GHOST STORY: The tug of the Ohio State Reformatory

Scott Rainey

Happy Halloween! Aside from marketers finally catching on to everyone using the word “spooky” regarding everything remotely related to Halloween, it’s time to talk about a crazy experience I had while visiting the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield.

This was a maximum security prison that was built on an old Civil War training ground. It was initially a reformatory where first-time and low-level offenders could literally reform themselves. It eventually became a maximum security prison that had to be shut down in 1990 because it was a Hell on earth.

The architecture is insanely creepy as well. The architect for the building wanted it to look like a Gothic castle, and it eventually got the name “Dracula’s Castle” because, if Dracula lived in Ohio and was found guilty of being a vampire, he probably would’ve been sent there.

It has since been preserved and is a tourist attraction for the supernaturally inclined. They do self-guided tours where you can show up, pay a small amount of money, and walk around the behemoth for two hours, smelling the smells and interacting with ghost prisoners.

When you first pull up to it, you’ll be mesmerized by the size of the prison. It’s huge. You begin the tour in the central area where the wardens used to live with their families. From there, you go into the chapel and then into one of the cell blocks. You work your way through the first one, you go into solitary confinement, and then you go into the other cell block.

I went as a huge skeptic. I knew that I wanted to have something physical happen to me, such as being scratched, grabbed, or pushed because there is plenty of science to explain lesser phenomenon like seeing stuff and hearing stuff. So, I wasn’t scared at all, and I wasn’t expecting much, if anything, to actually happen.

Before you take stairs up into the chapel, there are doors facing one another on the right and left of the stairs. I walked over to the door on the right, stood in the threshold, looked inside with a flashlight and saw absolutely nothing in the room. It was pitch-black and creepy.

I walked around to the other door and did the same thing. I decided that for whatever reason this wasn’t enough, so I walked over to the first door again, and this time I stepped into the middle of the room. By myself. In the black. I looked back out toward the doorway, turned back around facing the room, felt a firm tug on the back of my hoodie collar, and proceeded to book it out of the room as fast as I could.

I thought that maybe my hood got caught on a nail in the wall or something hanging from the ceiling, but nope — there was nothing in there. There was no hook. I felt a yank on my clothing in the middle of an empty room. So there.

A friend of mine visited the prison too, and she experienced getting scratched on her back while in the infirmary. Other people have mentioned being pushed or getting yanked by their pony tails. These dead prisoners certainly know how to put fear into their visitors.

Goodness gracious.

There is no explanation by any scientist to make me feel at ease about what happened. Swiss scientists did an experiment that sort of provide an explanation, but this really doesn’t provide an answer for what happened to me. It was absolutely wild. I cannot wait to go back.

Scott Rainey is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].