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Shawshank Prison Saved: Get Busy Restoring, or Get Busy Dying

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Arguably one of the greatest films of the last century, The Shawshank Redemption, based off of Stephen King’s novella of the same name, followed Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and his 20 year stint in Shawshank Prison. It was at Shawshank where he would meet Red (Morgan Freeman), a prisoner who long considered the cold stone walls of the prison his only home. While it would take many years, the two would eventually become close friends and experience life changing events together.


Sadly, Shawshank, a former delinquent reformatory and maximum security prison called Ohio State Reformatory, fell into disrepair for decades. Thankfully, the state penitentiary has recently undergone extensive renovations to save what is now being called a historic site in Mansfield, Ohio.

Originally built in 1886, the Ohio State Reformatory was created to house nonviolent underage male offenders. Designed by Cleveland architect Levi T. Scofield, the building was influenced by the French Chateau de Chambord, a 16th-century palace known for its ornate architecture and spires.  It wasn’t until the 1970s when the reformatory school would eventually serve as a maximum security prison.  After 94 years in operation, the facilities at the prison were deemed unfit for human residence. Facing numerous lawsuits, the prison was supposed to be dismantled in 1990 in order to create parking lots for two new prison facilities close by. However, due to the prison’s massive walls and stone buildings, the process of tearing down the prison would have been extremely difficult and enormously expensive.


While it would of course serve as primary shooting location for Frank Darabont’s film, the Ohio State Reformatory was later bought by the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society who wanted to save the sprawling complex for its historical significance. Buying the prison for only $1 in 1994, the society not only wanted to preserve the site, but establish it as a tourism mecca for Mansfield. Recently, the buildings that make up the prison are scheduled to be repaired and restored over the next few years. Along with the restoration of hundreds of rooms and cells, fixtures and stained glass windows damaged by vandalism are in the process of being replaced as well.


Just last year, the society brought in 80,000 visitors and $10 million in revenue for hosting events and tours at the former maximum security prison. Once a place that housed the worst criminals of Ohio, the penitentiary now holds Halloween festivals and mock murder mystery dinners for guests. It also provides nightly ghost tours for visitors who might want to experience something a little more fear inducing. Dubbed the “Haunted Prison Experience,” the ghost tours run from Sept. 26-Nov. 2, and supposedly provides enough scares that no one under 13 is admitted. Does anyone think they have section of the tour dedicated to the years Dufresne was sodomized by the guy from Aliens? That’d be pretty scary.


Of course the most popular tour at the prison is the “Shawshank Trail,” a self-guided tour where visitors can view sites where the film was shot. Spread all across Mansfield, tourists can visit the supposedly haunted Bissman Building that served as the halfway house for Brooks and Red when they were finally released from prison. The tour also directs Shawshank fans to Malar Farm State Park, which served as the shooting location for the opening of the movie.


In addition to serving as the principal location for filming in Darabont’s drama, the prison was also featured in Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976), Tango and Cash (1989), Air Force One (1997) and The Wind is Watching (2014).
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