When we arrive at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, its Gothic façade looks like it belongs on a university campus. It bears no hint of the violence, the destruction, the hopelessness and the peeling paint—the miles and miles of peeling paint—inside this unsettling labyrinth.
Anyone who’s watched The Shawshank Redemption has seen the 1886 building. It starred in the 1994 movie, along with Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. The town continues to welcome travelers like me here to see the site of the cult classic; a local café even offers a Shawshankwich.
Strategically placed kiosks throughout the prison offer easy lessons about the building’s history, the filmmaking stories and the paranormal activity that took place in those particular spots.
I suppose it’s time for full disclosure. My guilty pleasure on TV: Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel. I get anxious at their encounters, gasp at the voices, jump at sudden movements. I believe there’s Something In There. (Have you seen the episode about the Palmer House Hotel in Minnesota? You can see it here.)
So I finely tuned my internal paranormal radar for this visit. I’m ready to hear shuffling steps, see a shadow figure, smell frying bacon from kitchens that haven’t had food cooking in them for more than 30 years. I move slowly through the world’s largest freestanding cell block, imagining having to spend my adult life in such a tiny space. Disappointed, I see nothing. Hear nothing. Smell nothing.
Then I step into the room where Shawshank's warden Norton commits suicide. Nothing spectacular. Just the old desk used in the movie, and the windows behind him where the fake blood splattered.
I turn to leave, and a sharp pain slices the side of my neck, as if someone had stuck a knife into it. I look around. No one. Nothing. My fingers reach up, but the pain rages on. I step out into the hallway, rattled—and it stops. Just like that.
Paranormal? Or paranoid? Either way I’ll never forget the time I spent in Mansfield. And I wouldn't dream of going at night during the official ghost tours.