Saturday, October 12, 2002

Former prison packs in tourists




By Emily Swartzlander
The Associated Press

MANSFIELD, Ohio - Tourist Catherine Ramsey snapped a picture at the edge of an open cell at the former Ohio State Reformatory and shuddered before hurrying down the narrow hall lined with cells on one side and steel bars on the other.

[photo] The east administration building of the reformatory, which opened in 1896,
(Associated Press photo)
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“There was a lot of stuff they did in here that was inhumane,” said Ms. Ramsey, of Seven Hills, who was on her second tour of the day at the 106-year-old building and had viewed a solitary confinement cell known as the “hole.”

The sandstone and limestone castlelike prison that had a role in The Shawshank Redemption and Air Force One has grown in popularity as a tourist destination since its closing in 1990. The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society, which bought the prison for $1 in 2000 from the state, has raised about $750,000 toward its renovation.

It is expected to cost about $16 million to fully restore the prison, said John Toney, who writes grants for the society.

The society is working to restore the warden's quarters to their original appearance and continues to repair the 199,000-square-foot facility's 350 windows.

The restoration is far from complete.

Paint flakes off the walls, and sections are caved in or filled with debris. Bathroom fixtures have been torn from the walls, and a musty odor filters through the building.

“There's still a huge amount of work to do, but from where we've started, we've come a long, long way,” said society president Dan Seckel, an architect and Mansfield native.

Mr. Seckel said plans are for a museum, and the society is trying to bring in more business meetings, parties and large tour groups.

Meanwhile, tours that have been conducted since 1996 have grown to include an annual haunted house in the fall and ghost hunts - periodic, unsupervised overnight stays for those who want to search for paranormal activity.

About 37,000 people visited the prison last year, compared with 1,600 in 1996.

Cleveland architect Levi Scofield modeled the prison after the medieval castles of Europe in an attempt to inspire the young male prisoners.

The building opened in 1896 as a reformatory for first-time offenders. Prisoners were trained in various job skills, including landscaping, and they designed and maintained a small lake and public picnic area on the grounds.

The prison had room for up to 2,400 inmates, but the number grew as high as 3,200, Mr. Seckel said.



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