Exploring ‘Shawshank,’ Outside Mansfield at the Ohio State Reformatory

Does this look familiar? (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

Does this look familiar? (Photo by Michael E. Grass)

MANSFIELD, Ohio — For fans of the “Shawshank Redemption,” the camera angle you see here will likely be familiar. This is the desk of the corrupt prison warden, Samuel Norton, and something big happens here toward the end of the 1994 film — I don’t want to spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen it — and a bunch of police cars come streaming up the prison’s front approach seen in the background.

The film, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman and inspired by a Steven King novella titled “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” tells the story of the fictional Shawshank State Prison in Maine. But the Ohio State Reformatory, decommissioned as a prison in 1990 after 94 years in service, was used for filming and today is a local tourist attraction administered by the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society. If you’re in the area, it’s a worthwhile stop.

While the reformatory isn’t located directly off the Lincoln Highway, which runs through the center of Mansfield, it is convenient to the modern routing of U.S. 30, which runs as a bypass north of town. The prison is an amazing place to explore, including the world’s largest free-standing steel cellblock, parts of which you get to walk through. You can also go into solitary confinement, the shower rooms, hospital and administrative wings. The audio tour warns not to shut any prison cell doors as the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society doesn’t have any keys to reopen them.

For “Shawshank” fans, the tours — guided or self guided — do an excellent job of telling the story of the filming, which happened 20 years ago this summer. (There’s a 20th reunion planned for late August and early September.)

And if you’re into paranormal activities and ghost stories, there’s plenty of that, too. All the peeling paint, deterioration and general clammy feeling of the place helps make it even more spooky. A number of visitors have been reportedly heard voices, felt like they were poked by unknown forces or have temporarily gotten violently ill in certain spots. (I didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary.)

Here are some photos from my visit.

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