Mansfield Reformatory

The Mansfield Reformatory ( is mostly well known as the historic prison from the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption, where Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins played the iconic characters from Stephen King’s short novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.  Built in Romanesque style architecture, it has been featured in other movies, music videos, and TV shows (such as Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Air Force One, and Tango & Cash to name a few), but none other than Shawshank Redemption have focused so much film in this creepy yet beautiful place.

It was built in the late 1800s and ultimately and ultimately ordered closed in 1990 as the result of a federal court order due to overcrowding and inhumane conditions (Boyd v. Denton, C.A. 78-1054A (N.D.Oh.)).  For example, overcrowding forced the institution to double up prisoners being held on death row, and at least once a death row inmate decided to help the State with its execution orders by circumventing Due Process and committing the execution with his own hands.  Another incident that helped lead to the closing occurred after a riot in the 1930s when the guards forced 120 inmates to share 12 solitary confinement cells that were built with the goal of being uncomfortable for just one person, and held them for an entire week without food or water, which drove many of the inmates to madness and psychosis.

Sadly, a large portion of it has been demolished so that the grounds can house a currently-operating state prison.  Unfortunately, the courtyard was one of the areas demolished instead of preserved and is currently in use by the modern prison.  However, concerned local residents formed the Mansfield Preservation Society in 1995 and were successful at preserving the main building, the East and West cell blocks, and solitary confinement.

It has mostly been maintained in its original condition, which helps to create an authentic imagination of what it was like during its decades of operation.  The peeling paint, cracked floors/walls/ceilings, and holes also help to create a very spooky atmosphere for what is said to be one of America’s most haunted places.  Over 200 people have died here, including two guards and the wife of one of the live-in superintendents, and there are numerous stories of supernatural activity, and the cemetery on the grounds includes 214 burial sites.

While I was hoping to do an overnight sleepover while back in Ohio visiting the family for Thanksgiving, we had to settle for a daytime self-guided tour because the sleepovers are not available during the winter months….and for good reason, because there are still plenty of holes in the windows and walls that are not repaired, which compounds with the lack of insulation making for a refrigerator of a building.

Regardless, it was quite impressive to be able to wander around and imagine what apparitions and spirits might be observed here in the nighttime while also listening to my brother tell stories about what he has observed during his multiple (3-4) overnight explorations.  The self-guided audio tour also gave plenty of stories of various reports from people over the years: moving black masses, orbs of energy, doors slamming in empty rooms, footsteps in empty hallways, voices and laughter, and even feelings of being touched, pushed, punched and hair being tugged.

Here is a link for an interesting video clip by Ghost Adventures on The Travel Channel:

The immense size of the steel multi-tiered cell blocks is quite astounding, and the East Cell Block currently holds the Guinness World Record for the largest free standing steel cell block in the world at six tiers high (free standing meaning it is not connected to any of the walls and is just one massive tiered shelving of steel steps, walkways, and cells).

After having seen this awesome place, and having seen how spooky the place truly is even in daytime, I am definitely excited to go back for an overnight haunt to see how spooky things can really get.

Here is the opening scene of Shawshank Redemption with an aerial view over the grounds to get an idea of just how impressive the place is: