Ghosts of Ohio
Lore & Legends

Ohio State Reformatory

Even though it no longer operates as a prison, the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield still manages to attract attention. Even before the Reformatory existed, the area was home to Camp Bartley, a Civil War camp that trained an estimated 4,000 soldiers for battle.

The Ohio State Reformatory was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, and OSR’s East cell block is listed in The Guinness Book of World Records for featuring the world’s largest free-standing steel cell block (six tiers). Even Hollywood has come calling on several occasions, filming scenes to several major motion pictures on the grounds, most notably The Shawshank Redemption and Air Force One.

And there are those who say the allure of the Ohio State Reformatory is so strong that some people can’t bring themselves to leave... even in death.

In September of 1896, the doors to the building that would become known as the Ohio State Reformatory swung open and greeted its first inmates. The building was originally known as the Intermediate Penitentiary, as it was to serve as home to "middle of the road" criminals; those too old for the Boys Industrial School in Lancaster and not "hardened" enough for the Ohio Penitentiary. Its purpose was to attempt and reform these young male prisoners before they ended up in the Ohio Pen. It was for this reason that Cleveland architect Levi T. Scofield modeled the building after Old World German castles, which featured "spiritual and uplifting architecture".

Since OSR was not home to many "hardened" criminals, the institution did not house many of the criminals who would today be considered infamous. Some of the notables who passed through OSR included Detroit Tigers utility player Gates Brown and Cleveland Browns running back Kevin Mack. And one former resident, Henry Baker, would later gain infamy for taking part in the great Brink’s Robbery of 1950.

As with any correctional facility, the Ohio State Reformatory has seen its share of violence. Over the years, several officers have been murdered in the line of duty, including Frank Hanger, who was beaten to death by prisoners during a 1932 escape attempt. But the harshest acts of violence were often associated with the area known as "the hole": solitary confinement. Stories abound of prisoners attempting (and in some cases, succeeding) in hanging themselves inside the cells. One allegedly even set himself on fire.

In 1957, in response to a prison riot, an estimated 120 prisoners were given 30-day sentences in "the hole", which was only equipped with 20 cells. This may have been the incident that gave rise to the infamous story of two inmates being forced to share the same isolation cell... and only one emerging alive. It is no small wonder that the area known as "the hole" is alleged to be haunted. Over the years, footsteps and muffled voices have been heard, even though there is no one else in the area. One can only attempt to imagine the pain these tortured spirits must be feeling. In life, they were forced to live in isolation. And not even death has brought them freedom.

© The Ghosts of Ohio