Ohio State Reformatory

Mansfield, Ohio

On August 8, 2003 my friend Linda and I visited the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. We were there for one of the Preservation Society's ghost hunts...we checked in at 8:00 PM on Friday night and explored the building until 4:30 AM the following morning. I attended another overnight ghost hunt with Glen and Julie from the Ohio EVP and Paranormal Society on April 16, 2005, and another on June 2, 2006 with some members of the message board. I attended my fourth hunt, also with message board members, on April 28, 2007.

I took way too many photos, so I have divided them into the following sections:

A brief history of the building:

The Ohio State Reformatory was built between 1886 - 1910 by architect Levi T. Scofield. It was built on the site of a former Civil War camp, Camp Mordecai Bartley. The prison was designed to look like the old world castles and cathedrals in Germany. The OSR was built as an intermediate prison between the Boys Industrial School in Lancaster and the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. It was used for first time offenders, the more hardened criminals were sent to the Ohio Penitentiary.

On September 17, 1896 the first 150 inmates were brought to the OSR. The prison had not been finished at that time, so the inmates were used to build the the sewer system and the twenty-five foot tall wall that surrounded the fifteen acre complex. By 1910 the prison's construction was completed.

For awhile, the Ohio State Reformatory was considered to be one of the best prisons in the world. It still houses the world's largest free-standing cell block at six tiers high. However, by the early 1930's the prison was extremely overcrowded and outdated. By the 1980's the OSR was deemed unfit to serve as a prison. The state officially stopped using it as a prison in December of 1990.

The OSR has also caught Hollywood's eye a few times. Four films and a music video were filmed there:
  1. Film Harry and Walter Go To New York - 1975
  2. Film Tango and Cash - 1988
  3. Film The Shawshank Redemption - 1993
  4. Film Air Force One - 1996
  5. Music video for "Awake" by Godsmack - 2000

Not long after the filming of The Shawshank Redemption, the state tore down all of the outbuildings and the prison wall so they could use the land to expand the new, neighboring Mansfield Correctional Institute. However, in 1995 the OSR's deed was turned over to a preservation society. They offer tours and ghost hunts, with the proceeds going to the restoration fund. You can visit their site by clicking here.

Even though Linda and I didn't personally witness anything scary or strange here (with the exception of one EVP) the building is supposedly very haunted. Some of the most well known haunted areas include the chapel, the warden's quarters, the "Jesus Room" (a smaller chapel where a priests would hold a weekly mass on Wednesday mornings - prisoners had to get permission to attend the Wednesday masses, only ones with good behavior were allowed. It was also used to show movies), and the solitary confinement areas. Over 200 prisoners died in the OSR, and a few guards were killed in escape attempts. It makes sense that several people have experienced strange things there. Unfortunately, Linda, myself, and about 98% of the other ghost hunters we talked to didn't experience anything on the night we were there. The other hunts haven't been much more successful either, but it is a very interesting place to check out!

In July 2006 I received an e-mail from Carrie about her experience at the Ohio State Reformatory:

I just got back from visiting the OSR, and a group of us had an experience in the cell block. The cell that I am speaking of is the one marked with the "X" that has been reported to have activity. We were taken back to the block when the tour was over, there were about 9 of us along with the guide. We heard someone running. The guide asked who was running because there shouldn't be anyone. Immediately the cell door slammed shut. It scared us all and we wasted no time at all getting out of there. The guide was so scared that he was soaking wet with sweat.

I also received an e-mail from Tiffany R. about her experience at the OSR in July 2006:

Last Sunday my husband and I decided to finally visit the Reformatory. Nothing much happened except the feeling of vertigo while walking through the cell blocks. We took the east cell block tour, taking pictures in hopes of finding a good one that we could make into a black and white enlargement to hang in our house. After the while we were in the car, we looked through the photos on our digital camera. We only had six because we were with a large group even though we were in the very back and my husband was asked to "Bring up the rear" to make sure we didn't lose anyone during the tour. Every picture came out good except one. It was the third one we took which was of the inside of one of the cells. The screen was totally scrambled. There was no picture at all - just lines of colors like the pixels were messed up. Now I'm not one to jump to conclusions and neither is my husband, in fact we were even giggling at the people who took pictures at the infamous X of light on the floor of the guards quarters and found orbs which were definitely just dust. We just thought this picture was strange. My camera has NEVER done that, and the pictures taken just before and after came out fine.

In October 2006 I received an e-mail from Kennedy H. about her experience at the Ohio State Reformatory:

I did have a scary encounter with a ghost in the Reformatory. I was walking with my friend in front of a cell, and it felt like I ran into a spider web. I told the tour guide, and he asked, "Did it feel like you ran into a spider web?" I said yes. He said, "You have just been touched." It was awesome!

In November 2006 I received an e-mail from Gail B. about her experience at the prison:

I took a tour on November 3, 2006. It was the most fascinating evening I have ever spent! I heard a little boy's voice in the room with the chair. And a man in the warden's office. The boy said he was 7 years old and wanted his mother. He was crying so hard that I started to cry too. In the warden's office someone said "Catch me if you can."

In April 2007 I received an e-mail from Gina and Michael about their visit to the Reformatory:

I visited the Mansfield Prison in October 2006 for the Halloween haunted trail they had there. Since I went with a bunch of high school students, they were more interested in getting the cheap thrill that comes with people dressed up and jumping out and scaring you. However, my best friend (a huge history buff) and I (history buff and English major) are very interested in haunting and history and took it slow, examining old cells and rooms in the dark. We didn't experience anything until...

We, as a group, were walking up the metal stairs toward the tower: my friend and I were in the back, and the group of high school students were in front. We started to walk down the stairs, and while I am clumsy, I was holding onto my friend's hand and the railing. All of a sudden, I was violently pushed from behind. I know it wasn't someone jumping out and trying to "scare" me because no one would EVER do that on those rickety stairs. I know it wasn't my clumsiness, because I was so violently pushed that it jarred even my friend and caused me to fall hard on one knee. Of course, when I turned around to see if anyone was behind me, there wasn't. And from that position and from that feeling, it couldn't have been my friend pulling me down, especially when I felt the push from the middle/upper back (like an adult male [given the force].

I didn't hear or see anything, and most "experiences" I've encountered involved smells. It was such a jolt that I even admit that it still shakes me up when I think about it. I very much enjoyed walking through the cellblocks, and that experience definitely made me a believer!

In September 2007 I received an e-mail from Earl and Sue about their visit to the Reformatory:

My wife and I, along with another couple, went through on August 25 of this year. We only felt some tingling in the arms, sort of like electrical. We also felt cold every once in a while. That is until we hit the room where it is written "Joe is a Fag" on the wall. We were sitting in there all quiet, and I was coaxing the spirits to do something. I called it a faggot, queer, wimp, and a wuss. At that point my wife wanted to move her chair up to the table we were all sitting at. She started to move the chair, and I felt a push on my arm and something frigid into my chest. The next thing I am on the floor. I fell approximately two feet from the chair and the chair was upright. Everyone asked me if I had fallen asleep, and if I had just fallen out of the chair. No, I did not just fall asleep as I work midnights and this was around 2:30 AM. I had a wierd feeling for the rest of the week. I also have two pics which look like someone sitting in the window of the warden's office. I can not be sure, but it looks like it. Could be a shadow. I had a great time until then. I would go back if I could get the time to do it.

In November 2007 I received the following e-mail from Michelle W. regarding her experiences at the Ohio State Reformatory:

I worked the haunted prison experience last year, and I was in solitary confinement. There were two girls working down there: myself and another girl, so we spaced ourselves out at the two ends so we could get some great scares out of people. Later that night, we had heard from the other people working there that people had told them whoever was in the middle of the hallway scared them badly in solitary...nobody working down there ever scared anyone in the middle, it was too light and there were not any good spots to hide. Weirdness.

In June 2008 I received the following e-mail from Sandra L. regarding her experiences at the Ohio State Reformatory:

My family toured the Ohio State Reformatory last weekend when we were in that area for another occasion. I didn't know anything about the place before going on the tour. While we were in the area where the Warden and his wife used to live, my 8 year old son was getting tired of listening to the guide, so we started browsing through the rooms alone. We walked into a room and I immediately started to smell roses. Without saying what I smelled, I asked my son if he could smell anything. He answered, "Yes, flowers." A moment later others from the tour walked into the room and the smell instantly disappeared. After the tour, I mentioned my experience to a volunteer at the front desk. She told me that the Warden's wife, Helen, loved roses.

When I got home I started searching online for information about the Reformatory. Several links mentioned visitors smelling roses, and it meant that Helen was near. I didn't believe in the supernatural going in, but since I specifically smelled roses without any knowledge of previous stories, I definitely believe now! I didn't want my son to be scared by the experience, so I told him Helen must have liked us because she took the time to say hello to us, and left when the others came in.

In October 2008 I received the following e-mail from Ann B. with an observation regarding one of my photos:

Tonight some friends and I are visiting the Mansfield Prison. I wanted to look up some history before I went, and I found your website. You've done a great job with it! I was looking through your photos and found something!!! In the Administrative photos, the one titled "torn up fireplace"...I see a face! It's in the lower left corner, a round shaped thing. I see eyes, a nose, and a mouth!! I wasn't sure if you had already noticed that. Just wanted to point that out.

In October 2010 I received the following e-mail from Angela about her visit to the Ohio State Reformatory:

I wanted to share my story about the Ohio State Reformatory with you. Firstly, I'd like to say that I'm a HUGE fan of your site and everything you've collected! It is a great resource not only for those who are interested in the paranormal, but also for those who appreciate historical architecture. Back to the Reformatory, I took one of the $8 day tours back in 2005. I was very interested in the building for it's past, and ended up taking hundreds of photos that day. I would like to point out, also, that this tour is an amazing value, as they allow you pretty much free-roam of the building for about two hours. During this time, my friend and I wandered off from the tour here and there to look around in areas they were not necessarily showing to us. We took pictures in some of these areas. I can say I experienced nothing paranormal that day, just took a lot of good photographs of a beautiful building. However, when reviewing the photographs a few days later, I came across one we had taken in one of the rooms we had wandered into that quite literally took my breath away. It was in a first floor room, I believe directly off the room where the scene in Shawshank Redemption was filmed where the warden introduces himself to the prisoners. This room was full of sinks that I assume were taken from some of the cells, as well as other miscellaneous furniture. In the photo, there is CLEARLY an individual, looking to be in his mid-20's. It was so clear that I could see that his hair was curly, and parted from the left to the right in 1920's or 1930's fashion. His attire appeared to be a button-down style shirt that was unbuttoned enough to reveal a white undershirt underneath. Now I must say that I am definitely NOT the type to see this type of thing in photos. I'd like to think of myself as a fairly skeptical individual in regards to photographic proof, and oftentimes when people point out "apparitions" in photos, I am in disagreement with them. In other words, what others would refer to as "orbs" in photos, I would call "dust" (and I captured a great many photos containing this dust). I was so shocked by the photo that I showed it to my friend who had been with me (also fairly skeptical) and asked her what she saw in it. She gasped almost immediately and pointed out clearly in the photo the exact image of the individual that I had seen. It was truly shocking and remarkable, and friends and family that I chose to share it with were intrigued by it. I wish I would tell you with all my heart that I still had this photo, as well as the others I had taken. I backed up all of my photos from this particular camera onto my old laptop, which in about 2008 became completely ineffective, rendering me no access to all I had saved whatsoever. Though I am not certain exactly what happened, the port where the power cord was inserted into the back became faulty, and was no longer providing power to the computer (though the cord and battery were completely functioning). Being unable to boot the computer whatsoever due to no power, I was unable to retrieve everything I had saved to it. I am truly kicking myself now for not uploading my photos elsewhere or backing them up in some other fashion, as I would have loved to share this particular photo with everyone. Thank you for allowing me to share my story!

In October 2010 I also received an e-mail from Richard about his visit to the Ohio State Reformatory:

I have been to the reformatory a few times (for the staged haunt). Recently I had the opportunity to work during the haunt. I was in a fenced off area on the ground floor in one of the cell blocks next to a pit, which I was told was dug out for the Shawshank Redemption. During the course of the night, my Gatorade bottle kept making its was to the other side of the fence and my tennis shoes (which were tied and double knotted) were untied every time I moved to make a scare. My friend was also complaining of a pain right below his ribs, as if he was being stabbed. He looked and there was bruising all over his stomach, but as we left he checked again and they were gone. Take it from me, there are definitely spirits there and some of them are pissed!

In October 2010 I also received an e-mail from Cindy about her visit to the Ohio State Reformatory:

Just a little note to let you know that my family and a friend went on an investigation at Mansfield in August 2010. In the East Cell Block 3rd floor, my daughter and her friend were walking alone the cells when they saw someone. They thought it was just another investigator, but soon found out it wasn't. The figure kept walking back and forth between the railing and the cell. This happened several times until it stopped and then turned and looked at them. The figure then started walking towards them. It was not a solid figure. Also, in one small hallway they heard screams that sounded like someone being tortured.

In March 2011 I received an e-mail from Matthew N. about his visit to the Ohio State Reformatory:

I just visited the Ohio State Reformatory on 3/12/2011. It was my first time going, and it definetly will not be my last. Me and my girlfriend were walking around the solitary confinement, and we were walking up a set of steps when I got push and my jacket was pulled right after. I thought my girlfriend pushed me, and I turned around to ask her why she pushed me. I saw that she was still at the very bottom of the steps. So I just started laughing. I know it sounds weird, but I couldn't help but laugh. I was taking random photos. We were in the basement and I caught a mist coming out of the wall and the floor, so I came home and put it on my TV. I got paper and traced the mist, and it looks like an arm and a part of a shoulder. Unfortunately, I didn't get any EVP's, but it was one of the best trips I have ever had.

In August 2011 I received an e-mail from Nathan about his visit to the Ohio State Reformatory:

In August 2011 a group of my friends and I were scheduled for the overnight ghost hunt at the Ohio State reformatory in Mansfield. For the first few hours we did not see or even hear any voices or shadows. Around 12:30 AM my wife and I were in the quartermasters' room facing the hallway. We could see the reflection of light in the hallway from the current prison. I observed a dark mass cross the light completely blocking the shadow. It wasn't but one minute later that my wife mentioned cold chills. At the exact moment my wife mentioned the chills, my head began ringing louder than I have ever heard it before. A pressure filled my head as if I had a massive head cold. My wife attempted to take my picture when I told her what was happening, but her camera would not focus on me. Tears actually filled my eyes from the amount of pressure in my head. Although video showed nothing, we captured an EVP about 10 minutes later. I told whatever spirit was in the room to tell me its name. Analysis of the recording has a demonic voice saying what sounds like "Satan." Most of our EVP's were captured in administration and the quartermasters' room.

In September 2011 I received an e-mail from an anonymous website visitor about a trip to the Ohio State Reformatory:

I went to the Mansfield prison yesterday. The only unusual thing I can speak of is an odd band of electromagnetic energy that appeared in my camera's field while I was taking photographs. This occurred in the cell block areas while I was on the ground floor, but not while on the upper floors. I could see it in the camera's display, but snapping a photo had it disappearing. I put my camera into video mode and was able to capture the energy field. I call it a band because it was a purple and black with sometimes green band of moving colors, similar to a barber pole. What was odd about it was that it seemed to emit from an overhead light fixture. I thought it may be an odd reflection with my camera somehow, so I focused on another overhead light fixture, but it did not have the same effect. The band was very strong-vivid colors and fast moving- on one side of the cell block, while the other side of the cell block it appeared fainter, weaker, not as vivid in color or movement. I would also alter the angle of my camera. The energy field would remain as a straight line, either perpendicular to the floor or horizontal to the floor, depending on how I held my camera. Best I could tell it appeared to be coming from the top of the second row of cells (or bottom of third row), extending through the light fixture, then toward the window when horizontal. When vertical it would begin in mid-air around the second/third row, extend upward through the fixture, then it appeared to extend beyond the fixture to the ceiling. Since this was a self-guided tour date, I did return to this section several times from each end. The band of energy/light occurred each time, in the same location and I could not duplicate this visual in other areas, despite repeated attempts.

No, I did not "feel" anything. There was another woman with her husband near me at one point. I asked her if she was picking up any interference on her camera. She said she was picking up a lot of stuff and launched into how the temperature was "real cold" in the showers, as well as some other dramatic conversation. This is the problem I have with all this...I think there was something going on in my photographs, but when so many people are going with the intent of "finding something" rather than an open mind to see what is there, their minds and imagination skews the science of the situation. I do plan on further investigating scientific explanations for these color/energy bands appearing in my photos. While I am curious, I am still a skeptic.

In May 2012 I received an e-mail from Alexis about a trip to the Ohio State Reformatory:

On May 19, 2012 my father and I took one of the tours after saying we would go after living in Ohio our whole lives. We were in the library section of the prison, and I was looking at some books on the desk when suddenly I started smelling something that was burning like paper and wood. I looked around, and my dad came over. He suddenly smelled the same thing. It was odd because it was confined to only one spot and lasted about a minute or two. We checked the windows to see if the smell was coming inside but nothing was. It finally disappeared, but not without being odd. The second experience was in solitary confinement. I was excited to go into solitary and see the cells, and was immediately drawn to the right side. After passing a few showers in solitary I started getting extremely uncomfortable. Then I stepped into the cell section on the right side of solitary. The feelings got worse and worse. I started walking on the right side of the hall instead of towards the cells. I avoided them at all costs which my dad had noticed. He was already towards the end of the halls and asked if I was okay and wanted to leave. I told him that I didn't know. We decided to leave. After we left solitary confinement the feelings disappeared and I was completely fine. While in solitary I kept feeling like I was being surrounded by a crowd or mob. My dad thinks I'm somewhat sensitive because being a young female adult I can still sometimes see and feel things that he can't, and suspects I inherited it from my grandmother who could see spirits. It was one of the most powerful experiences I've ever had and I hope to experience it again.

If you've had an interesting experience at the Ohio State Reformatory, please send me an e-mail and I'll post your story on the site.

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