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.
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
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
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
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