Author Topic: MANSFIELD (Ohio) - GHOSTS in the dungeon  (Read 2401 times)

  • Administrator
  • Black Monk
  • *****
  • Posts: 128
  • Karma: +1/-0
MANSFIELD (Ohio) - GHOSTS in the dungeon
« on: May 21, 2003, 02:22:40 PM »
Derek Wilson of Canton says he has seen lots of strange things inside the old Ohio State Reformatory.

Ghostly faces and shapes, floating balls of light, strange shadows and a chair that mysteriously returns to the center of a room if it is moved.

He has heard strange footsteps and felt cold chills. He has smelled strange scents.

Others have heard voices and singing. Some say they've seen vaporous trails of smoke. Some say they have been touched -- only to find they were alone.

``I've experienced a lot of weird things in this building,'' said Wilson, 24. ``I started out as a skeptic, but I've seen enough to believe. There's something here.... It's not a dead building.''

That's why Wilson, a volunteer for the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society, was standing in a darkened hallway at 1 a.m. He was serving as a guide to 75 amateur ghost hunters inside the now-closed state prison.

Believers are convinced that the brooding castlelike prison that once held up to 3,200 prisoners is haunted with the spirits of prisoners and guards who lived, worked and died there, some violently.

Ghosts aside, a visit is a big-time adventure in itself because the old 200,000-square-foot prison is awesome: It's a historic, sprawling, funky, retro structure in serious disrepair and with a disturbing, violent past.

The building -- a mixture of Victorian Gothic, Romanesque and Queen Anne styles -- housed an estimated 154,000 inmates during its 94 years as a state prison.

Today there are thousands of empty cells, many of which are still filled with prisoners' personal possessions, and old mattresses and rusting bunks, even though the prison closed Dec. 31, 1990.

The east cell block is 6 stories high with nearly 600 two-man cells, each measuring less than 7 feet wide, 9 feet deep and 8 feet high. It is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's tallest free-standing cell block. The 5-story west cell block contains 360 two-man cells.

Peeling paint and debris are everywhere. Many windows are broken. Ceilings have collapsed. Bathroom fixtures have been torn from walls. Scavengers have removed some steel cell bars. There's a dank musty smell that dominates the cell blocks.

Everyone has seen pictures of the Titantic on the bottom of the ocean. That's the way the old prison looks, with peeling lead paint up to 60 layers thick and sagging plaster creating an unworldly look and feel to the structure.

But there are strange anomalies in the prison -- like giant paintings of Lenin and Stalin. Mansfield was turned into a Russian prison by Hollywood film makers in the movie Air Force One with Harrison Ford.

Movie star

It has also appeared in The Shawshank Redemption, Tango and Cash and Harry and Tonto Go to New York. The structure also appears in the rock video Awake by Godsmack.

In fact, fans of The Shawshank Redemption with Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman make up a number of the tourists who flock to the Mansfield prison.

The society offers four different Sunday afternoon tours of the prison, which opened as a reformatory for youth and later served as a maximum-security prison. Its most famous inmates were probably Cleveland gangster Danny Green and Cleveland Browns running back Kevin Mack, on a drug conviction.

But the society found that its all-night Ghost Hunts -- offered 12 times in 2003 -- are a financial bonanza for the nonprofit group that wants to restore the old prison.

Nothing is staged. The society simply opens the building and lets ghost hunters explore on their own.

The ghost hunters came from all over Ohio and surrounding states to pay $50 each to explore the prison from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. on selected Fridays and Saturdays. Most said they were simply curious and most admitted they weren't sure if ghosts are real. Most were first-timers, although a few had been in Mansfield on earlier hunts.

Juanita McClahanahan from Peebles, Ohio, and Faye Davis from Radcliff, Ky., both 50-something, said ghost hunting is their sport and that's why they made their first trip to Mansfield.

Christopher Jenkins, 25, and Tabitha Christie, 25, both from Portage, Mich., were on their second trip. They decided to return after having steel cell doors mysteriously slam shut on their first trip. There were other activities they couldn't explain. He is a believer. She is a skeptic.

The ghost hunters came armed with flashlights, cameras, tape recorders and video recorders. A few came with more serious ghost-hunting tools: dowsing sticks, compasses and thermometers. One couple came with night-vision goggles.

Some stayed all night. A few left as early as 11 p.m.

What I saw

The results were mixed. Most experienced nothing abnormal. A few saw twinkling lights. Strange footsteps were heard. The couple with the night-vision goggles saw diving bats but little else.

What did I see? Pitch-black hallways and a foggy shower room dimly lit by an outside light and lots of empty prison cells. The ghostly possibility of a sighting added to the excitement of what was part ghost hunt, part history tour and part off-beat adventure in a somewhat creepy place. It was never scary, as long as your flashlight was working.

Even the old prison's ghostly ``hot spots'' -- the Chapel, the solitary-confinement cells in the basement, known as The Hole, the shower room and the warden's living area at the front of the prison -- were strangely quiet and devoid of any strange activity on the night of my visit.

When you encountered a draft, you looked to see if it was from a broken window or something else. You constantly scanned walls with your flashlight for ghostly faces.You sat in the total blackness and waited for floating lights.

First-time ghost hunters Jason Greavu, 33, and Paul DiGiorgio, 35, both of Stow, hung out in the dark until 3:45 a.m. -- to no avail.

``We didn't experience anything and that was a little disappointing,'' Greavu said. ``But we're glad we went and it was definitely worthwhile.''

Added Patrick Lechene, 40, of Medina who left the prison at 5:30 a.m. after his second ghostly hunt: ``It was not a good night for ghosts. I'm a little disappointed, but there were almost no reports of anything spiritual or anything like that.... Maybe noise takes away the needed atmosphere.''

The Ghost Hunt began at 8 p.m. in fading daylight with a guided 90-minute tour of the structure, which has no electricity, no lights and no heat. Then the ghost hunters were pretty much on their own to go whereever they wanted in the old building. There was a brief lecture on paranormal activity and pizza was served at 11 p.m.

Hearing voices

Paranormal activity occurs ``all the time'' in the Mansfield prison, said Ken Johnson of the Ohio Ghost Hunters Society and one of the foremost ghost experts on the Mansfield prison.

The best time is from 3 to 5 a.m. because ``that's when things most often go nuts,'' he said.

Ohio psychic Tina Michelle visited Mansfield for a television segment and reported encountering numerous spirits in the prison's dungeon area. Many cried out, asking not to be forgotten, she said. The prison was filled with intense energy and very active spirits, she said.

Johnson proudly displays photos of orbs or round lights floating in the air that he says are bits of energy. There is a shadowy picture of a man in the prison yard. That is Urban Wilford, a guard shot three times during a 1926 prison escape, he said.

He said he is especially proud of a face that appeared in the background of a photo. It was identified by a former prison guard as being a prisoner whom the guard had personally buried years ago.

Some are convinced that you can encounter the ghosts of Warden Arthur Glattke and his wife, Helen. She died after knocking a loaded gun off a closet shelf in 1950. Some claim to have heard voices of the couple. Others have smelled Helen's lilac-scented cologne or fresh flowers in the couple's pink-tiled bathroom.

Wilson tells of seeing bright round orbs suddenly appear out of nowhere in the solitary-confinement area and disappear through the sandstone walls.

Serious ghost hunters like Johnson take pictures of what appear to empty rooms or hallways. They may not see anything but they feel something there. And that something might appear on film (don't use digital cameras).


Perhaps one of the spookiest reports from Mansfield is the red-eyed, bad-smelling spirit known as Elmo, said the pony-tailed Johnson, who calls himself Dr. Ken.

Johnson calls it an elemental, an etheric creature that feeds on negative emotional energy and has crossed into the realm of human existence. It has been reported a few times at Mansfield and in one fuzzy photo -- with stubby legs, an oversized body and a shadowy head. It is perhaps 4 feet tall.

There are historical accounts of such creatures but proving what Elmo might be won't be easy, Johnson said.

His advice to ghost hunters is simple: ``Be patient.... The best tool you have is you,'' he said.

Wilson said it's his belief that seeing a ghost is just a matter of ``being at the right place at the right time on the right night.''

On a typical Ghost Hunt, only a handful of people are likely to experience something out of the ordinary, he said.

Wilson, a postal worker, said, ``Nothing I've seen or experienced in the building scares me.''

Meanwhile, fixing up the prison is a monumental task.

It will cost at least $16 million, the preservation society says.

But that cost could be closer to $50 million, said Ken Wagner, 75, a society trustee and a volunteer guide.

Just getting rid of the peeling lead-based paint will cost in excess of $5 million, he said.

The society has made roof repairs to keep water out of the structure and window repairs are still needed, he said.

Part of the prison's administration wing has been refurbished. A gift shop is housed in that area and a small museum is planned.