Seen on shows such as Ghost Adventures, Ghost Hunters Academy, and My Ghost Story, the Ohio State Reformatory (or Mansfield Reformatory) in Mansfield, Ohio has been noted as one of the top haunted locations in the world. Utilized for many movie and music videos, most notoriously for the movie Shawshank Redemption, and on Sunday, August 18th twenty-nine of us investigated the historical location.
The Ohio State Reformatory was built by Freemasons in 1886 and was designed to rehabilitate first-time offenders. The architecture was (and still is) spectacular, originally modeled to resemble a castle and so it was thought that this would be a positive step for prison reform. Unfortunately, conditions rapidly deteriorated and this prison was left with a haunting legacy of abuse, inhumane torture, many murders and secrets that are still contained with the walls. Civil Rights activists lobbied successfully to shut the prison down in 1990 as the prisoners resided with rats, bugs, bats, moldy and decaying food and disease. Violence was just an everyday occurrence, as was bloodshed. 5 years later, in 1995, the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society opened the prison for ghost tours.
Considered to have the largest free-standing steel cell block in the world, the prison’s 6 levels is massive and even while being built it began with deaths with workmen falling off scaffolding. Also used as a tuberculous overflow area, sick civilians were purposefully (?) housed in the hospital near the prisoners with the hopes of thinning the over crowded population.
Many of the shows note hot spots for paranormal activity, including the Warden’s quarters where the Warden’s wife was shot when she apparently reached for something in her closet. It is said that you can smell her perfume, the Hole, solitary confinement, and the Infirmary. But there are other areas, miles and miles, to explore. And as I always say, ghosts don’t necessarily have to be stuck to one area – they can move around.
On Sunday, August 18th we went in search of what lurked within the stone walls of Mansfield Reformatory. In the dark.
The Investigation began at 8 PM and would last until 5 AM where we had free reign of 95% of the building. Hallways, tunnels and hundreds and hundreds of stairs was confusing and exciting as with every turn and every floor, we explored the tired building. Her floors dusty, fireplaces broken, windows cracked and home to many animals, living and dead. But no matter, Mansfield showed off her glory and shined even through the grime.
I see ghosts. And spirits. But when I do investigations I don’t want to be the center of attraction, I want participants to experience what they experience without me pointing and narrating. I do share. And I do get scared, which to some may seem odd, but I have not lost the human innocence of abnormality seeing, hearing, feeling and communicating with what most can’t and what most don’t want to.
And Mansfield didn’t disappoint. I was grabbed, touched, growled at, and cried and spoken to. My biggest issue, though, wasn’t the paranormal kind. It was bats.
We had a group of about ten going into a room down a long and narrow corridor when I heard the warning sign and yelled ‘Bats…move – go, go, go”. The group, confused and only hearing ‘go, go, go’, began to slowly walk back towards the entrance when I demanded they turn off their flashlights and go faster. It wasn’t until the screeching and the wing flapping over our heads when they realized that it wasn’t a ghost, or anything demonic, but living (I think) bats. Chuck was at the end of the corridor walking away from us when I yelled out ‘bat’ and he turned around and was smacked in the face with the fuzzy black being. I am not sure I have laughed that hard in a long time. The night continued with bats pestering me (karma?). So between one of the participants making bat noises to drive me, well, batty, and flapping his baseball hat to make bat noises in my ear (remember – we are in the dark), and the real bats dive bombing me, I hit the deck a few times and banged up my knee. My screams were becoming too frequent, so I kept my hand over my mouth and my eyes closed as I walked through one of the cells as everybody looked and laughed on, but I didn’t want to keep them from the real reason we were there – the experience.
Cameras malfunctioned, video cameras came on by themselves or wouldn’t turn on, paranormal equipment refused to work and as we tried to make heads or tales of it all, the 95% full moon cascaded light within windows, that was until the orange fog blanketed the prison – and only the prison. Watching it inch in from the Warden’s home and blocking the moon from the only light we had other than our flashlights (which was one reason why were having bat issues – LED lights confuse the creatures senses). At one point I felt like sitting down and sobbing, and that sad energy has continued with me two days later. In fact, yesterday I just sobbed. And sobbed. And then slept.
Many of the prisoners were petty thieves, but there were hardcore prisoners too. And thousands of death, many of which still haven’t crossed over, making this a favorite location for ghost hunters. At one point, we had communication with a man named William and another named Russ. Russ said he was in his 70’s and he was ready to be with his family. So several us sat in the then hospital and crossed him and William over because I don’t feel that it is fair for them to be imprisoned forever. And heck, there were many others and the ghost hunters won’t miss two of them. We had a dog (that looked like a Spaniel or small Shepherd) who ran around the Warden’s hallway and we did in fact smell rose perfume, and just as soon as we smelled it, it was gone.
I could barely sleep when we returned to the hotel at 5 AM – thinking that maybe my mission at the prison wasn’t completed and wondering when I could return to possibly find keys which could unlock more lost souls and assist them in finding final freedom.