Nelson Lewis Prison

An abandoned prison cell at the Ohio State Reformatory.

Due to its compelling story and powerful acting, the 1994 film “Shawshank Redemption”, based on the Stephen King novella of the same name, is considered by many to be one of the best movies of all time.  It tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a prisoner who forms an unlikely friendship with fellow prisoner “Red”.  The prison that was used to film the movie, the Ohio State Reformatory outside of Mansfield, has been out of use for a long time.  However, the building is getting a new lease on life as a tourist attraction after escaping demolition.

Last year alone, the former prison drew up to 80,000 visitors.  Last week, it hosted the celebrations that marked the 20th anniversary of the film’s release, which included a 40s-themed cocktail party.  Up until 1990, the Ohio State Reformatory was an actual prison, although it was originally due to be demolished to make way for a parking garage.  Over the years, the massive granite building had fallen into disrepair.  The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society purchased the site 20 years ago with the understanding that it would revert to the state if progress wasn’t made to turn the prison into a viable tourist site.  Popular events at the site include mystery dinners, Halloween haunts and festivals and ghost hunting activities.  The site is apparently haunted by the ghosts of prisoners and guards who met their end at the site over the years.

The building will get further enhancements over the course of the next six months, being cleaned up and decorated so that it will be weatherproof for tourists.  Right now, tourists can take a 13-stop self-guided “Shawshank” tour that takes in some of the movie’s key moments, such as the bench where long-term convict Brooks fed the birds, the courthouse where Dufresne was convicted of murder and the old oak tree where Andy concealed money for Red.  For a long time, the site has also been serving as a haunted prison during the Halloween season, where the expanse of halls and abandoned cells make for a great night of frights.