Bob Evans. The Hooligans and I tore into those and opened the soft drinks Diamondqueen had packed as Diamondqueen finished her final tweet. She’s very sensitive to dust, mold, and smells, so she was happy to have a soda to soothe her sore throat from the reformatory. She put on recorded comedy routines by Bill Cosby, a J.Hooligan favorite, we got back on I71, and we didn’t stop again until we pulled into the driveway. I tottered up to the door with my suitcase, extra bag, and dirty laundry as the Hooligans waved wearily and Diamondqueen made a beeline for home.

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