Haunted & Hollywood: Mansfield Area Sites Go From Gory to Glamour

Mansfield Area Sites Go From?Gory to Glamour

“The Shawshank Redemption” was filmed at the Ohio State Reformatory 22 years ago. Said to be haunted, the reformatory also hosts paranormal tours throughout the year and is the site of “Paranormal Penitentiary” now through Oct. 30.


Design Editor


I don’t like scary!

So, why on earth would I go on a “Haunted & Hollywood” expedition to Mansfield, Ohio?

Because I love “The Shawshank Redemption,” of which about 95 percent was filmed       at 14 sites — known as The Shawshank Trail — in and around Mansfield.

A couple of those are thought to be haunted, as are a few other Hollywood-related sites in Richland County, Ohio.

There’s a house at Malabar Farm State Park that is supposedly haunted. But the Hollywood connection was more to my liking — the house where Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart were married and spent their wedding night is at Malabar Farm. Although, that house, too, reportedly has seen its share of paranormal activity.

The perfect Hollywood-meets-Haunted site is, of course, the Ohio State Reformatory, where Red and Andy met in the “The Shawshank Redemption.”


The Ohio State Reformatory hosts paranormal tours throughout the year. Guests arrive around 7 p.m. and stay until the “wee hours,” around 3 a.m., according to Paul Smith, reformatory director.

Those tours sell out quickly, he said. About 100 people are allowed in for the ghost hunts, he said, but there’s plenty of room to spread out in the 250,000-square-foot facility. The ghost hunters are allowed to go to some places that the regular public tours don’t have access, Smith said.

Does he think it’s haunted? He’s seen plenty, he said.

“A lot of bad things happened here,”

Every year for Halloween, the reformatory hosts a haunted event. “Paranormal Penitentiary: Monster Lockdown” will be held Thursdays through Sundays through Oct. 30.

This year, the haunted penitentiary is being created by Creature Corps, a company formed in 2003 by Robert Kurtzman, a special effects creator, film director, writer and producer. He’s been associated with such films as “Yoga Hosers,” “The Bye Bye Man,”  “Tusk,” “Lake Eerie,”  “Children of the Corn,” “Scream,” “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “The Green Mile,” and many more over the past 30 years. He created the rubber leg in “Misery,” the cow in “Rat Race”and  the buffalo in “Dancing With Wolves.”

Kurtzman grew up in the Mansfield area, and after years in Los Angeles, came home in 2003 to raise his family, where his business is now based.

His team designs and creates creatures, prosthetics, animatronics, and human and animal replicas, and their creations will be terrifying thousands of guests to the haunted penitentiary this month.

“We average about 30-35,000 guests,” Smith said.

He predicts even more this year with Kurtzman’s             connection.

“I can’t tell you how excited we are.”

Hints of the haunting were evident in the depths of the prison while we toured.

Bloodied limbs and such scared me in the daylight; I’m sure a tour in darkness would scare the daylights out of me!

“Fear for your life as you traverse the dark corridors, subterranean depths and flesh-eating creatures that await you. Scream in terror and pray for a way out as the beasts within stalk you through the night,” warns the website.

Vic Amesquita, promoter and event manager at Creature Corps, explained that the goal of visitors to the haunted penitentiary is to “escape before the monsters get you.”

He said it’s “very interactive.” In fact, patrons can purchase the “ultimate touch pass” — they wear glow-in-the-dark wristbands — which gives the actors permission to make contact. About 40-50 actors are involved, as are some animatronics, Amesquita said.


Much of “The Shawshank Redemption” took place in the prison, and visitors can view the room where Red (Morgan Freeman) faced the parole board several times. A life-size cardboard Red stands in the room.

The warden’s office also can be visited, and guests can get a look at the safe where he hid his accounting books.

Visitors also can peer into the tunnel through which Andy (Tim Robbins) escaped.

Other movies filmed at the prison include “Air Force One,” “Tango & Cash,” “The Wind Is Watching,” “Fallen Angels” and “Harry and Walter Go to New York.”


The Bissman Building in Mansfield, another site of “The Shawshank Redemption” film, has been featured on ghost-hunter shows including “My Ghost Story” and “Ghost Hunters.” Visit www.hauntedbissman     building.com for the haunted evidence.

A visit from Ellis Byrd, a “big-time paranormal investigator” who said “the building is on fire” with paranormal activity, started it all, and to date, 114 teams have done paranormal investigations there, Benjamin Franklin Bissman IV said. An employee was decapitated in an elevator accident on his last day of work in 1911, and legend has it a little girl was murdered and buried in the basement by a night watchman, Bissman said.

Visitors can book a private walk-through of the building or take part in the public ghost walk once or twice a month.


In “The Shawshank Redemption,” the Bissman Building was the site of The Portland Daily Bugle’s office and The Brewer Hotel, where Brooks came to live (and die) after he was paroled. The front of the building was used as the hotel; however, Brooks’ room was actually staged at the penitentiary.

In the print shop at the Bissman Building, Bissman  created period-style billboards and labels for beer bottles used in the film.

Bissman and his wife, Amber, and his father, served as extras in the movie.


At Malabar Farm, there are two sites from “The Shawshank Redemption”: the opening scene when a drunk Andy is sitting in a car with a bottle of booze outside of a house — the Pugh Cabin — where his wife is having a torrid affair with a golf pro, and the iconic oak tree where Red finds the buried cash.

The 200-year-old white oak is actually across the road from the farm, on private property. Part of it blew down in 2011, and on July 22, the rest of it gave way in a wind storm. The first part that came down is on display at the penitentiary, donated by the property owner. The tree’s latest remains still rest  where it fell, but it’s said that an offer of a million dollars has been made to the owner.

At the farm’s  “Big House,” home to Pulitzer Prize-winner author and conservationist Louis Bromfield, Lauren Becall and Humphrey Bogart were wed on May 21, 1945. She descended the stairway in the front hall of the home, and the pair spent their wedding night in a bedroom upstairs.

The room has twin beds, but, rumor has it, Bacall admitted during a speaking engagement in Columbus that they “pushed the beds together,” said our tour guide Siera Marth.

Bromfield had many Hollywood connections as a number of his books were made into movies.


On Malabar Farm is a house that was home to Ceely Rose and her family in the late 1800s.

Ceely was considered “a little bit different,” Marth explained. Perhaps “developmentally disabled. … She was made fun of much of her youth.”

A young man, Guy Berry,  was nice to her, which she mistook for love.

She followed him around, and disrupted his life, so the story goes. Her father told her to stay away from him, but she began to tell everyone that she and Guy were engaged. Guy told her they could not be married because her family disapproved. Consequently, Ceely decided to poison her mother, father and brother. Her mother survived, but the other two did not. She then poisoned her mom a second time, finishing off the job.

Ceely eventually confessed and spent the rest of her life in a mental              hospital.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)