Eerie encounters at Ohio State Reformatory


One of the most allegedly haunted locations in America. The Ohio State Reformatory has become a hotspot for paranormal enthusiasts.

Prison block

ThThe Ohio State Reformatory, located in Mansfield, Ohio, has a long history of reported hauntings and paranormal activity. It has become a pilgrimage site for paranormal enthusiasts, helping earn its reputation as one of the most haunted locations in the United States.

Meanwhile, many people recognize the imposing brick and concrete behemoth from movies like The Shawshank Redemption and Air Force One. It was also featured in a Lil Wayne music video.

A postcard of the reportedley haunted Ohio State Reformatory
A postcard of the Ohio State Reformatory. From the early 1900s. Courtesy of Ohio Memory.


The reformatory was designed as a model prison. It was built with a Romanesque exterior and beautiful archways inside. The complex opened in 1896 as an institution offering young, non-violent offenders rehabilitation instead of suffering from brutal conditions at the state penitentiary in Columbus.

It operated as a self-sufficient institution. Inmates worked on a farm and produced goods for other state facilities in workshops located on the reformatory grounds.

However, conditions grew worse throughout the decades. By the 1970s, it became an ill-equipped maximum security prison. There are claims that it was common for ill patients in the reformatory to be neglected by medical staff for days.  Eventually, the Council for Human Dignity, on behalf of former inmates, filed a lawsuit in 1978. It claimed that conditions in the prison were brutal and inhumane.

Around 215 prisoners lost their lives at the prison through disease, suicide, murder, and other various causes. Although, it’s rumored that the actual death toll is much higher.

The closing of the Reformatory

After decades of protests from activists and government officials, a Federal Court ordered the reformatory to close in 1990. State officials petitioned to tear it down. But film location scouts took an interest in the imposing but elegant building for an upcoming movie called The Shawshank Redemption. The iconic movie brought much-needed attention to the decaying building.

In 2000, the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society purchased the property for a single dollar. The organization began restoring the prison and opened it to the public. The tours and paranormal investigations have served as a fundraising method for ongoing restoration efforts.

Modern picture of the Ohio State Reformatory
A recent photo of the Ohio State Reformatory. Source: Wikimedia


There have been claims of ghostly activity at the reformatory dating back to the first half of the 20th century. Former inmates, some of them current tour guides at the property, have claimed to witness ghostly apparitions or hear ghostly voices while incarcerated.

In recent years with the rise of ghost-hunting shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures, there has been an increased interest in the site. Numerous paranormal investigators have claimed to witness a variety of paranormal experiences throughout the facility.

The Hole

The solitary confinement cells nicknamed “the Hole” are reportedly the most paranormal sites on the property. The Hole, located in the basement was barren. Without natural light, inmates became mentally unhinged. Inmates reported crawling rats and cockroaches.

In 1957, in response to a prison riot, an estimated 120 prisoners were given 30-day sentences in “the hole”, which was only equipped with 20 cells. During this incident, an infamous story about two inmates forced in an isolation cell came to be. Only one inmate came out alive.

To this day, visitors hear footsteps and babbling voices, while encompassed with a feeling of dread.

The Administrative Wing

In 1935, Arthur Glattke was hired of Superintendent of the Reformatory. He worked on improving the conditions at the institution, but he could do nothing about the overcrowded conditions.

He and his wife Helen lived in the Administration Wing. In 1950, Helen was digging through a closet and accidentally knocked a gun off the shelf. The loaded gun shot her in the chest. She battled excruciating pain for 3 days but eventually died after contracting pneumonia.

A heartbroken Glattke continued at the prison. A massive heart attack killed him in his office in February 1959.

Visitors have heard the Glattkes having heated arguments while no one is there. Visitors have also reported hearing Arthur’s footsteps as he walks through the Administration Wing into other spaces of the vast property.

Helen often appears in her old room, the White Room. Witnesses report smelling a strong scent of roses and cold spots.

Inside the Ohio State Reformatory
Ohio State Reformatory cell blocks. Source: LOC

Cell 13

Another infamous spot at the Reformatory is Cell 13. While in Cell 13, a 22-year-old inmate named James Lockhart set himself on fire after getting denied parole.

Allegedly, Lockhart stole a bottle of turpentine from the prison furniture shop. He went back to Cell 13 and poured it over his head. He lit it with a match. Within seconds Lockhart was engulfed in flames. Horrified onlookers could do nothing about it. Meanwhile, Lockhart’s screams echoed throughout the cellblock. The stench of burning flesh overwhelmed the inmates.

Today, visitors report vaguely hearing his screams while in the cellblock. Some claim to feel a slight warmth when gripping the cell doors of Cell 13.

The Chair Room

The Chair Room is another bizarre site at the Ohio State Reformatory. It is a windowless room with a chair placed in the middle of the room. According to legend, a dark entity gets angry if the chair is moved. Paranormal investigators have claimed that after provoking the dark entity, it is known to leave scratch marks on them.


Whether or not people believe in ghosts, there’s no denying that the Ohio State Reformatory was the epicenter of many brutal and inhumane scenes. If it’s not ghosts, it’s these memories that are haunting the expansive, romanesque, prison. These tales serve as a haunting reminder of the prison’s dark history, and a call to action to create a more just and humane society.

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