The Ohio State Reformatory

Written By: Danielle and Andrew Livelsberger
Photography by:  Andrew Livelsberger
Coming into the main gate

Located in Mansfield, The Ohio State Reformatory (OSR) sits as a reminder of a penal system of the past.  Today, we will take a visit inside and learn about its past, some is supernatural, criminal but also of the Hollywood vein.

Architect Levi Schofield designed the reformatory after 3 different styles:  Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque and Queen Ann.  the idea was for the inmates to be inspired by the architecture and be reborn back into their spiritual lives.

The reformatory opened its doors on September 15, 1896 and was built on the site of an old Civil War soldier training camp.

Information about the reformatory building, tours and more detailed history can be found on their Official Website.

To say that the building is intimidating is an understatement.  Just driving into the lot, Dani quoted Star Wars, “I have a bad feeling about this”.  No, she didn’t really say that quote…but we both agreed that the building definitely had an ominous tone.

On this particular day, there were only self guided tours.  After paying the entrance fee, we received an audio wand that allowed you to hear explanations of the different areas.  The entire tour was well marked and was easy to follow all through out.

Archway by the front entrance

The main areas of the reformatory are well maintained, but there are many sections, as you will see in pictures to follow that have seen the ravages of time and weather.

Speaking of which, our visit took us here as a spur of the moment trip.  We originally intended to do a story on a Metro Park we had not been to before, but the weather was not cooperating.  The high temperature was about 38F on that day(Feb 10) and by the time we got here and on the tour, outdoor temperatures dropped into the high 20F’s.  I mention this because there are large sections of the building without heat.   I didn’t go into this prepared and my hands were very cold when touring the cell blocks, library and cathedral areas.  Dress appropriately for the season!

Side staff entrance

The majority of the windows on the outside of the building still have the metal bars.

Within the first section of the tour, there is a museum that shows different objects from the reformatory’s past.

Improvised weapons made by the prisoners over the years of OSR operation

The images below show the items used for execution by the electric chair.

This next series of images show some of the restored/maintained areas.  Most were from the old warden and guard living areas.

Stairway from the main entrance to warden level 2

an in-wall safe from one of the offices

You can see here where the walls are peeling their paint.

unpainted wall with heating vent

Another “chair room”

The image above is from “the chair room”.  This room is known to have paranormal activity.  Staff explained that, “if there is a chair in there, it will move around on it’s own”.

I’m not sure how any of you feel about the paranormal, but we do have some stories to share during our visit here.

I personally was pushed twice by something while trying to take a picture in a closet in the room above labeled “unpainted wall with heating vent”.  Then, while visiting one of the shower rooms, I felt like I got poked in the back by a finger or stick.

Dani felt a wave of nausea when she got to the third level of the warden’s area.

When we got to the cell block areas, 2 women that went into the solitary confinement cell were spooked because one of their cell phones, which had a full charge lost all charge and powered off.

We discussed this with staff before we left and they said that those were pretty normal occurrences.  The “touching and groping” are common as they said that the spirits of inmates like to pick on people and that getting pushed in the back was most likely from a guard and his stick.

Losing power on devices and flashlights was also mentioned as a common thing.

One of the last stops before leaving the warden’s level 3 area is “Brooke’s Room” which was used as a set piece for the movie, “The Shawshank Redemption”.

Now, the image below is the stair case that leads from the warden’s level 3 area to the cathedral area.  You’ll see the view immediately below looking left from this room.

Further down the hall, the stair case to the cathedral.

Main cathedral area.   There were several rather large pigeons flapping about.

I noticed that the peeling paint from this pillar looked just like a face.

Not sure what they might need a cell for in the cathedral, but one was there in the back.

Looking right from the back of the cathedral, there is another door that leads to the cell block area.

You start at the top of the tiers, of which there are 6.   Most of the cell here were designed to hold one inmate.  By the end of this facilities run, most cells contained 2 inmates.

Most cells do not look like this.  This one appears to have been restored and maintained to give you a sense of what an active cell looked like.  The toilet is behind the bar on the right, sink behind the top bunk on the left.

Narrow hallway

cell number 10

a view from the catwalk that leads from this cell block into the hospital/library area.

These images show the area that originally was an infirmary and then later was converted into a library.

After going through the library area, you are brought to another cell block.  Each cell block seems to get progressively more and more “secure” as the bars are covered with wire mesh.

The final area we stopped in was “solitary confinement”.
This image below is “The Hole”.

We honestly didn’t know what kind of experience we would have here.  We enjoyed ourselves very much, seeing the history of this place, learning about it, the inmates, the Hollywood connection.

As a photographer, you could shoot here in all different times of day for weeks and months and pull new and unique images.

As a curiosity seeker, you’ll find lots of things here of interest.  We definitely recommend you visit here if you have the chance.

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