Ohio's Most Haunted Town

With Halloween fast approaching I thought it might be timely to repeat a story I did last fall for the Plain Dealer. 

Some towns try to discourage tales of ghosts.  The city of Mansfield, Ohio flaunts their spooky past and in fact has turned it into a tourist attraction.

 There is Brownella Cottage. A Victorian mansion once owned by a religious leader.  Legends of ghostly footsteps and even sightings of a man in black have put this on the Halloween attraction list.

 And there is Malabar Farm State Park, once owned by the late writer Louis Bromfield.  In the big house at the farm there have been claims of spooky sightings of everything from Bromfield himself to one of his long-dead dogs. There is also a house on the farm that was once home to Ceely Rose, a young woman who poisoned her entire family. 

 And talk about “Phantom of the Opera”, the beautiful 1928 restored Renaissance Theater has tales of ghostly happenings.

 In downtown the old Mansfield Memorial Museum can certainly qualify as a real-life haunted building.  Originally built in 1889 as a clubhouse for the GAR, veterans of the American Civil War, it was also the home of Mansfield’s first natural history museum and library.  Present day director, Scott Schaut says the original founder of the museum, Civil War Veteran, Edward Wilkinson, has been a ghostly presence in the building for many years.

  Wilkinson traveled the West and Central America collecting specimens for the Smithsonian Institution as well as other major museums.  His personal collection was the basis for the Mansfield Memorial Museum and most are still in their original 19th century display cases.  Edward Wilkinson made the museum his life’s work and Scott Schaut says he thinks even in death Wilkinson refuses to leave the building.

 “He’s still here keeping an eye on things”, Schaut said.

 Among many ghostly incidents like footsteps in an empty room and shadowy figures seen passing through the aisles that have happened over the years Schaut pointed to the time he moved a very heavy display case and the next day found it back in it’s original position, the place Wilkinson had originally placed it over a hundred years ago.

 The museum, which still maintains its Victorian appearance with its long stairways, high ceilings and century old exhibits offers a unique look at 19th century America as well as some more modern displays, including a wonderful model airplane display that once graced the headquarters of the local Ohio National Guard Base.  By the way, the meeting rooms in the museum are still being used by modern veterans groups.

 Hours for the museum are Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 10AM to 4PM

 Mansfield Memorial Museum, 34 Park Avenue West, Mansfield, Ohio 44902, 419-525-2491, sschaut@richnet.net

 Every community has their share of spooky homes and places, strange events that are hard to explain but Mansfield can lay claim to not only being one of the state’s most haunted cities but also having perhaps the largest “haunted house’ in Ohio, if not the U.S.

The Old Mansfield Reformatory doesn’t need makeup or props to make it look creepy.  If you have ever seen the Gothic castle-like structure you will understand.  If it is truly not haunted it should be. 

 It took ten years to complete construction of the prison before the first 150 prisoners arrived in 1896.  Over the next 94 years one-hundred-and-fifty-four thousand men would serve time in the creepy stone jail.  It would at one time contain the world’s largest cell block and there would be two unsuccessful escape attempts

 Not far from the walls of the old reformatory is the prison cemetery, where 215 prisoners who died while serving time are buried their only marker, their prison number.

 On Dec 31st of 1990 the last prisoner left the old reformatory to be transferred to the new, more modern correctional facility nearby.

 Hollywood has discovered the old prison. Much of the award-winning movie, “The Shawshank Redemption” was filmed here.

 Today the old prison is being slowly converted into a museum and open to tours.  There are even Ghost Walks in the late summer which sell out almost as soon as they are announced.   And from late September thru the first of November the reformatory is turned into one gigantic haunted house for Halloween, complete with costumed staff and other scary animated stuff that turns an already spooky place into a spine-chilling experience.  If Halloween in your favorite holiday and you’re looking for thrills and chills Mansfield, Ohio could be the perfect ghostly Ohio Road Trip.

 Mansfield Reformatory, 100 Reformatory Road, Mansfield, Ohio, 419-522-2644, www.mrps.org

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