Brooks Was Here. So Was Red: Following the Shawshank Trail
I arrived at the Ohio State Reformatory in the middle of a howling storm, but it wasn't just the cold that gave me shivers. The 250,000-square-foot Romanesque building houses the world's largest free-standing steel cell block and was home to more than 155,000 men between 1896 and 1990.
Initially lauded for taking steps toward prison reform, over time conditions at the Reformatory deteriorated to the point where inmates were routinely abused and tortured. 215 people who entered the prison never left -- though some believe their souls still haunt the grounds. Since the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society opened the prison for ghost tours in 1995, it has been considered by ghost hunters to be one of the most active haunted places in the United States.
The prison has been the site of many paranormal investigations and still runs regular ghost tours, (and for Halloween, a "Dead Walk") but I was visiting for a different reason: it is the first stop on the "Shawshank Trail," a self-drive tour of the filming locations used in the 1994 movie "The Shawshank Redemption."
From May to September visitors to the Ohio State Reformatory can tour the West Tower, East Cell Block, the "hole" and sites featured in the movie including the office of Warden Samuel Norton; the Parole Board Room, and Andy Dufresne's escape tunnel.
A few minutes drive into Mansfield took me to several other movie sites, including another haunted location: the Bissman Building, filmed as the Brewer Hotel where newly released Brooks takes his life, and as the exterior of the Daily Bugle's office.
The building dates from 1886 and features a Romantic Gothic architectural style similar to the Reformatory. This is also thought to be the site of paranormal activity and offers paranormal tours and investigations.
Walking around the small, nostalgic town of Mansfield I also came across the antiques store where Red looked through a window to find the compass that helped him find the old oak tree and Andy's buried treasure; the Renaissance Theatre where The Shawshank Redemption premiered in September, 1994, and the park bench where Brooks sat feeding pigeons -- all handily identified by bright "Shawshank Trail" placards.
I drove 15 miles to Bellville to the spot where Red started his walk toward Buxton, and then to the site where he boards a bus en route to Mexico -- the open country roads stirring, even in me, a casual tourist, a sense of freedom.
I then drove past the old oak tree -- sadly only half of which remains following a storm last year -- and to Malabar Farm State Park's Pugh Cabin, which featured in the movie's opening scene. You can reach the cabin via the easy one-mile Doris Duke trail circuit.
After the short hike I took the opportunity to stop for lunch at the Malabar Farm Restaurant and to buy some maple syrup from the farm's store, before finishing up the trail with a couple of drive-by locations: a thrift store that doubled as a bus station in the movie, and the Wyandot County Courthouse.
I finished the trail and drove home in the pouring rain with one thing on my mind: to curl up and watch this great movie again -- and spot all the places I had just seen.