MANSFIELD, OHIO — I have always considered myself to be a fairly open-minded guy, so I never really had much of an opinion about whether ghosts and other such beings actually exist.
However, following my trip to the historic Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio, I have a new appreciation for the world of the supernatural.
While making the two and one-half hours trek across the Ohio countryside, I wondered what adventures could possibly await me in an old, cold, abandoned prison. After all, I have ridden the biggest and baddest roller coasters at Cedar Point, Kennywood, Geauga Lake, King’s Island and Walt Disney World, in addition to touring New York City and Washington D.C.
What could I possibly find of interest in an old, abandoned prison, I thought.
Boy, was I wrong.
When I first saw the ominous structure, my first impression was that if the place was as spooky inside as it was outside, I would be in for quite a scare.
While waiting outside the fence to enter the prison grounds, several folks seemingly looking for some fun thrills gathered to converse.
However, there were a few others who didn’t exactly appear to be in the mood to joke around, as some genuine “professional ghost hunters” were there, complete with thermometers, tape recorders and, of course, cameras. Upon seeing this, I immediately began to realize that I had gotten myself into something more than just some silly “fun house.”
This trip was indeed becoming more intriguing as it progressed.
When the gates finally opened, I took a moment to marvel at the building’s great late 19th century architecture that, in and of itself, was enough to attract at least one fellow hunter.
“I came here to see the architecture, but the more I look around this place, I want to see if there is anything creepy going on here,” said Julian Myers, of Greensburg, Ind.
I, too, wanted to see what was really going on with this spooky old prison, and was about to find out a little bit more.
Upon entering the massive edifice, I was immediately struck by the chill of the air that was probably a bit exaggerated because the temperature outside was quite warm. I then noticed a guy who looked to be in charge, and, sure enough, he was.
The man introduced himself to me as Frank Horvath, Ghost Hunt director for the prison.
According to Horvath, the prison opened in 1896, and remained in use for almost 95 years.
“On Dec. 31, 1990, the prison was closed and essentially just abandoned by the Ohio Department of Corrections, which explains why you will see what you will see in the prison cells,” he said.
Horvath said the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society now owns the prison, and that it began holding the Ghost Hunts on Halloween, but expanded them from there.
“All of the money we raise from the Ghost Hunts goes to preserving the structure, which is the main goal for everyone here,” he said.
Horvath also confirmed that much of the movie, “The Shawshank Redemption,” starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, was filmed in a portion of the prison.
“I am a believer in true paranormal activity,” was Horvath’s statement that really struck me. Up to this point, I was not sure this was a legitimate deal, but Horvath’s stories sounded very convincing.
“Some nights, activity here is flat, but there are other nights that can be filled with paranormal activity,” he said.
“I have personally seen several full ghostly-beings here, and am completely convinced this place is legitimately haunted,” Horvath added.
Now, I wanted to see what all this fuss was about.
As I walked through the prison with the others on the Ghost Hunt, I quickly realized that I should have brought a flashlight because it was pretty dark in there.
I had been listening to my fellow hunters telling me the best place to see a ghost was in the East Cell Block, so I slowly but surely made my way there, while periodically looking over my shoulder just to make sure there was nothing creeping up behind me.
While walking through the cell blocks, the darkness was broken only by the flashlight beams of my fellow hunters.
When I encountered other hunters, they admired me for walking through the cell block in the darkness.
With very limited visibility, I snapped pictures to make sure I was going in the right direction. When looking at the pictures, I was amazed by what I saw. Even without seeing ghosts, this place would be creepy because of the peeling paint, rusted steal bars and broken steps.
In some of the cells, the fact that the prison had been abandoned in 1990 was even more obvious because newspapers and magazines dated from that year were found in plenty.
While it is unknown how many people actually died in the prison during its years of operation, officials say it is definitely at least in the hundreds, if not thousands.
It is really difficult to describe the feelings I had walking though this prison, as I began to think that I may be in for my own paranormal experience on this evening.
Although I never saw anything that would be considered a ghost, I heard very strange noises and detected very strange scents, while seeing what could be paranormal orbs in a few of my pictures.
Certainly, the noises could be explained away as the wind or as people walking through the old structure, while the scents could be caused by numerous factors. The orbs in my pictures could have been dust in the air or on my camera lens.
Or, maybe not.
Now, I knew what Horvath meant when he said, “Many people have called this prison an amusement park without roller coasters.”
Following my experience at the Ohio State Reformatory Ghost Hunt, I am still not prepared to say I believe in ghosts.
However, I won’t say that I don’t believe in them, either.
Remaining Ghost Hunt dates for 2007 are Aug. 25, Sept. 8, Nov. 3 and Nov. 16.
On ghost hunt dates, you are permitted to enter the prison at 8 p.m. Once inside the structure, patrons are allowed to go back outside, but if you exit the electric gate, your ghost hunt is finished for the evening. Ghost Hunts end at 6 a.m.
Ghost Hunts are not sleepovers, so no accommodations are provided. Ghost Hunts cost $50 per person, and do require reservations.
To make reservations or receive more information about the Ghost Hunts, call (419) 522-2644, or visit the Web site at: www.mrps.org.
Photos by Casey Junkins - The Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio has been known to provide some chills and thrills to those brave enough to experience a Ghost Hunt.
Fact BoxRemaining Ghost Hunt dates for 2007: