Have you seen “The Shawshank Redemption?” I did, several years ago, and was struck by the impressive building portraying the prison where characters Andy and Red live.
Well, that prison is not just a movie set. It’s the Ohio State Reformatory, and we visited recently.
As we walked up to buy our tickets, one of the girls commented, “This looks like a house,” and it did. The Ohio State Reformatory was built in the 1860s, at a time when those in charge thought/hoped that prisons and mental institutions should be built in a grand, beautiful style. The thinking was that perhaps this would inspire those within to become healed and/or be better people.
Ohio State Reformatory Tours
Tours were slated to begin at 11 a.m., but we arrived at 10:30. By then, there were already 30 or so people waiting. Numbers on tours are limited, so if you miss the cut-off for one, you’ll need to take the next. I recommend arriving early if possible. We decided to do a self-guided tour, but we paid for a couple of “wands.” These were helpful, because at various places in the prison, there were numbers posted. You dialed those into your wand and heard an informational spiel about the topic at hand. I found this well worth the $5 cost.
Inside, the architecture and details were beautiful. For the first decades of the reformatory’s history, the prison warden and his family lived in the building, in generous quarters over three floors. We learned that the final warden to live there faced tragedy: in the 1950s, his wife was holding a gun while reaching for her jewelry box when the gun discharged, hitting her and killing her. Several years later, the warden died in his quarters there of a heart attack. After this, future wardens lived off-site. Can’t say as I blame them!
Shawshank Redemption Movie Connections
Sights from the movie were prominent, as you might expect. Here’s a scene in the warden’s office, with the famous safe as well as a book similar to the one where Andy hid his rock hammer.
Some of the girls thought it would be fun to try out the warden’s desk …
Remember the shoes in the movie? (if not, there’s a reason for you to re-watch!)
“Brooks” is one of my favorite characters in the film — the kindly older man who is prison librarian. When he leaves prison and moves to a halfway house, those scenes are actually filmed here, inside the reformatory.
We got to see the tunnel that Andy digs and crawls through in the film.
Even if you haven’t seen the movie, though, the reformatory is a visual feast.
There was a large room called The Chapel. Several birds were flying around inside, giving it an eerie feel.
The most amazing sight is probably the 6-story-high cell blocks — there is an east and a west wing of these. If you recall the movie having scenes with two sets of these blocks facing each other, this was a set built in downtown Mansfield. The actual reformatory did not have cells facing each other.
Looking into those cells kind of made you not want to spend time there, for sure. The reformatory operated until 1990. Its capacity was 1900, but at times the population was as high as 3000. Today, two new prisons are just adjacent to the building. Most of the prison yard seen in The Shawshank Redemption was razed when the new prisons went up.
The Shawshank Tree
You may remember a big oak tree that features prominently near the end of the film. The “Shawshank Tree” is not far from the reformatory. Well, it was. In 2011, a large portion of the tree came down in strong winds. And just a couple of weeks ago, the rest of the tree came down in another storm. A portion of it is still in front of the reformatory, as you can see in the photo above.
Olivesburg General Store
After our visit, we took a 10-minute drive to the Olivesburg General Store — a charming spot that sells lots of baking supplies and a HUGE selection of cookie cutters. Our reason to visit, though, was the Shawshank Sundae. Peanut butter ice cream, hot fudge, M&M’s, whipped cream and a cherry — all on top of a brownie. My mouth is watering all over again just looking at that picture! Their brochure says, “ice cream worth escaping for” and I’d agree with that.
Have you watched The Shawshank Redemption? Have you visited the Ohio State Reformatory?
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