A Prison Home to Hollywood and Ghosts Alike

The Shawshank Redemption is widely considered to be one of the best films of all time. While it was critically and commercially overshadowed in its year of release by Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction, the film has steadily gained popularity over time and in a readers’ poll of Empire magazine last year, it was voted the best film of all time. While the prison used in the film has also acted as a set location for other productions, such as Air Force One and music videos by Godsmack and Lil’ Wayne, its main function now is as a tourist attraction.

The Mansfield Reformatory, also known as the Ohio State Reformatory, was built in the 1880s in Mansfield, Ohio. It is one of the largest castle-like structures in the USA, comprising over 250,000 square feet and combines Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque, and Queen Anne architectural styles. This might seem unusual for a correctional facility, and with reason – the original architect, Levi T. Scofield, designed the facility to encourage the inmates away from a sinful life and towards repentance.

The prison remained fully operational until 1972 and was completely closed down in 1990. Having gone through considerable deterioration since opening, The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society was formed in 1995 in an effort to restore the facility to its original state, funding restorations through donations and tour fees.

Several tour operators such as Hampton Landmarks offer tours of the Mansfield Reformatory throughout the summer, starting around Memorial Day (the last Monday of May) until the end of September, with tickets being sold on a first-come, first-serve basis from the box office. A general tour of the building is offered during the week, and on weekends visitors have a choice of three tours, where they can either see the prison cemetery and observe the underground tunnel system, see the Catholic chapel above the central guard room and get an insight into the living quarters, or of course, see set locations from The Shawshank Redemption, including the prison warden’s office, the parole board room and Andy Dufresne’s escape tunnel.

Over 200 people died at the Mansfield Reformatory, including a few guards who were killed during escape attempts. The Mansfield Reformatory is therefore supposedly haunted with several paranormal “hotspots” such as the two chapels, the infirmary, the area around the warden’s office and solitary confinement.

At night, adults aged 21 or over can take part in Ghost Walks (starting from 7:30 to 8pm, lasting roughly two hours) and unguided Ghost Hunts (7:30pm to 6am). Guests are allowed to leave at any time, but for security reasons may not re-enter. These generally sell out very quickly, so customers should book tickets well in advance. In October the prison also offers a Halloween-themed Haunted Prison experience from 7pm for 3 to 5 hours, depending on the day of the week, available to people aged 13 and over. Tickets for the Halloween night are available in advance or at the box office.

So if you’re looking to pay homage to one of your favourite films, looking to meet ghosts or simply looking for a holiday experience slightly out of the ordinary, make the trip to the Mansfield Reformatory.

Adam Singleton is an online freelance journalist from Scotland. His hobbies include travelling and hiking.

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