Shannon Lusk and Scott Sukel of Mansfield Reformatory

By March 14, 2010episode

Shannon Lusk and Scott Sukel of the Ohio State Mansfield Reformatory talk with Nathan S and Magnus Apollo about the Ghost of the famous prison seen in The Shawshank Redemption and on Ghost Adventurers.

Built in 1834, the Ohio Penitentiary was actually the second Ohio Penitentiary, the third state prison, and the fourth jail in early Columbus. In April 1955 it housed an all-time high of 5,235 prisoners. Most prisoners were removed from the prison by 1972 with the completion of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, and the facility was closed in 1984. The state sold the Ohio Penitentiary to the City of Columbus in 1995.

Stone walls and iron bars they’re still here, but what of the humanity, if you can call it that, of the old Ohio State Reformatory at Mansfield. What of the 154,000 inmates who passed through it’s gates in it’s 94 years as a working prison. Not to mention their keepers, the Wardens, and the Guards, the gravediggers, and the rest, what of them remains? As it turns out, more than you might think. No matter what their crime, some sent to Mansfield have never left. They rest unclaimed in a cheerless graveyard just outside the fence. 215 numbered markers laid out row on row. Most were victims of disease, influenza, tuberculosis, but some died of less natural causes; From the violence, that is all to common inside any prison and was far from unknown in this one. And the worst of it occurred well away from the main cell block with their rows of cages stacked tier on tier, and inmates, one or two to a cell. There were too many eyes, too many witnesses here, no the worst of it was reserved for a far lonelier place, deep beneath the prison ground. A place called local control, or solitary, by some, known by everyone else as the hole. Near total isolation can crack all but the toughest of cons, but none was so alone that there wasn’t room for death. At least one inmate managed to hang himself, another set himself on fire, once two men left too long in a single tomb like cell, only one walked out, leaving his cellmate’s body behind, stuffed beneath a bunk. Could there be other similar surprises? Or words left over from the days before the prison closed? Even when they’re empty, some swear something walks these halls. It isn’t enough for contemporary visitors not to wonder off alone while sight seeing, what‘s become one of Mansfield’s more popular tourist attractions. But the bloodiest single incident in the old prison’s history occurred outside it’s walls. In July 1948, when the Reformatory’s farm boss, his wife and daughter were kidnapped and shot to death by two parolees bent on revenge. A six state manhunt for the so called mad-dog killers ended in a shootout that left Robert Daniels of Columbus in custody and his partner, James West dead. “I’ll get the Chair” Daniels told police as he signed the confession. And on January 3rd, 1949, he did. A year later in 1950 disaster struck again. This time, here in the living quarters of the Warden himself. The Warden’s wife, removing a jewelry box from a closet shelf dislodged a pistol from it’s hiding place. When it hit the floor, the gun went off inflicting a fatal wound. And within the decade, even more bad luck. The Warden, hard at work in his office, suffered a heart attack and died. All this was nearly 40 years ago and more, how then to explain the voices shaken tour guides swear they hear today? Man and woman talking, to faint to understand, to persistent to ignore and chilling to listeners who think they’re alone, only to find themselves apparently eavesdropping on the warden and his wife locked forever in an endless conversation from beyond the grave.

Brad Shoemaker

Author Brad Shoemaker

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