The Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio is a creepy edifice of Victorian Gothic, Richardson Romanesque and Queen Anne loveliness– even on a sunny day. Opened in 1896, its architecture was meant to inspire Ohio’s young bad boy men to reform themselves by turning to a more spiritual life. These days, come Halloween season, the prison’s creepiness sets the stage for another type of spirit–the ghostly, ghoulish and zombie-with-a-chainsaw kind.
The Haunted Prison Experience–each Thursday-Saturday through Nov. 2, is a fright fest guarantee. Last year, I had the pleasure of gripping a friends arm and shrieking my way up and down dark stairways, around dark corners and past the peeling paint of shadowy rows of cells that reached four stories high, anticipating the next time a ghoulish type either chased me with a chain saw or whispered in my ear, “I’m still here.” At each turn, there was a staged surprise–coffins where the dead person wasn’t quite dead, a burning car that blared its horn when we passed, a lightening flash and thunder crash that unexpectedly went off–that sort of thing. Creepily delicious.
Although, The Haunted Prison Experience is a show staged by actors, The Ohio State Reformatory is thought to be haunted. Ghost hunts are possible during other times of the year. The prison, closed in 1990, is also the prison that was used for the main setting of the movie “The Shawshank Redemption.”
As a note, no one under 13 is allowed in the Haunted Prison Experience. Those who are under 13 can see the prison from May 1 to Sept. 1 during the prison’s regular tour season.
Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, one of the temporary homes of bad boy Al Capone, is another Gothic-style prison that has crumbled into perfection to provide a haunted Halloween backdrop. Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary, through Nov. 9, offers six Hollywood-like sets in various parts of the prison that scare and thrill due to actors trained to know how to up the fright factor depending upon the visitor. Younger kids with parents get a toned down version unless they seem up for more. It’s recommended that kids 7-12 come during Family Night on Sundays. Those under 18 who tour without a parent or guardian need to have a signed waiver form.
Insider Tip: Buy tickets online. They are cheaper and you shouldn’t have more than a 30 minute wait once you arrive.
West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, another Gothic architectural style prison of creepy proportions, was opened in 1876 and closed in 1995. Back in the day, its active death row sent almost 100 men to the electric chair or the gallows. The result of this activity has placed the West Virginia Penitentiary at the top of the most haunted places list.
Tours here are not Halloween specific and are April through November. For the creepiest experience, take the Twilight Tour, daily from 7-10 p.m.– or the Ghost Adventures on Saturday nights. There is an age constraint for each. Only children 12 and over can do the Twilight Tour. Those under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Ghost Adventures has an 18 or over requirement. The younger crowd can go on a regular daily tour. The West Virginia Penitentiary is closed on Mondays and holidays.
Post courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of Midwest Travel Writers Association; Ohio State Reformatory photo courtesy of Mansfield/Richland County CVB; creepy guy photo courtesy of Jamie Rhein; and Terror Behind Walls photo courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary.
Disclosure: My tour of the Ohio State Reformatory was courtesy of Mansfield/Richland County CVB, but the views are my own.