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The Mansfield Reformatory of Ohio

The Ohio State Reformatory, previously known as The Mansfield Reformatory, has a history both fascinating and interesting. The history of its conception seems a little dull but over time grew a reputation that has drawn the public due to the horrors that eventually took place there. The Mansfield Reformatory has also been featured in films and is rumored to be haunted.

Before the building was constructed in Mansfield, Ohio, it was a training ground for thousands of soldiers in the Civil War. In 1867 the state of Ohio raised over a million dollars and purchased 30 acres of the land as well as an additional 150 acres adjoining for the prison to be built. Construction started in 1886 but wasn’t completed until 1910 due to funding issues.

It was originally known as the intermediate penitentiary and started out as a place for first time offenders. The first prisoners arrived in 1896 via the city of Columbus. There were a total of 150 prisoners to begin with and at the time construction wasn’t yet completed. Those first men were put to work and built the prison sewer system as well as helping construct a 25-foot wall surrounding the complex.

The original architect drew out plans for the reformatory that resembled old world German castles and Victorian Gothic churches. The architectural style of the building was deliberately stoic and imposing – the hope was that the heavy, traditional Gothic style would help the prisoners return to a more spiritual life. The building contained 600 cells and was eventually transitioned from a juvenile detention center to a federal prison.

The Terrible Conditions at the Mansfield Reformatory

By 1933, the prison had become so overcrowded that multiple prisoners were put in cells that were meant to house individuals. The living conditions within these walls became deplorable – rats and rodents were prevalent, spoiled food was served, and disease was rampant throughout the prison. There was also great violence perpetrated against the prisoners – beatings, torture, and other forms of cruel and unusual punishment were not uncommon. Unsurprisingly, some prisoners tried to escape, but they were murdered before they could get past guards. Men also took their own lives by hanging themselves – in particularl, this would happen most often after prisoners were placed in solitary confinement in windowless cells. It is said that over 200 men died before the Mansfield Reformatory was closed in 1990 by the federal courts due to a class action suit for overcrowding and inhumane conditions.

The history of violence came to a head when in 1948, two prisoners named Robert Daniels and John West, known as the “mad dog killers” were released for good behavior. Instead of going on with their lives, they returned and kidnapped the prison superintendent Earl Ambrose, his wife, and daughter. They brought the family down to a corn field and proceeded to brutally murder them. The two then went on a two week killing spree that left six people dead in their wake. The ‘mad dog killers’ were tracked down near Van Wert (about 120 miles away from the Mansfield Reformatory) where a shootout took place. John West died in the shooutout, and Robert Daniels was taken back to the prison and eventually executed in the electric chair.

In addition to the gruesome story of the ‘Mad Dog Killers’, there was another bizarre death that related to the reformatory. The warden’s wife died in a freak accident where a revolver that was stashed away in her jewelry box fell to the ground and discharged, killing her. Just a year later, the warden also died after suffering a heart attack inside of his office at the prison. With all of the death, brutality, and horror that went on inside the walls of the Ohio State Reformatory, it’s no surprise at all that there are rumors that the former prison is haunted.

A History of Violence Provokes Ghosts of the Past

Haunted tours are actually held at the Ohio State Reformatory during the Halloween season and the grounds have been featured on many paranormal investigative shows, including: Ghost Hunters, Scariest Places on Earth, Ghost Adventures, Ghost Asylum on Destination America, and Ghost Academy. Some of the activity recorded and phenomena experienced include cold spots, mists, voices that echo in the shadows, and even violent spirits. People have been accosted, shoved down the stairs, and held down unwillingly, with seemingly no explanation. Still, despite the unusual activity that seems to happen in the Mansfield Reformatory (or perhaps because of it), many curious visitors eagerly flock to one of the haunted attraction in Ohio, which nowadays is known as the Haunted Prison Experience. The tour itself has actors involved, but to this day there are people who claim that the building is genuinely haunted. We’ve definitely read numerous accounts that suggest that there is something eerie and unnatural going on at the Ohio State Reformatory.


Not only is the prison a popular haunted attraction, it is also featured in few iconic films including Tango and Cash, Air Force One, and most famously The Shawshank Redemption. There are Hollywood Tours that take place there for film buffs. Today, the prison is currently being restored to its original state thanks to the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society and through donations and tour fees. A museum also offers educational visits, and visitors can walk the Shawshank Trail in a self guided tour or explore the many historic sites from film and history through the photo and bus tours. The Ohio State Reformatory/Mansfield Reformatory is definitely a must visit destination for fans of horror and thrill seekers.

What do you think? Would you visit the prison? If you’ve been already, please feel free comment below and let us know if you had any weird experiences at the Ohio State Reformatory.

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Published on: July 19, 2015

Filled Under: Scary Urban Legends

Views: 4994

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