Monday, April 4, 2011


The Shawshank Redemption (1994) is one of my favorite movies of all time, so when it was on TV yesterday I had it on for about the 20th time. But for the 1st time I wondered where the exterior shots of the fictional Maine prison were filmed. The answer: the Ohio State Reformatory, which opened in 1896 and closed in 1984. Director Frank Darabont said, "The moment I saw it, I was pretty much convinced we'd found our Shawshank. It's a stunning edifice -- gothic and bleak and architecturally beyond fascinating. That's what I mean when I say the universe dropped a gift in my lap -- it was not only the perfect locale, but also the perfect timing. The OSR (Ohio State Reformatory) had a date with the wrecking ball when we first came across it. Had I been making that movie a year later, much of the prison walls and supplemental buildings - all vital to my filming - would have been gone." The exterior of the reformatory was used in the filming, but the interior was too dilapidated and was recreated on a sound stage. Most of the support buildings and the wall around the grounds have since been demolished. The main building is now a museum, and the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society gives tours to raise money to restore the facility to its original state. They also host wedding receptions for up to 225 people and more intimate gatherings (in the warden's dining room) for 20-40. A blogger named Lindsay describes attending an annual Halloween event: "Seriously, the inside of that place was amazing. The architecture was astounding. The cell block (in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest free standing steel cell block in the world) stretches six stories high." Lindsay tells a spooky about seeing the prison building years earlier:
"|I lived in Mansfield, Ohio, for almost a year. The first time I visited there I was with my mother and as we pulled away I saw a cool old looking building through the trees. I asked her to pull off and take a look when she said she bet it was the old, defunct Ohio State Reformatory that was used to film The Shawshank Redemption. It was all boarded up then, and the subsequent year I spent living there. Still, my love of old buildings kept me driving back there often just to look at the impressive facade. The odd thing was that after that first time no matter how hard I looked, and no matter the leafless state of the trees, I couldn’t ever see it from the freeway again."
The 20-year anniversary of the film was celebrated and the town of Mansfield, Ohio, organized a reunion in 2008. The rumor is that a sequel is due to start filming in December, and from the description the reformatory will figure prominently.

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