Ohio State Reformatory

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Place Category: Concert Club

  • The Ohio Penitentiary

    From the website of Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

    Built in 1834, the Ohio Penitentiary was actually the second Ohio Penitentiary, the third state prison, and the fourth jail in early Columbus. In April 1955 it housed an all-time high of 5,235 prisoners. Most prisoners were removed from the prison by 1972 with the completion of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, and the facility was closed in 1984. The state sold the Ohio Penitentiary to the City of Columbus in 1995.

    Much debate has surrounded the future of the Ohio Penitentiary. When thoughts turned to demolishing the penitentiary, the preservationist community mounted a campaign to save at least five historic buildings on Spring Street. The City of Columbus is cooperating with preservationists on a federal review of these buildings. However, crews are scheduled to begin tearing down the remaining 15 buildings in March, 1997. Demolition is expected to take three to four months. In addition to the above-ground demolition work, the city must hire a contractor to remove or minimize underground contamination remaining from decades of industrial activity and coal-burning at the site. The 23-acre site, bounded by Maple, West and Spring Streets and Neil Avenue, was the proposed location of a soccer stadium of up to 35,000 seats. However, on May 6, 1997, Franklin County voters rejected a three-year sales tax increase which would have helped finance this project. The future of the Pen site remains unknown.


    Ghostly History of OSR

    As reported by News Channel 4, Columbus, Ohio 1997

    Stone walls and iron bars they’re still here, but what of the humanity, if you can call it that, of the old Ohio State Reformatory at Mansfield. What of the 154,000 inmates who passed through it’s gates in it’s 94 years as a working prison. Not to mention their keepers, the Wardens, and the Guards, the gravediggers, and the rest, what of them remains? As it turns out, more than you might think. No matter what their crime, some sent to Mansfield have never left. They rest unclaimed in a cheerless graveyard just outside the fence. 215 numbered markers laid out row on row. Most were victims of disease, influenza, tuberculosis, but some died of less natural causes; From the violence, that is all to common inside any prison and was far from unknown in this one. And the worst of it occurred well away from the main cell block with their rows of cages stacked tier on tier, and inmates, one or two to a cell. There were too many eyes, too many witnesses here, no the worst of it was reserved for a far lonelier place, deep beneath the prison ground. A place called local control, or solitary, by some, known by everyone else as the hole. Near total isolation can crack all but the toughest of cons, but none was so alone that there wasn’t room for death. At least one inmate managed to hang himself, another set himself on fire, once two men left too long in a single tomb like cell, only one walked out, leaving his cellmate’s body behind, stuffed beneath a bunk. Could there be other similar surprises? Or words left over from the days before the prison closed? Even when they’re empty, some swear something walks these halls. It isn’t enough for contemporary visitors not to wonder off alone while sight seeing, what‘s become one of Mansfield’s more popular tourist attractions. But the bloodiest single incident in the old prison’s history occurred outside it’s walls. In July 1948, when the Reformatory’s farm boss, his wife and daughter were kidnapped and shot to death by two parolees bent on revenge. A six state manhunt for the so called mad-dog killers ended in a shootout that left Robert Daniels of Columbus in custody and his partner, James West dead. “I’ll get the Chair” Daniels told police as he signed the confession. And on January 3rd, 1949, he did. A year later in 1950 disaster struck again. This time, here in the living quarters of the Warden himself. The Warden’s wife, removing a jewelry box from a closet shelf dislodged a pistol from it’s hiding place. When it hit the floor, the gun went off inflicting a fatal wound. And within the decade, even more bad luck. The Warden, hard at work in his office, suffered a heart attack and died. All this was nearly 40 years ago and more, how then to explain the voices shaken tour guides swear they hear today? Man and woman talking, to faint to understand, to persistent to ignore and chilling to listeners who think they’re alone, only to find themselves apparently eavesdropping on the warden and his wife locked forever in an endless conversation from beyond the grave.

    Redemption: The Ohio State Reformatory

    Redemption: The Ohio State Reformatory

    by Shannon Lusk


    Lusk,S. Redemption: The Ohio State Reformatory. The Paranormal Underground. 28 May 2013.

    28-29. Print


    Sitting on the top of a crest, stoic and proud, constructed
    of limestone and iron, the ramparts of the
    Ohio State Reformatory (OSR) stand with conviction.
    Originally built as a boy’s reformatory school and
    opened in 1896, the Reformatory housed over 155,000
    inmates within its walls until it closed in December 1990.
    The hauntingly beautiful architecture and design was
    crafted by Cleveland architect Levi Scofield. Both alluring
    and mesmerizing, the Germanic-Romanesque style has
    given the building its nickname of “Dracula’s Castle.”
    Located in Mansfield, Ohio, the OSR houses the
    largest cell blocks found within the penal system. Standing
    six stories high, the East Cell block is the highest freestanding
    cell block in existence. At one time some of the
    cells within the building were only meant to house one
    prisoner at a time. However, over the years and with the
    influx of prisoners, they became over populated. These
    once “cozy” entrapments became stuffy and crowded due
    to doubling or tripling up on lodging.

    Such close quarters often caused quarrels and acts of
    violence resulting in injuries and even fatalities.

    A Tough Life at the Reformatory

    Life for the prisoners was anything but ideal. Just
    as animals in the wild had to learn to adapt and survive
    in their surroundings, so did the occupants of the OSR.
    Shanks, shivs, dice, and other contraband were found
    within the crevices of the prisoner’s cells. The inmates of
    the Reformatory were talented craftsman, making items
    such as tattoo guns out of a toothbrush, clock motor, ball
    point pen, bell wire, and duct tape.

    Because the luxuries of the outside world were denied
    to them, they invented ways to indulge in comforts
    one would find within their own kitchen. Created by attaching
    two spoons together with bell wire and cardboard
    as insulation, inmates could use this “water warming”
    device to make many delightful cups of coffee.
    Prisoners were not the only inhabitants of the OSR
    that had to learn to adapt to an unusual living situation.
    Many of the wardens, assistant wardens, guards, and staff
    also lived on the premises while it was a working prison.

    The front part of the facility on both of the east and
    west sides were considered “home sweet home.” Living
    quarters, fit for a king, were fashioned for the warden and
    his family on the east side of the Administration quarters.
    With a flavor of Victorian style accenting the beautifully
    constructed wood work, these quarters housed many
    memories, especially for the children that grew up within
    its walls.

    Eventually, after the prison was deemed unsatisfactory,
    it closed, and the State of Ohio decided it was going
    to tear down the iconic dwelling that once housed notorious
    criminals. However, before they could, the macabre
    demeanor of the building caught the eye of Hollywood
    Producers and in 1993, the infamous film, The Shawshank
    Redemption, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan
    Freeman, was filmed on site.

    Over a span of about 20 years, the Reformatory has
    been cleaned, preserved, and restored by the MRPS, volunteers,
    and staff of the OSR. Because people love and value
    the history of this institution so much, they work all year
    round to help improve the conditions of the building so
    that the public is able to tour this magnificent building
    and understand what it was like to live and work within
    these confines.

    Paranormal Investigators Flock to the OSR

    The folklore of the building is nothing short of diabolical.
    There are many inmates that still walk the halls of
    the OSR in search of something most have not yet figured
    out. Reports of shadow men darting in and out of the cells
    and the disembodied voices creeping from empty rooms
    keep visitors coming back year after year to participate in
    the OSR Ghost Hunts.

    Doors slamming, visitors being pushed and scratched,
    and equipment failure are some of the many experiences
    ghost hunters find when traipsing around the dark building
    during the twilight hours. The allure of such activity
    has sparked the interest of many paranormal shows that
    highlight facilities such as the OSR.

    The OSR has been featured on My Ghost Story,
    Paranormal Challenge, Ghost Adventures, Ghost Hunters
    Academy, Ghost Hunters, and Scariest Places on Earth.
    Although there is a lot of activity that happens in the darkness,
    most of the volunteers report that paranormal activity
    is at its highest sometimes during the day. It is always
    beneficial to take a tour of the building before engaging in a
    paranormal investigation.

    Events and Programs

    The building’s tour season begins promptly in April and
    offers self-guided tours Monday-Sunday and guided
    tours on Saturdays and Sundays. There are many programs held on site
    throughout the year that offer a world of entertainment
    for the public and also for those who want to rent out the
    facility for their own private use.

    The Ohio State Reformatory offers their Central
    Guard Room for weddings, conventions, meetings, and
    dances, etc. The building also offers programs such as
    ghost hunts, ghost walks, archival programs, and historical
    outreach. The facility has also been the canvas for many films,
    video, and photo shoots.


    contributed by Shannon Lusk, Ohio State Reformatory (former) Curator

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