“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone.”
I spent a cold, blustery afternoon exploring the Ohio State Reformatory, the abandoned prison in Mansfield otherwise known as Shawshank in the acclaimed film. We went early enough on a self-guided tour so that everything felt isolated without a crowd. The resulting experience was haunting and lovely. Dark, dank, decayed—all the things I look for in a destination.
The prison was built in 1886, the design based on the architecture of German castles. The architect hoped that the inmates would find their surroundings spiritually uplifting. Unfortunately, what began as a reformatory for non-violent offenders, the prison found itself over-crowded with hardened criminals and deplorable conditions, resulting in its eventual shut down in 1990. It is considered one of the most haunted places in Ohio and offers up ghost tours if you’re so inclined.
“Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
The Shawshank Redemption, inspired by Stephen King’s short story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption from Different Seasons, is one of my favorite films. It was surreal to stand in some of the same locations as Tim Robbins or Morgan Freeman. Brooks’ room in particular was great. You can also explore the warden’s office, complete with safe and the brown leather shoes Andy leaves behind before his escape.
If you’re a fan of the film and want to explore some of the filming locations off-site, you can follow the rest of The Shawshank Trail and make your way to the Bissman Building, the exterior for Brooks’ room at the Brewer Hotel, or see the bench where Brooks sat in erstwhile wait for his pet crow, Jake, or travel down Route 95 where Red rode the bus to Fort Hancock. The famed oak tree where Red sits after gaining his freedom was unfortunately struck by lightning and destroyed earlier this year.
The prison is one of the cooler attractions Ohio has to offer, so whether you’re a film or history buff, it’s well worth the trip.