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The Ohio State Reformatory

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By Angela Ash


The Ohio State Reformatory rises like a castle in the distance, seeming almost more like an entity than a building.  With construction beginning in 1886, this structure seems like something from another time and place... heavily influenced by its architectural designs of Victorian Gothic, Queen Anne, and Romanesque. One can almost hear whispered voices, even from beyond the thick walls... quickly wondering what it would have been liked to have been held inside of them. 

Located in picturesque Mansfield, Ohio, the doors to the prison have been closed since late 1990. Since then, the building has fallen into decay... only recently having felt the loving touch of anything reminiscent of progress.

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While many people may know of the reformatory due to its notoriety as the location for Shawshank Redemption, others visit for its educational, historical significance. Others still visit for a completely different reason altogether. Having been featured on such paranormal programs like Ghost Hunters, it is easy to see why brave souls break out their flashlights and EMF detectors in hopes of having a brush with the other side.  At the Ohio State Reformatory, it is nearly impossible to leave otherwise.

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Once inside the imposing structure, the floors are littered with dust and small debris, and the walls are peeling paint and sometimes wallpaper.  It is obvious that the building has not been used for some time, but sometimes the obvious can be deceiving.  Some rooms look as if everyone merely left in a great hurry, leaving behind books, office supplies, and even personal belongings.  If walking too noisily through the abandoned library, one almost feels as if an angry librarian may emerge from behind a pile of dusty books to give a quick scolding.  And in the warden's apartments, small whiffs of perfume seem to blow across the room.  As that many visitors report this over and over, it probably isn't a stretch to link this to the warden's wife, who accidentally was shot when reaching for something on a top shelf, dislodging a loaded weapon. 

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This is a VAST property to explore, with each new area holding surprises at every twist and turn.  Even the prison chapel holds a story, as that this was the scene of one of the reformatory's numerous escape attempts.  This is where the reformatory begins to seem to truly come alive... past the warden's area and the offices, and into the actual places where the prisoners interacted, ate, slept, and often died. 

Opening the door into the actual cell blocks is literally breathtaking.  The rows and rows of cells seem to reach to the sky.  There are feelings of anger, sadness, and helpfulness that wash over all but the most unresponsive to empathy.  It is not hard to understand why some spirits still remain, trapped in the one place that they had hoped to escape in life.  However, it is easy to view such happenings as merely "stories", or the feeling that anyone would have in such a melancholy place... until one experiences something that can not be explained.

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Of course, I had already experienced feelings, smells, and even vibrations while inside of the reformatory.  I began to lose count of the times that the hairs along my arms stood on end.  At this point, I was only taking note of situations that were screaming... literally begging for my attention.  We were in a room that the workers referred to as the "chair room".  Apparently the chair has decided to move of its own accord on more than one occasion.  While we were in the room, the chair seemed to remain still, but something else was definitely on the move.  While photographing, we also began to video, because several unexplained strips of light began to materialize on many of the images.  Let me stress that while we were not the only people in this enormous facility, we dutifully waited until everyone else had passed into another area, and we were no longer able to hear their voices or footsteps.  There was COMPLETE silence in the room as we continued to take photographs and short video.  After one such video, we decided to play it immediately, as that the "scratches" of light were becoming more prominent in the photos.  We watched the video... completely void of any sound, until suddenly an extremely loud noise literally roared from the camera.  The best way to describe this noise would be as a really loud dragging and scratching sound... similar to the sound that might emerge as a large, metal desk or file cabinet were being drudged across a wooden floor. I immediately jumped, as that this video had been recorded several seconds before, and we had heard absolutely NOTHING in the room during the recording. 

As with all good things, it didn't stop there. Note the three lights at the top of the next photograph. Now look closer to the bottom of the railed flooring.  This is neither a light or a reflection, and photographs taken seconds before and after do not depict this strange, orb-like phenomena.

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 As we traveled throughout this marvelous structure, we ran into several workers who all seemed to have stories to tell.  Almost everyone had heard voices or seen shadows.  A few had been touched or grabbed.  One tale really interested me, however, because it had just happened.  A volunteer had been walking somewhere along the wing, glancing in at each cell as he moved along the path.  At number 38, he saw a dark shadow, moving into the corner, as if it had been startled. He turned, and it was gone.  Maybe an hour later, we were walking from one side of the building to the other, completely losing track of exactly where we were.  I felt an extremely strange feeling come over me, and I felt something tap me right behind my knee... just as I was walking past a particular cell.  I looked back at the cell door to see a number above it... the first cell number I had actually even noticed during my visit.  It was number 38. 

The Ohio State Reformatory offers plenty of options to witness its magnificence for yourself.  Daily self-guided tours are offered during the summer. They also offer educational visits, host charity events, and yes, of course, offer overnight ghost hunts.  Visit the Ohio State Reformatory online to plan your experience.