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.


The Central Guard Room.  Despite its dilapidated appearance, this section is probably in better condition than the rest of the prison.





Another shot of the Central Guard Room.  We were a bit confused to see paintings of Russian leaders like Lenin on the walls until we were told that these were leftover props from the film "Air Force One."  More notably, the movie "Shawshank Redemption" was also shot here and many set pieces are still intact on the premises.





A close-up of one of 600 cells in this cell block.  We half- expected to see the apparition of a prisoner sitting on this stool.





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 infamous cell in "The Hole" where an inmate was murdered.  The cells in "The Hole" were so small that it is difficult to imagine even one prisoner being held here.


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.

The door in this picture leads to a non-working elevator.





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. 






We're not sure exactly what section of the prison this is, but thought that the sight of the vegetation growing through the barred windows looked pretty creepy.



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
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.