Mansfield — Why would ghosts be particularly attracted to a city equidistant from Columbus and Cleveland? Perhaps that is a question best left to paranormal researchers than to travel writers.
In any case, for Ohio travelers looking for a spooky adventure, Richland County is not only full of ghost stories, but also conveniently located.
Curiously, one of the state’s most reputedly haunted sites is also a place where people from around the world visit for its ties to a beloved movie about hope and redemption.
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The Ohio State Reformatory, 100 Reformatory Road, is plenty macabre, with or without ghosts.
Opened in 1896 and closed in 1990, the former reformatory is a beautiful, if haunting, example of Romanesque Revival architecture, which Cleveland architect Levi Scofield hoped would inspire the youthful offenders housed there to turn their lives around.
Now the state’s official Correctional Facility Museum, the site displays mementos from prisons around the state, including “Old Sparky,” the electric chair where 315 inmates were put to death at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. (If any ghosts still haunt their execution site, they’re haunting what is now Nationwide Arena.)
‘The Shawshank Redemption’ filmed at Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield
The reformatory is perhaps best-known as the place where much of the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” was filmed.
The film had modest box-office success when released in 1996, but later became a beloved classic, rated by IMBd users as one of the most popular movies of all times.
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Fans who visit will recognize many of the sets and enjoy original movie props and displays dedicated to the movie’s actors such as Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins.
But all is not always sunny at the Ohio State Reformatory.
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Although the institution was built to help uplift inmates, it saw plenty of misery, especially in later years when it became severely overcrowded.
And several staffers also died at the site, including a warden’s wife who accidentally shot herself with her husband’s pistol.
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Many weird occurrences have been reported at the reformatory, which has become a favorite destination for ghost hunters and paranormal investigators.
The reformatory hosts regular ghost hunts and tours, and is available for private paranormal investigations.
Ohio State Reformatory hosts ‘Blood Prison’ haunted house attraction
For visitors who prefer more in-your-face frights, the reformatory is also the site of a yearly haunted house attraction, “Blood Prison.”
The attraction is plenty scary, but I was most impressed by the imaginative and gory sets that recreate elaborate scenes such as an airplane crash (beware the crazed flight attendant), an evil carnival and a mad scientist’s lair.
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And there’s still time this year to visit Blood Prison which runs Fridays through Sundays through Oct. 31.
Haunted history of Malabar Farm
Although reputedly haunted, verdant, pastoral Malabar Farm, 4050 Bromfield Road, seems an unlikely place for ghosts.
The home of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Louis Bromfield in the 1940s and 1950s, Malabar, now a state park, hosted many of Bromfield’s Hollywood friends who would come to unwind in the peaceful, rural surroundings.
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Guests were reportedly asked to lend a hand around the farm. Shirley Temple milked cows. James Cagny sold produce at the farm stand.
I don’t know if Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall ever herded goats or drove a tractor, but they did get married at Malabar, and visitors can still see their wedding-night bedroom, complete with double beds conveniently outfitted with wheels.
But one less-happy denizen of the farm, who lived there in the late 19th century long before Bromfield moved in, was Ceely Rose, a cognitively challenged young woman who developed a romantic fixation on a neighbor boy. When Ceely’s family tried to dissuade her from claiming the boy as her “fiance,” she mixed rat poison in their porridge.
At her trial Ceely couldn’t understand why her parents didn’t come to see her. After all, she said, the rats always came back after her daddy fed them rat poison in the barn. She lived out the rest of her life in an insane asylum.
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The farmhouse where the family lived still stands at Malabar, and is allegedly the site of strange happenings. According to my Malabar guide, one visitor earlier this month saw a woman dressed like Ceely Rose outside the house and inquired about the park’s costumed interpreters.
There are no costumed interpreters.
Other haunted sites in Mansfield
Other allegedly haunted destinations in Mansfield include the grand baroque-style Renaissance Theatre, 138 Park Avenue West, the site of a gruesome 1929 murder and of unexplained occurrences ever since; and the Mansfield Fire Museum, 1265 W. 4th St., where weird sounds, ghostly noises and shadowy figures are often reported.
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Located in nearby Galion is the Gill House, 342 Harding Way West, a century-old mansion and the site of many spooky happenings. The house is open for tours during limited hours and can be booked for private paranormal investigations.
For information about all of the area’s ghostly sites and other attractions, visit DestinationMansfield.org.
Steve Stephens is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.