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Walk the Halls of the Home of History's Most Infamous Prisoners
Where else can you find both guided and self-guided tours that are available seven days a week from 11 am to 4 pm most days? (Check the website for specific restrictions and closures.) You can take as long as you like to complete the tour, including administrative areas, residential quarters, the chapel, one tier of the East cell block, and the central guard room. There is also a museum and gift shop at the end of the tour.
If you want to know what an inmate's life was like, join tour guide Michael Humphrey, a former inmate from the 1960s, who provides an accurate portrayal of what it was like to be a prisoner at The Ohio State Reformatory.
This tour is not handicap-accessible and includes several flights of stairs.
Facts About the Ohio State Penitentiary
The Ohio Penitentiary/Mansfield Reformatory was built on a 30-acre former Civil War training camp from 1886 to 1910 for 1.3 million dollars. In April 1955, it housed an all-time high of 5,235 prisoners. The building is 250,000 sprawling square feet in size.
The original architect for the design was Levi T. Scofield from Cleveland, Ohio, who used three different architectural styles to design this fantastic building: Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque, and Queen Anne. Architect F.F. Schnitzer completed the creation and construction of the building in Germany.
In 1891, the name was changed from "Intermediate Penitentiary" to "Ohio State Reformatory." The jail saw its first 150 prisoners in September of 1896, who arrived via train. The Mansfield Reformatory officially closed its doors in 1990 after housing over 155,000 men in its century-and-a-half lifetime as an Ohio State prison.
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The prison was closed via federal court order, known as the Boyd Consent Decree, and resulted from a prisoners' class action suit citing overcrowding and inhumane conditions. The order was served in 1986 and extended to 1990 when the new facility was completed. The building stands to the west of the old prison and is called "The Mansfield Correctional Institution." The former penitentiary is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Filmography at the Mansfield Reformatory
This prison was used as a setting for seven films, TV documentaries, and numerous music videos, including several while the facility was still in operation. Some of the most famous movies that you may be familiar with are:
- The movie that made this prison famous was The Shawshank Redemption, filmed in 1994. The prison was used for the majority of the movie. This Stephen King movie starred Oscar-nominee Morgan Freeman (Red) and Tim Robbins. It's the story of two imprisoned men who bonded over several years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.
- In 1997, Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, and Glenn Close filmed Air Force One at the prison for two days. It's a story about an American President (Harrison Ford) and his Russian counterpart who fought back against terrorism by capturing and imprisoning Russian terrorist Ivan Stravanovitch.
- In 1989, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russel played the roles of cops who became prisoners in Tango and Cash, with the many scenes being filmed at the Mansfield Reformatory as they planned their escape.
- Sylvester Stallone recently filmed another movie called Escape Plan 3: Devil's Station, about a rescue of one of their team members held captive at the jail known as Devil’s Station, a prison where no one ever gets out. The release date is still pending.
Tours and Special Events at the Reformatory
The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society was formed in 1995 when they turned the prison into a museum. Like the one you might take after reading this article, the tours help fund the revitalization projects that currently stabilize the buildings against further deterioration.
Many special events are held at the reformatory today, including ghost hunts/walks, a haunted house, beer festival, home and garden show, car shows, a road race, etc. Visit their calendar of events here.
© 2018 Debra Roberts