By Zoë Nelson
If you read my article about the most haunted places in the area, you may have learned about the famous prison right here in Ohio. So, this weekend for Hidden in Your Hometown, I visited Blood Prison (the Ohio State Reformatory). This prison-turned-haunted house is located in Mansfield — about an hour drive away from my house. The filming site of The Shawshank Redemption, it looks like Hogwarts-meets-dungeon from the outside. Guards in police uniforms pace the outside, adding the finishing touch. Of course, I was there for the spectacular haunted house, so I pushed my fears aside and bought the touch pass. This meant that while you were going through the haunted house, the characters could touch you. After asking at least 10 times, I was assured by an employee that they could not hurt us. It did not settle my worries that there was about a fifteen-minute wait to get inside, because I had more time to imagine the most frightening scenarios that could possibly happen as I listened to the screeching sound effects blasting from inside the prison. Convenient food trucks lined the long pavement leading to the entrance, and while my stomach was swirling with fear, I had to admit I was hungry. I had a pulled pork sandwich and a Dr. Pepper. As we were about to go in, I was told that the haunted house lasted about 45 minutes.
After we received our wristbands, tickets, and glow sticks (to indicate our touch passes), we were ready to go in – we were grouped with a family of six. We made our way up the winding path and stone stairs to reach the entrance. We stepped into a wide hallway, our feet clicking against the black-and-white tiles. An extremely tall woman (she was walking on stilts) in a white gown with black eyes approached us immediately, touching one girl’s neck. The teenager screamed and threw off her glow stick (what we were instructed to do if we could not handle the touch pass). I was tempted to do the same, but I persevered for the sake of writing this article.
Shortly, we began to make our way through the prison, which felt more like 10 minutes than 45. I will not go into depth about every scare, but let’s just say it was highly enjoyable. One part of the haunted house included going outside to the prison yard, then maneuvering through a dark, damp tunnel where ‘dead bodies’ hung right in front of your face. As the employee promised, I was not hurt by any of the workers – even when they pretended to chainsaw me – but it gave me a good scare when I remarked, “I feel like someone’s gonna jump out,” and a man covered in blood wrapped his hands around my mouth with the response “Like me?” The creepiest part was seeing the actual jail cells, which gave you those shivers down your spine like the prisoners were watching you at every turn. If you do go to this haunted house, I advise that you pay attention while walking down the steps; you will probably need to hang onto the railing.
When we emerged in the end, I was surprised it was already over. A spacious gift shop opened out from the left side of the corridor, featuring mugs and T-shirts covered in words like “Escape from Blood Prison” and “Welcome to Shawshank”. I ended up buying a shirt. On the lawn next to the reformatory, there was a free sideshow called Hellzapoppin. We didn’t stay for the whole thing, but in the few minutes we gathered in the circus tent, we saw a woman swallow swords while escaping from a straightjacket, and a man put a drill all the way up his nose. I recommend that you keep your tickets, because you can later use them for a self-guided tour of the prison. Overall, if you’re looking to get spooked with a few friends (while also engaging with history), you should visit Mansfield – if you can make it out alive!