Ohio State Reformatory and The Shawshank Redemption

The day of our visit to the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio, was bright and sunny.  We were excited because we’d have a private tour from my niece, Veronica, who is a volunteer at “the prison” where The Shawshank Redemption (a Stephen King novella titled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption turned classic movie) was filmed.


The reformatory served as a prison for hardened criminals for many years from 1896 through the 1990s.  Life in this prison was filled with hard work, substandard meeting of basic needs, cruelty among inmates and guards, executions, and opportunities for rehabilitation for those inspired to do so.

The front of the prison has the appearance of an elaborate castle.  The photos below are the warden’s living quarters for his family.




The building is quite beautiful, boasting large rooms with stained glass windows in the living quarters.

The family dwelling is only a wall away from the actual prison, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the warden ever felt leery of the safety of his family in such close proximity to the criminals and prison life.

In current day, the prison is a museum of sorts explaining prison life in the early 1900s and throughout the past century.   Executions were also carried out on the premises.


There were two famous movies filmed on location at the Ohio State Reformatory.  One of which was Air Force One with Harrison Ford.  Locations are marked throughout the tour where scenes were filmed.

Probably the most well-known movie was The Shawshank Redemption.  It’s one of my personal favorites, which made the visit even more exciting for me.


The warden’s office as it appeared in the movie:


Life-sized pop-ups of favorite movie characters are dispersed throughout the prison.  Below are Andy and Red.

There was also the half-way house room where Brooks met his demise in the film.  Notice the inscription in the wood–“So was Red.”  It was a profound moment in the movie.


Just a small video clip from the most famous line in the movie:

After exploring the front portion of the reformatory containing the warden’s quarters and movie sets, the tour continues throughout the actual prison.  Those hallways, rooms, and cell blocks aren’t as glamorous and pretty.  Peeling paint, rusting metal work, and remnants of a past prison system was haunting and horrifying.


The wall of cellblocks was daunting.


The cells were small and sparsely furnished.  The museum also provided personal stories of some of the inmates throughout the tour.


The prison did have an infirmary and library.  The rooms were spacious, but the abandoned hospital rooms were a bit disturbing.


The chapel was an interesting place.


The paint, stucco, and drywall in the building are slowly deteriorating, but the skeletal “bones” of the structure remain.


Lighting in the darkened halls was interesting.  There was an intersection of four rooms where the light (when the doors were all opened) revealed a large X on the hallway floor.  “Meet at the X” was code for the guards to meet to obtain daily or special instructions, especially on execution days.


The prison is open to public tours.  The premises is available for scheduling events such as weddings, ballroom activities, and other social gatherings.  Despite being a prison, the room below is quite beautiful for those specific purposes.


The prison is kind of creepy.  Knowing there were hardened criminals existing and surviving in their own form of community with fights, cruelty, and even executions, there was an eery feeling in the air.  The modern day Ohio State Reformatory offers ghost tours and overnight stays for the brave and adventurous.  That’s what my niece does–she likes to lead ghost hunt tours in the wee hours of the night.  I might do that sometime in the future, but the ghosts in the daylight hours are spooky enough for now.


Thank you, Veronica, for our personalized tour through this fascinating bit of prison history and beautiful architecture.  My favorite part of the day was spending it with you and experiencing your excitement about the stories and the ghost-y things you’ve personally witnessed.

Our friend, Patrick from Paddy Wagon Travels, toured the facility with us and did a wonderful narrated video with additional history and fantastic footage of the premises.

Have you visited the Ohio State Reformatory?  Would you spend the night in it’s creepy hallways and deteriorating jail cells?

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  1. I would LOVE to visit! The warden’s house is pretty darn fancy considering what was on the other side of the wall! How awesome to have your own tour guide! The X is kinda weird. I imagine the noisy chaos of prisoners still echoes in the walls. HMMH

    1. It definitely has a creepy vibe–the peeling walls, metal, and how the sound echos is off-putting, for sure. It WAS a cool place to visit, though–I just don’t know how Veronica can do the all nighters. I’m too chicken! LOL! HMMH

  2. Your photos are fabulous! They really capture the haunting, deteriorating, slightly-unsafe-for-so-many-reasons feeling of the place. It is truly striking to see the difference between the front of the facility and the back, both in terms of their original design and in how they’ve been maintained (or not) since the facility closed. I’d love to take a tour like this someday, but I think I’ll be skipping the overnight, thank you very much. 🙂

    Happy travels!

  3. You were in my neck of the woods. I live about an hour from there. That’s one of my favorite movies too!

  4. I live in Ohio and had no idea this museum/prison existed. Your photos are wonderful and your description of the conditions are perfectly chilling and creepy and real. Love that movie, but wowsa what a place in which to live.

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