Built in 1886, the Ohio Reformatory was designed to rehabilitate first-time offenders. After 94 years of operation, the prison's legacy became one of abuse, torture, and murder. Numerous ghosts are said to haunt the prison and it's grounds.
Denounced by civil rights activists for its "brutalizing and inhumane conditions", the prison eventually shut down in 1990. Now, within the decaying walls of this abandoned prison, the restless spirits of its prisoners and workers are said to still remain confined, making it one of Americas most haunted buildings.
The imposing architecture of Ohio Reformatory, built to resemble old world German castles and Victorian Gothic churches, succinctly conveys the atmosphere of a prison. Violence among prisoners was an everyday way of life. There are reports of inmates being attacked by shanks, beaten by soap bars, and thrown from six-story walkways, sometimes over petty grievances.
A Dispatch reporter in 1894 discovered prisoners still being locked in sweat boxes for punishment, leading the newspaper to denounce the prison for a partial return to the dark ages. The ball-and-chain and hummingbird (an early electrical torture device) were still in use; and inmates complained about bad food and about prison politics that resulted in poor inmates being blindfolded and tortured with water hoses, while well connected inmates were given large, larger cells and special privileges.
The electric chair replaced the gallows in the Annex in 1897 and, according to a turn-of-the-century description, "it stands directly under the trap of the old scaffold." In those days, the electric chair was viewed as a humane instrument, death came in seconds, said advocates, as compared to the five to thirty minute death struggle on the end of a rope.
Three hundred fifteen men and women died in the electric chair until the practice was ended, at least temporarily, two decades ago. Ohio has seen no executions since Donald Reinbolt died at the Ohio Reformatory in 1963.
One of the most terrifying prospects for prisoners was "The Hole", an area of solitary confinement. The cells were equipped with nothing than a toilet and a bunk, and where prisoners sometimes had to sleep on the bare concrete floors. On one occasion, following a riot 120 prisoners were confined to "The Hole" for 30 days, with only 20 rooms to hold them. During this time, one inmate was murdered, his body hidden by another inmate under some bedding for several days.
Nothing in the prisons history, prepared it for the carnage of the Easter Monday fire on April 21, 1930. It began as a candle flame in oily rags on the roof of the West Block on the west flank of the prison. Authorities later said that three prisoners were responsible for the fire they had set the blaze to burst forth at 4:30 pm, as a diversionary incident. At that time the prisoners would still be in the dining hall. The oily rag smouldered too long, erupting at 5:30 pm., just after the iron gates had caged hundreds of prisoners into the six-story cell block.
Most of the 322 inmates who died that night perished from poisonous smoke given off from green lumber being used in construction scaffolding on one part of the cell block. But pictures of the debris attest to the incredible heat of the fire, which turned a tower of catwalks, bars and locks into a tangle of twisted metal.
Prisoners were not the only victims at the penitentiary in 1948, inmates brutally murdered a prison farmer and his family. In 1950, the warden's wife died under mysterious circumstances. She had allegedly died after a gun accidentally fired while she was searching for items in her closet. The warden later suffered a heart attack at the prison, and died a short time later.
Since its closure, rumours of the spirit encounters, ghosts and paranormal activity have filled the town of Mansfield. Witnesses to the paranormal activity at Ohio Reformatory come from reliable members of the local community. Since the Mansfield Preservation opened the former prison up for paranormal tours, visitors havecome here from all over America hoping to have there very own paranormal experience.
In the Administration Wing visitors and employees have reported experiencing strong paranormal activity. The administration wing where Warden Glattke and his wife Helen resided. The story is Helen, while reaching for a box in the closet, knocked a gun off the shelf to the floor, causing a bullet to discharge into her chest. She was rushed to the Mansfield General Hospital where she died as a result of her injuries.
Rumours ran rampant that Warden Glattke was responsible for Helen's death, but there was never any proof to substantiate such rumours. Ten years later Glattke suffered a heart attack and died at the same hospital as Helen previously.
Some believe that Helen and Warden Glattke haunt the administration rooms to this day. The strong smell of Helen's rose perfume reportedly floats in and out of her pink bathroom. Visitors report felling a gush of cold air pass through them as the wander through this wing. It is not uncommon to hear of a jammed camera shutter, which works again once the visitor left the area.
The Chapel is said to be at the centre of many of the paranormal events at the Ohio Reformatory. There have been persistent rumours that the Chapel was first an execution room, where inmates were tortured and died slow deaths while hanging from the rafters, this may account for the many reported orbs photographed and the strange recordings that have been captured in this area of the prison. Visitors have reported seeing ghosts lingering near doorways, only to vanish once their presence is detected.
The infirmary where many prisoners died miserable deaths is known to paranormal investigators to set off EMF detectors and clusters of orbs have been captured in photographs. There have also been several reports from visitors who have felt unexplained gushes of cold air pass by them.
The ghost of a 14 year old boy who was beaten to death in the basement is said to linger in the dark crumbling hallways, which twist around the dark decaying basement. Also, the spirit of a former Reformatory employee named George is said to haunt the basement halls.
The Reformatory's library and a small inmate's graveyard are believed by some to be haunted locations. Visitors have reported seeing objects move in the graveyard and equipment failure is not uncommon in the library. Psychics visiting the library have reported seeing the spirit of a young woman, possibly Helen or a nurse who was killed by one of the prisoners.
In the cell blocks prisoners told of feeling someone tucking them in at night, it was presumed to be the ghost of Helen, the spirit would move in and out of the cells, bringing a touch of comfort to the inmates with a simple tuck of a blanket.
The hole, located in the basement of the prison, was a place where prisoners who broke the rules were kept, there was space in the hole for 20 cells. Inmates would be kept in the dark, dank, roach infested cells, with one or more inmates, with little to eat and no place of comfort to sleep. Bread and water was the common meal with a lunch provided every three days. The stronger inmates would take the food from the weaker, leaving many to suffer hunger as well as other inconceivable hardships.
Many prisoners died in the hole and some believe that their tortured spirits remain, prompting reports of negative paranormal energy in this area. Visitors to this area sometimes leave after being overwhelmed with nausea. Others feel chills run through their bodies. The feeling of being watched permeates in the rooms and some have even reported seeing glowing eyes peering at them from dark corners.
The Guinness Book of World Records still lists the massive prison as the world's largest free standing steel cell block. The reformatory is now owned by the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society which offers summer public ghost tours and seeks donations in order to preserve the site.