One of the things I like about traveling with my daughter is that, in some cases, I end up going back to places I've visited in the past. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was that way. I knew my daughter would dig it, so we went. Such was the case with the Ohio State Reformatory.
I visited "OSR" last year during my road trip but, because of Covid restrictions, was unable to get into the prison. All I could do was take some long distance shots through a chain link gate from quite a distance away. This year, thankfully, the prison was once again offering tours, so it made sense to visit.
First, let me say that I love shooting old prisons. My first was West Virginia Penitentiary back in 2013, and then Eastern State Penitentiary, near Philadelphia, later that same year. Like the other two prisons mentioned, Ohio State Reformatory has been seen in countless television shows, movies and music videos, including no shortage of "paranormal investigation" shows on television. Needless to say, it checked off the "Ghost Adventures" box.
The prison (hereafter known as "Shawshank") is located just outside of Mansfield, Ohio. It was built from 1886 and 1910, and it continued operating until it was ordered closed in 1990. Most of the support buildings and outer wall have been demolished, and the same fate awaited the prison itself when Hollywood came calling, wanting to use the prison for the famed Shawshank. Following that, there was a renewed interest in saving the prison from the wrecking ball.
Now, I wrote about this prison after I visited last year, so I'm just going to let the pictures do the talking in this entry (with a little photographer input here and there), save for this: One of the cooler aspects of this prison museum is that they're able to exhibit actual artifacts from the Ohio State Reformatory pretty seamlessly with props from the movie. Also, many of the rooms in the prison which were used in the movie remain as they were seen in the movie.
|A guard's hat from the original OSR, ca 1920...|
|Warden Morton's office as seen in the movie...|
|Another view of the Warden's office...|
|Another view of the Warden's office...|
|The prison is widely believed to be haunted, and this room is in the center of "spook central"...|
|This large room used to house the prison library...|
|Unclaimed personal items of a prisoner...|
|Just a cool stairway...|
|A life-size cut out of Warden Morton, portrayed in the movie by Bob Gunton...|
|A prison issue shirt from the 1930's...|
|An inmate's file card from the 1930's...|
|Despite the presence of an electric chair, no one was ever executed at the Ohio State Reformatory...|
|This electric chair, which was previously used at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus until 1963, has never been used at the Ohio State Reformatory...|
|This hat was worn by Morgan Freeman, who played Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding in the movie...|
|This panel was originally found in another room. That room, which in the movie was in a halfway house, was actually just another room in the prison used for filming...|
|Prison guard uniform shoulder patches which were made for the movie...|
|The letter to Red, from Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins.|
|The letter to Red was actually written by Tim Robbins...|
|The tin box in which Red Ellis found the letter from Andy Dufresne...|
|In the movie, this compass was purchased by Red Ellis at a pawn shop after his release from prison. The pawn shop is actually an antique store on Main Street in nearby Mansfield, Ohio... |
|This was a bunkroom for prison guards during OSR's operation... |
|For the movie, an old guard bunkroom served as the room at a halfway house to which both Red Ellis and Brooks Hatlen (played by James Whitmore) were sent after they were paroled...|
|The prison chapel could accommodate the entire prison population, which could reach over 1,000...|
|At six tiers high, the eastern cell block is the largest free-standing steel cell block in the world...|
|Home sweet home. A typical two-man cell...|
|A window looking into the prison hospital...|
|Some of the finest doctors in the state of Ohio worked at the reformatory...|
|The eastern cell block...|
|My daughter Jessy, exploring solitary confinement, which is considered the most haunted portion of the prison. She said the hair on the back of her neck was standing up by the time she got through it...|
|Spooks confirmed. You've been warned...|
|And, as you might expect, there are plenty of souvenirs and trinkets available at the prison gift shop. All proceeds, as well as admission fees, go to maintaining the prison...|
So, whether you're a fan of history, the movies, or the paranormal,the Ohio State Reformatory, just outside of Mansfield, OH should certainly be on your list of places to check out the next time you're on an epic cross country road trip. Some things to keep in mind if you visit:
1 - Wear comfortable shoes; tennis shoes, or any shoe with a soft sole, are best. The prison is massive, and you're walking the entire way.
2 - A comprehensive tour can easily take two to three hours, so be ready for that. Maybe keep a bottle of water with you, as there's none to buy along the way.
3 - The prison is not ADA compliant, and it's status as an historical landmark means it doesn't need to be. But be forewarned, there are a lot of metal stairs to climb, both up and down. There's only one elevator in the prison, and it stopped working sometime back in the 1980's.
4 - When you find yourself in, say, Warden Morton's office, feel free to sit down at his desk, use the phone, etc. This is one of the nice aspects of this museum, I think, so why not?
5 - Pay the $5 fee for the self-guided tour audio wand. Nine times out of ten you simply won't know what you're looking at, so the wand comes in handy.
6 - If you're a photographer, paying an additional fee allows you to bring a tripod with you, for doing HDR and long exposure stuff. I was unaware of this when we purchased our tickets, or I definitely would've done so. I was told it's a nominal fee; maybe five bucks.
7 - They offer a $2 military discount (active or Veteran) and seniors. While kids under age 6 are free, I really wouldn't recommend bringing them along.
Lastly, anyone who reads my blog knows that I dig the paranormal. Anytime I shoot an old cemetery or church or prison, I always scrutinize my photos a little more than if I was taking photos at a city park. The Ohio State Reformatory has been investigated by numerous groups and organizations over the years, including both Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters, and there's little doubt that "Shawshank" is, in fact, haunted.
Why am I telling you this? Well, two reasons. First, I like recommending haunted places for people to check out. The second reason I'm telling you this is the picture below. It's ill-composed, out of focus and has motion blur. It's a technical train wreck:
Now, here's what I'd like you to consider: I didn't take this photograph.
It seems clear to me that this was taken while we were in the gift shop. But I never moved around the room with my finger on the shutter release. I took the photo of the t-shirts and that was it. Had I been walking around, the picture would be sideways, as I don't use a neck strap and walk with my "camera hand" down next to my body. What we're looking at here is, clearly, the floor. For me to have taken that inadvertently, though, it would've required me to hold my camera in a position that I never hold it in.
I'm not saying what it is, because I don't know. I know what it's not, though, and it's not a picture taken by me.
All in all a trip to "Shawshank Prison" is exciting, spooky, informative and one Helluva' good time so, enjoy.
And keep an eye on your camera...