Walking Tour of Mansfield Reformatory
Photos by Nikki Hunter and Jenna Jaillet of Ghostbone Investigations
The 1994 film "Shawshank Redemption," starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, was set in 1947 and followed the life of convicted murderer Andy Dufresne just before intake to the Shawshank Prison located fictionally in Portland, Maine. The actual set used wasan actual retired prison in Mansfield, Ohio. Most of the footage found in the movie is that of the prison itself. The famous carving of "Brooks was here" and "So was Red" can still be found on the rafter of the wardens quarters.
The state has preserved the building quite well and currently hosts tours and overnight ghost tours for the general public. Rapper Lil' Wayne has even shot a music video within the prison! The gift shop is littered with memorabilia, ghost hunting tools and resources, and a mini-museum is located at the front of the prison, complete with cell-made shivs and an electric chair.
Ghost stories of former inmates and personnel have been circulating for years and seem to always include cold spots, apparitions, uneasy feeling, and even EVPs are said to have been captured. My ghost hunter pals and I wanted to see and feel this place for ourselves to find out what all the fuss was about.
After paying a nominal fee, we were escorted in a large group into the side foyer of the building. We were encouraged not to touch anything or take too many flash photos because of the delicate state of the building on a molecular level. We climbed the stairs up to the office area and were presented with information about the movie production and other fabulous history of the prison itself. They explained that certain walls and windows were positioned so that they made the natural lighting of the office create pleasing patterns. I think it's all speculation, though. We were then escorted to the intake area, which was breathtaking and vast. The hopeless moments just before you would be taken into tiny little cell for the rest of your life, in many cases, may have been illuminated by the architecture of the grand hall with checkered flooring that led to the spiral staircases that let out into the cell block.
We were taken through the cell block and shown just how small the inmates had to make a living in, sometimes sharing their space with one or two other criminals. Although the paint was chipped and dangling from the metal, the institutional and stinging white motif is still ever apparent. The entire group remained silent throughout the presentation, save a few "yikes," "jeesh," and gasps.
We were then shown what was left of the chapel located within the prison. The icons and images are now in disrepair and look almost primitive, but I can only imagine what that faded fresco must have meant to so many men who sought comfort there.
From there, we were taken up a few flights of stairs to the "watch tower" that guards would stand at to watch the behavior of the inmates while they had their outside time. Looking just down the field, we could see the newly built prison (in comparison to the reformatory) that had active inmates roaming the yard. We were instructed not to take any pictures whatsoever while in that position for security purposes.
We then shimmied down the drain pipe -just kidding- into another hall that concluded the tour. Questions were had and answered, but the energy level of the group tanked as we all internally asked, why did we just pay to walk half a mile through one of the most depressing buildings we've ever been to? The insadity was real. We milled through the gift shop, grabbed some subway and trekked home, hoping to find something to cleanse the pallet of sadness from what we just tasted when we got there.
So the verdict. Is it haunted? Probably no more than any other old prison. I nor my counterparts experienced anything there. There were some definite morose feeling, but nothing that could be contributed to the place itself. You may very well get some ghost action after hours at their sleep overs, but I doubt you'll experience anything substantial outside of working yourself up and creeping yourself out.
It is, however, a gorgeous place with an amazing architecture, and harrowing history. It's worth the trip to see it if you're passing through. Come for the ghosts, stay for the human experience.