This might be hard for some of you to read but I’ve only seen the film The Shawshank Redemption once all the way through. I wasn’t planning on seeing it but as a film lover, I feel I must see those films deemed ‘great.’ But while I’ve only seen the movie once, I’ve ridden past the Mansfield Reformatory in Ohio countless times dating back to before the film was even made while on our way to the town where many of my extended family live.
The ride from my home in New York to Central Ohio felt like an eternity to me as kid but once we got on to Route 30 from Interstate 71 and the road dipped down into a valley, there on my right set back up on a slight incline from the road would be the Mansfield Reformatory looking castle-esque compared to the surrounding factories. Once I saw the Reformatory I knew we were almost to my Aunt’s.
As I got older I learned that parts of The Shawshank Redemption were filmed there. Right here in small town Ohio. Huh. Who knew? On a trip this past summer, my family and I were looking to do something we hadn’t done in our many years of visiting. I suggested touring the Reformatory. On the self-guided tour, I learned that not only were parts of Shawshank filmed on site but, among others, so were parts of Air Force One, and Tango and Cash. Also, a Lil’ Wayne video was filmed throughout the building and grounds.
The Reformatory dates back to 1896 and was closed in 1990. Directly behind the facility is the Richland Correctional Institution. Seeing the men in their yard little more than a stone’s throw away from the Reformatory added a sense of perspective to the tour. This wasn’t just a movie set.
The tour starts with the administration building, the Warden’s apartment, and the mention of spirits that have been known to haunt the facility. To layer on the creepy factor they have a room with no windows in which they have placed a chair in the center just to see if it moves. Fortunately, perhaps, this room is right before you enter the Catholic Chapel.
There are two cell blocks – East and West. The East is the world’s tallest free-standing steel cell block i.e. the cells are not attached to the walls of the building but are in the center and look out toward the walls. After you pass through the chapel and step into the East Cell Block your stomach drops as you realize you are standing on a narrow, old grated catwalk suspended six floors above the ground and the only way to go is forward across it.
Did I mention the place was creepy? Throughout the tour I kept waiting to catch something move in the corner of my eye. But while in the dark and dank solitary confinement area, I chose to walk quickly to ensure I wasn’t successful.
Peeling paint was everywhere: the walls, the floors, the cells, the bars. Upon leaving the tour we were reminded to wash our hands and to not touch the bottoms of our shoes for risk of the lead in the paint getting into our systems.
What was particularly cool about this trip was that the Mansfield Reformatory was something that we passed by a million times but never took the time to check out. What other places do I pass by all the time and never stop? Now I try and keep me eyes open to see what I’m missing right in my own backyard.