(Orig. Published 8/14/2005)
Built in 1886, the Ohio State Reformatory was designed to humanely rehabilitate first-time offenders, and was initially applauded as a positive step toward prison reform. However, conditions rapidly deteriorated. After 94 years of operation, the prison’s legacy became one of abuse, torture, and murder. Denounced by civil rights activists for its “brutalizing and inhumane conditions,” the prison eventually shut down in 1990.
Now, within the decaying walls of this abandoned prison, the restless spirits of its prisoners and workers are said to still remain confined.
After taking over ownership of the prison in 1995, the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society (“MRPS”) unsealed the prison for ghost tours. Since the prison opened its gates to the public, it has been considered among ghost hunters as one of the most active haunted places in the United States. Paranormal investigators have captured numerous orb photographs and haunting EVPs. Many report unexplained cold spots and equipment malfunctions.
The imposing architecture, modeled to resemble Old World German castles and Victorian Gothic churches, succinctly conveys the atmosphere of the prison. Inmates recall deplorable conditions, including rats, inedible food, and disease. Violence among prisoners was an everyday way of life. Tales are told of inmates being sliced by shanks, beaten by soap bars, or thrown from six-story walkways, all over petty grievances. One African-American inmate reports of being disciplined by being placed in a “sweatbox”, a special type of torture that white prisoners escaped.
But perhaps the most terrifying prospect for prisoners was “The Hole”: an area of solitary confinement cells equipped with nothing but a toilet and a bunk, and where prisoners sometimes had to sleep on the bare concrete floors. On one occasion, following a riot, approximately 120 prisoners were confined to “The Hole” for 30 days, with only 20 rooms to hold them. During this time, at least one inmate was alleged to have been murdered, his body hidden by another inmate under some bedding for several days.
Prisoners were not the only victims. In 1948, inmates brutally murdered a prison farmer and his family. In 1950, the warden’s wife died under “mysterious circumstances.” She had allegedly died after a gun accidentally fired while she was searching for items in her closet. The warden later suffered a heart attack at the prison, and died soon thereafter.
Currently, the MRPS holds regularly-scheduled overnight ghost tours for those brave enough to explore the remains of this foreboding prison. On June 25th, 2005, we attended one of these tours with some friends, including paranormal investigator Dennis Lytle, whose Michigan-based website Phantoms in the Dark features his extensive work using infrared video photography and EVP. At approximately 9:00 p.m., the operators shut off the lights, and left us to our own devices as we explored the dark, dank cell blocks and warden’s quarters.
Nothing prepares you for the immense size and scale of the prison. Considered to have the largest free-standing steel cell block in the world, the prison’s 6 levels of imposing cells tower over you. Walking along the upper blocks, the feeling of cold vertigo can be overpowering.
As this picture aptly demonstrates, the condition of the prison can be terrible, almost to the point of posing an environmental hazard! During some points of our tour, we seemed to almost choke on the dust, mold, dried paint, and other floating particles.
The MRPS recently opened up the Infirmary for the ghost tours.
Several paranormal investigators have reported strange, even hostile activity in this area.
Access to the infirmary is difficult, as you must find your way through a maze of steep, treacherous stairs. Upon going through the narrow entrance, the cavernous room can be overwhelming. We noticed a distinctly creepy, vibrating presence. Of course, some of these feelings can be explained by the hum of power generators nearby.
Another shot of the infirmary, this one toward the side rooms. While not confirmed, it is believed that these rooms were used for critically ill patients, and at least one of them appears to have been an operating room.
The “orbs” in the picture are most likely caused by dust particles and other debris captured by the flash of the camera.
One of the staircases leading to the warden’s administration offices and quarters.
Also considered to be one of the prison’s more active areas, visitors report hearing the voices of the warden and his wife. The faint smell of perfume can be sensed in the “Pink Room,” the warden’s private bathroom.
While heading to the spiral staircase leading to the guard’s tower, the red glow of the setting sun through the prison window lent a particularly eerie aura to the room.
Unfortunately, due to security and policy reasons, we were prohibited from taking pictures from the guard tower, and from taking pictures of the nearby prison cemetery.
Odd. This attic door opens out into a bottomless space over one of the warden’s staircases.
A chair in the back of a room at the end of one of the corridors in the warden’s section. While we didn’t sense any paranormal activity here, this seemed to freak out a lot of the other visitors who were exploring this area. I guess seeing an empty chair in the dark will do that.
After seemingly walking miles and inhaling all sorts of toxic crap during the ghost tour, we did not experience any definitive paranormal activity, although one person in our group did sense an unfriendly, strong presence and captured in EVP in the infirmary. Still, it was definitely worth the money and pain to be able to freely explore this large, old historic prison.
For more information about Mansfield Reformatory, including its history and tour schedules, you can access the MRPS website by clicking here.
Check out Forgotten Ohio’s webpage on Mansfield Reformatory by clicking here.
Ohio Exploration Society also has an excellent webpage on the prison, including some good daylight photos.
Check out this interesting article on Mansfield inmates Murl Daniels and John Coulter West and their infamous killing spree.
10/13/05: Orbs at Mansfield Prison? *gasp* Michelle captured some of those pesky little critters during a hunt last year:
Last October, my boyfriend and I went to the reformatory for the annual haunted hunt, and being fascinated by old architecture I started to take pics of the outside building. When I looked at these pics later, I was startled to see so many orbs in the pics, especially the one where the orb is really bright. Kinda sad to think that so many souls are still attatched to that place. Here are the pics.
10/12/05: From Andy Harley:
My name is Andy Harley. As my tiny tribute to the paranormal, and also a small dedication to your awesome site, I would like to share with you a poem that I’ve written entitled, “Here Comes the Chill” – which is based on taking a Ghost Hunt in the old Ohio State Reformatory. This particular poem of mine is now actually framed and hanging on a wall in the old Ohio State Reformatory. In the past 3 years I’ve become pretty good friends with the head tour administrator of OSR – Jan Urban; I sent Jan the poem about a year ago, and she then displayed it for me!
I should also mention to you that I was given the wonderful opportunity of having my book of 62 poems, Till The Dreaming’s Done: “Poems Crafted For Thinking People” (ISBN 1-4137-8232-9) published this year, and this is actually one of the poems that can be found in my book. So, it would be an absolute HONOR for me to share just this 1 thing of mine with a whole plethora of ghosthunters strewn throughout this great big world of ours:
HERE COMES THE CHILL
The old Ohio State Reformatory
Is the place I’ll be exploring tonight;
Staying in there from darkness till dawn,
I pray that everything will be alright.
Back in 1896 is when it first opened its doors,
And stood 94 years as a working prison;
As daylight drains from the evening sky,
A masking curtain of fog now clouds my vision.
Looking up at the castlelike corner turrets,
And cold gray foreboding stone,
This massive medieval looking structure,
I now make my way into . . . all alone.
Sharing this place with a slew of souls,
Some who had met untimely and “accidental” deaths;
How uncertain it will be in here,
And I hope not to feel anyone’s hands or breaths.
Down the abandoned hallways I go,
Walking over a few creaking floorboards;
My flashlight reveals shadowy corners,
As a door off its hinges I now head towards.
Many rooms honeycomb this administration area,
And at times, I stand in pause;
I’m just waiting for something to materialize,
And walk itself right through these walls.
I inhale reflections from the past,
And the echo of tragically departed souls appears;
It’s as if human eyes haven’t seen any of these parts,
In over one hundred years.
As I now wend my way though the dungeon-like basement,
It’s almost like a small maze?
In the morbid blackness, I strain my eyes to see,
With a fixed unblinking gaze;
My thoughts are piled like cordwood
And stoke the fires of my nervous imagination;
You can just feel the restless energy resonating,
And right away, I decide to leave this location.
Spellbinding, and stacked tier on tier,
I now move towards the six-story steel cellblock.
Being the tallest freestanding one in the world,
Its doors are now open round the clock.
The peeling lead paint looms and lingers
Off of its shivery walls and decaying bars;
A person can sense by walking its corridors
All of its traumatic, and unseeable scars;
Finally, I journey to the dreaded solitary confinement,
Also known as The Hole.
Imprinted on this area are the spirits of tormented inmates,
Who still do lurk and stroll.
It has a very strong and musty, unlived smell,
That hangs thick in the whispering air.
As I fearlessly walk down to the end of its wing
I am somewhat foreseeing a scare.
Suddenly, I encounter some icy cold spots,
Followed by a real eye-opening chill;
Both of them make my hair stand up on end,
And I think I’ve now just about had my fill.
I am both physically, and mentally exhausted;
But with a strange little smile on my face.
Heading home to sleep with my light on,
I’m just glad I escaped the perils of this place!
10/6/05: Melissa, a former corrections officer for the reformatory, recalls some weird experiences:
I just wanted to say that I worked in Mansfield OHIO for the Reformatory as a Correctional Officer, I worked for the State of OHIO for 11 years. I have a partial retirement from the State and now I am a Police Officer.
I can tell you, there was some strange things that from time to time did go on at the Reformatory, however they could of been explained as a coincidence. There was a Lieutenant, Lieutenant Johnson, who used to purposely place items in the old Furniture Factory which was located (no longer there, they tore it down when they tore down the walls) on the North East end of the yard. Now I worked the North East tower several times and I saw a person standing in the window of the Furniture Factory on the top floor (around 2 am EST) but it could have been an employee. Who was in there at that time of night without using a flashlight, who knows??? It was strange because all the lights stayed off at night, you always would know when and employee was there because of seeing flashlight. I never saw a light but a person… so that was a weird incident, still could of been an employee.
The factory was full of very old heavy, large furniture. Lt. Johnson would move the furniture to see if you had found an item he had placed in there and report it to him. A lot of guards were afraid of going in there at night, or just plain lazy to do a round. I was a lazy one, and chilled at the same time. Half the time I was afraid of the very large cats, real “Garfields” with heads the size of dogs. But some of these items would come up missing, and no one would know what happened to them. A lot of stabbings took place in the Funiture factory, so that could explain the ghosts if it was really true.
If you go up to the top of the range all the way to chapel, they used to keep a coffin in there. There was writing from the 1860’s on the wall from inmates, and I know that a lot of them died in earlier years due to stabbings. So, all of this probably could explain a ghost or two.
I heard a lot of strange unexplained noises at night, but they could of been bats, rats, or very large cats.
4/1/2004: Janelle shares this strange photo she captured at the infamous Mansfield Reformatory. She writes:
This picture contains a face in some mist by the pond there. I emailed that one to a friend and he found 10 other faces in the same picture. I actually did look at it again and can see a few others, but I didn’t see all that he found.