Haunted Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield
The Ohio State Reformatory is located in Mansfield, Ohio and was originally built as a reformatory for young delinquents in 1896. It went on to house prisoners who over the years were increasingly violent offenders. Many people are familiar with the Mansfield Reformatory because it was used as the prison in the Shawshank Redemption movie. It is also touted as being one of the "Scariest Places on Earth" according to Fox Family Channel. Recently I had the opportunity to go on a private ghost hunt of this supposedly haunted prison, and the following is what I learned on my trip to this very old, very creepy building.
Photos of Ohio State Reformatory at MansfieldClick thumbnail to view full-size
My friend and I entered the prison grounds slightly before sunset. The building is enormous and gothic-looking. It is located adjacent to two other working prisons, so very few photos can be taken of the building. There are plenty of corrections officers around to ensure you don’t take any photos of prisoners walking around the yards, so if you ever have a chance to visit this prison don’t even try to take photos outside of the “approved” areas. For avid ghost hunters this can be a bummer – the burial grounds for prisoners (O. Henry Field) is off limits.
At the Beginning
I booked a ghost hunt in this prison through Troy Taylor’s website. He does a great job of putting together hunts in unusual places, which usually includes access to areas that are off limits to the general public. At the Mansfield Reformatory we had virtually a full run of the place; the only areas off limits were those that were literally falling apart, and who wants to break a leg in the dark?
We were given a tour of the building by a very knowledgeable guide, and at that point of our tour the place had all of the lights on. We were told all about the most prominent deaths on the premises, local lore and the truth about a few of the deaths on the property unrelated to the prisoners. After this tour, we were guided to the meeting room (former prison cafeteria), where we were given all the pizza we could eat along with unlimited cold drinks and coffee (and no, there wasn’t any alcohol allowed, though some screaming ghost hunters probably could have used a stiff drink).
After the Guided Tour...
After our guided tour was over, it was lights out… literally. All of the lights in the building were turned out, with the exception of the common meeting area, which was just off the bullpen. Since this building was so large, our ghost hunting group of about 50 people quickly dispersed in search of ghosts and orbs. My friend and I decided to start at the chapel, which is located on one of the uppermost floors. Our thought was that it would be easier to start at the top of this structure and work our way down. This was probably one of the best ideas we had the entire evening as there is a lot of climbing stairs to get around the Mansfield Reformatory.
After an uneventful visit to the chapel which had most recently been used as a gym, we started our descent through the four stories of jail cells that comprised most of the wing of the building. We silently prayed that we wouldn’t fall off of the scaffolding that was being used during the current renovations. According to our tour guide, one such disaster had occurred when the prison was in use. Inmates were coming back from dining and were walking on scaffolding which collapsed mid-air. More than a dozen inmates lost their lives in the accident. We walked briskly on the two-foot wide walkway next to the open cells. The only thing lighting our way were our lights that clipped on the bill of our baseball caps. I don’t mind saying that we walked briskly because of the sheer creepiness of the area. You could almost feel eyes watching you as you passed certain cells.
We briefly visited the library and the shower areas before heading back to the bullpen. The shower is reported to be haunted – several people have reported that they’ve been touched or had their hair pulled while in the room. The library still had old records and a few books lying on the circulation desk. For us, no ghosts touched us or yanked our hair.
The infirmary, which was previously closed to the public, was also uneventful. Apparently some people have taken photos of orbs or felt a presence in this area. I however, felt nothing.
After exploring these areas we found our way back to the bullpen and sought coffee to warm up. Visiting this old prison in the spring, despite the 60 degree temperatures did nothing for us once indoors. The prison was 15 to 20 degrees colder than the outdoor temperatures, and the building is damp. Drinking coffee was imperative to take the chill off.
Our next plan was to check out the solitary confinement (aka "the hole") area. At the entrance to this area it doesn’t seem so bad. The first cells weren’t that small and there was still some light streaming in the area from the bullpen. However, the further you walked away from the entrance, the darker and narrower the passages became. The smell of the dampness and dirt did nothing to improve the area. The cells also became smaller and if you’re claustrophobic, this isn’t the place for you to be. I’m claustrophobic and couldn’t wait to get out of this part of the building. I can honestly say that this, to me, was the scariest part of the building. You couldn’t see more than a foot in front of you, even with a flashlight. I think the ghosts in this place want you to feel as scared as they did when they were put in there.
Haunted Warden's Quarters
No doubt, many of you interested in the Mansfield Reformatory have heard the story about the Warden and the ghost of his wife who apparently still haunt their old living quarters on the site. The true story is often lost in the lore told second hand. The true story is as follows.
Warden Lewis Glattke and his wife, Helen, lived in the Mansfield Reformatory (as did all wardens and assistant wardens while it was in operation). Helen was reaching up into the cupboard of her closet for a box when a gun fell to the floor, discharging. A bullet entered Helen's chest. However, Helen did not die on the premises, as is often reported. She was transported to a local hospital where she was treated for her wound. Unfortunately, she died from pneumonia as a complication of her wounds. Her husband, the warden, was never charged with murder in her death.
As a side note, I looked in the closet where the accident took place. There are cupboards that have doors that open down instead of opening out. If something was placed just inside one of these cupboards, the action of pulling the door open could easily explain how a gun near the edge of the cupboard would easily fall out and onto the floor. The closet is not very wide, though the ceilings are very high. The cupboards are difficult to get open if you are a short person, since they are placed overhead.
Warden Glattke died nine years after his wife; his death was caused by a heart attack. He did not die on the premises either, but rather in the local hospital where his wife died.
According to some ghost hunters, Helen's floral perfume can still be smelled in her pink bathroom. Their son's room, at the time of this writing, still has the wallpaper with toy cars on it. It is hard to imagine being a child living in a prison, even with the large living areas within the Warden's Quarters.
Tips for a Visit or Ghost Hunt
Based on my own experience, here's what I would advise to anyone visiting the Mansfield Reformatory:
- Visit during the day before doing a ghost hunt. This place is HUGE and it may be helpful to learn the layout during the daylight hours before wandering around in the dark.
- Wear the most comfortable shoes you can find. There is a lot of walking involved and some uneven areas to navigate as well. In the dark it gets even harder, especially in areas like "the hole."
- Bring flashlights that can be used hands free, like the ones that clip onto a hat. You'll need your hands to steady yourself in the dark when navigating some of the scaffolding and stairways.
- Bring more than one camera, or bring lots of batteries for your camera. The juice seems to get drained pretty quickly in this building. Perhaps ghosts are really battery juice junkies!
- Dress warmly for ghost hunts held in the evening. This building is very chilly and damp feeling. I would advise jeans (no shorts) and a sweatshirt for evening ghost hunts.
- Wear a vest with lots of pockets if going ghost hunting. It frees up your hands for other things and gives you a place to put all your gear where it can be easily grabbed.
- Read the rules for ghost hunts on the Mansfield Reformatory's website. There are LOTS of rules regarding your visit to this historical building, too numerous to enter here.
- Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society
- Mansfield Reformatory
Has a good collection of photos taken inside the Mansfield Reformatory.
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