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Gates used in
Gates used in "Air Force One."

Mansfield Reformatory: Shawshank Redemption Prison

Field review by the editors.

Mansfield, Ohio

Mansfield Reformatory is Hollywood's vision of a prison. Its exterior of rough-hewn rock walls and towers resembles a Romanesque castle or cathedral. Inside, everything is on Goliath scale. There are vast spaces with leprous walls, dangling light fixtures, and sun slanting through empty windows; some nicely restored public rooms (you can host your wedding reception or prom here); and the world's tallest free standing cell block. The terror stink of nearly a century of incarceration still lingers in odd corners: stale food, body odor, urine, dead mice.

Warden's office in
Warden's office in "The Shawshank Redemption."

Appearances, however, can be deceiving. Mansfield's history, when compared to other early lockups, is surprisingly tame. Its biggest celebrity convict -- out of 155,000 men over 95 years -- was David "Take This Job and Shove it" Allan Coe. There were no Al Capones at Mansfield Reformatory, no legendary riots, no death chamber.

It was only after the reformatory was abandoned and condemned to be demolished in 1991 (a new one was built right behind it), that the history that really matters at Mansfield began. That's when Hollywood discovered the Reformatory, and turned it into the perfect Hollywood prison. Tourists flock to Mansfield today because, well, if you're going to visit a jailhouse, you want one that looks foreboding and is famous.

Craggy cell block.

The top draw at Mansfield for years has been The Shawshank Redemption, filmed in 1993. The prison tour winds past many spots familiar to Shawshank fans: the warden's office, the parole room, the chow hall, the Hole. Visitors stand on the painted yellow line where new prisoner Andy Dufresne first met evil Warden Norton. The outside world boarding house room with the "Brooks was here" beam where he hanged himself is also in the Reformatory, although the carved beam is a replica. The gift shop sells the actual books that appeared in Shawshank's prison library.

Stalin Portrait seen in
Stalin Portrait seen in "Air Force One."

Displayed on the ground floor are props such as the hole-in-the-wall and sewage pipe used by Andy Dufresne for his Shawshank escape. Both have their openings sealed with plexiglass, although that wasn't always the case. "We had people from a wedding crawl through there once," said operations manager Susan Nirode. "Their dresses were filthy."

Mansfield Reformatory's media history is as important as its real history, which means that every new shoot modification only makes it more historic. Camera mounts and set embellishments from Shawshank have been left in place. Big murals of Stalin and Lenin, painted on the walls when Air Force One was filmed, are carefully preserved (To the shock of some older tour-takers, according to Susan). A jail cell painted gold for the Lil' Wayne video "Go DJ" has been left as is; the electric chair in which he sat is displayed in the Reformatory museum (the Reformatory never had an electric chair when it was a reformatory).

And a new group of media prison-fans has arrived at Mansfield: the TV and social media ghost hunters. Susan ticked off a long list of productions that have filmed at the prison: Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Ghost Hunters Academy, Paranormal Challenge, Most Terrifying Places in America, Scariest Places on Earth, Real Scary Stories. Although no executions took place at Mansfield, hundreds of people did die at the prison, so there are plenty of unhappy apparitions to pursue. And with the peeling paint and patchy lighting, there are plenty of eerie rooms and halls (Ask about the "X" that appears on the floor in one hallway -- fluke of light or warning of doom?).

Escape sewage tunnel in
Escape sewage tunnel in "The Shawshank Redemption."

Susan said that a younger generation of daytime tourists is visiting the Reformatory because they've seen it on ghost shows -- and there's a whole new group of after-hours visitors as well who come for the prison's 16 annual overnight ghost hunts. These brave souls have to sign a waver absolving the prison in case they hurt themselves fleeing shadow beings, or stumbling in the dark with their EVP recorders. And Susan cautions them not to use the toilets in the cells -- problems usually not encountered by daylight tourists, whose nearest brush with prison danger is sitting in the Hole with the door closed, or forgetting to wipe their shoes afterward because of all the lead paint that's still inside.

Mansfield Reformatory: Shawshank Redemption Prison

Historic Ohio State Reformatory

100 Reformatory Rd, Mansfield, OH
Historic Ohio State Reformatory. North of town. I-71 exit 176 onto US 30 west. After about three miles, exit north onto Hwy 545/Olivesburg Rd. The Reformatory is just over the hill on the left hand side, on a side street named Reformatory Rd.
Gates open April-Sep. Th-Su 11-4 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $15.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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BibleWalk and Living Bible MuseumBibleWalk and Living Bible Museum, Mansfield, OH - < 1 mi.
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Spirit of '76 Museum, Wellington, OH - 31 mi.

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