Ohio State Reformatory – History

Appearing as if an old medieval castle was dropped in Mansfield, Ohio; the Ohio State Reformatory is still a pinnacle landmark of architectural wonder and triumph in the town. Thought of as economical and socially helpful, the reformatory was meant to give troubled youth skills and tools to re-enter society to work in certain trades and overcome their criminal past. In time unfortunately, this reformatory would house dangerous criminals and move away from its’ original purpose. Torture, inhumane treatment, and death are what the Ohio State Reformatory would become known for as it grew in size and housed more dangerous prisoners out of necessity. Now standing abandoned and desolate, the prison still houses prisoners and guards alike – just from a different time. Many who explore the structure and investigate the paranormal here leave with exactly what they came looking for…

The Past

The land where the Ohio State Reformatory currently sits was once the home to a training camp for Civil War soldiers. Even though there was not much significance of the area during the Civil War, the name of the camp held some special meaning to the old residents of the city of Mansfield. It was named Camp Mordecai Bartley, for the Ohio governor from the 1840’s. After the Civil war the camp and land were abandoned, left vacant.

The setting of the property is almost exactly half way between the State Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio and the Boys Industrial School in Lancaster, Ohio. Mainly because of this location and the open fields leftover from the encampments, Mansfield was the front runner for a new intermediate reformatory. In 1867, the city of Mansfield applied for the state’s first reformatory for first time offenders and young prisoners who were believed to be easily reformed. The city was awarded the facility and raised approximately $30,000 to purchase 180 acres of land. 

Construction costs sky rocketed to over $1.3 million and began in late 1886. However, it was slow moving due to weather, the lack of man power, and consistent funding. Slated to open in 1892, the first phase of the reformatory was not completed until 1896.  During this phase, the name of Intermediate Penitentiary of Ohio was officially changed to the Ohio State Reformatory. The basis of the design was to allow inmates to find an inner spirituality and be reborn back into society as a new man (or woman). 

Even though the final construction was not completed until 1910, the reformatory began taking in prisoners in 1896. 150 inmates were not only transferred to be held in the structure, but also work on the building’s outer wall and the sewage system. The idea was to give young prisoners skills and education, so they could be re-released into society as working citizens. As the prison grew, thanks in large part to the working inmates, the Ohio State Reformatory began opening its’ doors for more prisoners.

By its’ completion in 1910, the reformatory had already begun housing convicts from across the state. The state penitentiary in Columbus has become extremely overcrowded so those leftover prisoners were shipped to the Ohio State Reformatory, essentially eliminating its’ original purpose and overall goal of helping younger, non-dangerous criminals.

With these new inmates, the cells and jail as a whole became overpopulated. Many of the single-man jail cells suddenly housed up to three prisoners at a given time. These close quarters and the inhumane treatment created restlessness and violence throughout the reformatory. The rise in violence caused a rise of discipline. The discipline methods began simple, like solitary confinement, extra work hours, and limits on food and social time. When these approaches did not work, the guards started to use more dangerous and harmful methods, some would call them torturous.  Electrocution, waterboarding, a hot box (like a sauna on steroids and no light), and “The Hole” was created. The Hole was a form of solitary confinement but much smaller and confined cell.

As the dangers and tortures increased, the guards began to care less and less for the care and reform of the inmates. With this lack of care and the lost morale system in the jail came a rash of even more inhumane treatments. The food was disgusting and not fit for an animal, rats nested in the jail and spread their diseases, and fights between inmates increased without the guards even attempting to break them up (sometimes this would even result in death while the guards would bet on convicts).

These violent events reached a head in the late 1930’s. A large scale riot broke out in the Eastern Cell Block. The guards eventually regained control of the prison and as a punishment, they sentenced nearly 120 convicts to extremely small and dark confinement cells for over a week. They squeezed about 10 inmates into each one of these small cells without food or water. This treatment led to many of those rioters to insanity and even some others to death. 

Nearly a decade later, one of the prison guards who helped shut down the riot was murdered by one of the inmates he helped condemn to the small cells after the riots. Frank Hanger was stabbed with a homemade knife. He died in a matter of hours from excessive blood loss.

In 1949, tragedy struck an innocent woman, Helen Glattke. Helen was the wife of the superintendent of the prison, Arthur Glattke. She was shot by Arthur’s gun as she accidently fired it as she was looking for her jewelry box, high up in the closet. Her lung was pierced, and after two painful days, Helen passed away from the wound. Arthur continued to work at the prison until he too died of a heart attack in his office in 1959. The prisoner numbers grew even more and by the late 1960’s even the death row inmates were doubled and tripled up in their cell blocks. Being that they were already sentenced to death, many of these inmates ended up killing their cellmates before they could make it to the noose or electric chair.  One particular disturbing instance occurred when the guards noticed a prisoner missing from his cell. They inspected the room and found a convicts’ body broken and forced underneath the cellmates’ bed.

The prison officially closed in 1990 after citations of inhumane treatment and overcrowding issues came to light in the public’s eye. A new jail was established near the Ohio State Reformatory known as the Mansfield Correctional Institute. Many of the outer buildings and large walls have been demolished which was the plan for the reformatory itself until the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society stepped in and stopped any further desecration of the grounds. The old prison is now a museum and hosts educational seminars and tours throughout the structure, mainly for law enforcement and architectural purposes.

Through its’ life span, the prison had seen nearly 155,000 convicts enter the foreboding structure. The final resting place of 215 inmates who lost their lives in the prison due to violence, diseases (mainly influenza and tuberculosis), suicide, and insanity stand behind the deteriorating Ohio State Reformatory as numbers- not names – as a remembrance of the unforgiving life behind bars.

Paranormal Experiences

The sheer amount of inmates passing through subjected to hard times, inhumane treatment, and even death left an unheard of amount of energy in the Ohio State Reformatory. Employees and visitors alike have experienced phenomenon from just a dark and heavy feeling to being pushed and grabbed. The prison is not for the faint of heart, nor was it when it was in operation.  Dangerous convicts were tortured there during their life and are seemingly trapped here to endure their pain and misfortune for eternity. Only this time around, they are not necessarily confined to their cells and they have no problem breaking the rules they had to once followed during their stay at the reformatory.

The now infamous Glattke’s have been spotted and felt in numerous locations throughout the reformatory. They lived there and even raised their children at the prison, so it’s no wonder they would stick around at the place they spent a bulk of their lives- not to mention they both passed away inside the building.

In the Administration Wing, where the Glattke’s lived and Helen died, there have been reports of Helen’s perfume lingering, especially coming from the bathroom. Helen has also been seen walking into that same bathroom. When she is followed, she disappears. Cigar scents have also been said to emanate from the area, which Arthur was known to smoke regularly.

The Library has been another regular location where Helen has been spotted.  Books will mysteriously drop from their location on the bookshelves and occasionally books will be returned if a guest leaves it out for too long. Helen’s perfume has also been reported in the library.

Inside the stairway which leads up to the guard tower, many sightings of men dressed in guard uniforms have been documented.  Many visitors have felt pushes to their back and a pull of their arms as they ascend the staircase. Some guests have an uneasy feeling as if they are not welcome in this spot and after these experiences occur, many victims hear laughter and whispers echoing throughout the stairwell.

An area known as the Sanctuary was said to be where the prison’s very first executions took place. Unknown noises have been heard in the area, many believe these noises to be that of bodies being dropped into nooses with a loud slam and the creak of a tightened rope. Others claim that the noises are just too unearthly to even attempt to place a claim to identify them. There have been many occurrences of orbs and oddities appearing in photographs taken in the Sanctuary. Shadows have even been caught hanging from the doorways as if they were hung, and still hanging in the afterlife. They disappear as soon as they are recognized.  Many believe this area is the heart of the building and where the paranormal activity truly can be captured.

In the Infirmary, where care was nearly obsolete during its’ heyday, many prisoners died slowly and simply withered away without proper care.  Many inmates were simply put on minimal life support without medication, basically allowing them to die slowly and due to failing bodily systems rather than any incidents occurring in the jail, which looked better for the staff and front office. Many of these prisoners died from lack of food and even had their food stolen from them by their peers as they were too weak to fend them off. It has been known that the Infirmary is a great location to utilize EMF readers and detectors. Many investigators have been said to record spikes in the electromagnetic field here. The prison guard who was murdered, Frank Hanger, has been noted to linger in this area and has been know to respond to authority members; those that currently run the grounds, security guards, and even police officers who have been called to investigate oddities in the middle of the night.

Down in the Basement lies the tragic tale of a young inmate, only 14 years old, who was beaten to death by an unrelenting and torturous guard. His body was hidden long enough that his body began to decay in the unfinished and barely used location. No one knew who was responsible for the murder and his case was buried along with his body. There are two entities reportedly still haunting this basement. The first is that of the boy. His figure can be seen running throughout the basement appearing almost like a shadow without a body. The second apparition has not been seen but has been noted to radiate a more malicious vibe. The air has a tendency to get heavy and visitors feel as though it is difficult to breathe. Cold spots are felt throughout the area and even move to differing locations.

Not surprising, the cemetery which still houses all of the prisoners who died while incarcerated and lists them simply as number not by name, is said to be one of the best places to see lost souls just wondering the grounds. Some of these unclaimed bodies and prisons are destined to roam their final resting place not even knowing where their body is resting, and no relatives to pay their respects. It is commonplace for equipment to fail and photographs to be produced in total black images.

The massive living quarters of the inmates holds many tragic stories of torture and pain.  Suicide ran rampant almost like a disease in the East Cell block. If that’s not bad enough, a prisoner actually covered himself in gasoline and lit a match. Just imagine the site and smell of burning flesh in an enclosed cell. Nowadays, visitors note a feeling of being watched and some even have reported the feeling of being choked when no one else is nearby. The desperate prisoner who lit himself on fire can even be spotted as a quick burst of a flame then disappears. Equipment and flashlights will turn on and off without rhyme or reason. No names have ever been given to these entities; there just seem to be too many tragic endings to these inmates in these cell blocks.

Perhaps the best locations in the entire reformatory to experience a version of paranormal phenomenon are the 20 locations of cells known as “The Hole.” These cells were small and left deserted, off on their own away from any other human contact. Prisons would be locked inside for God knows how long and they were just be left there to rot, or more often than not, go insane. Visitors to these areas report simple cold spots, the unmistakable feeling of watched, and a feeling as though someone is breathing down their necks, even though there isn’t even room for anyone else in the cell. Other guests to the area have actually experienced quick onset nausea and shivering, reported feeling like cold sweats similar to the flu. No matter the activity that takes place here, the experiences are nearly always deemed “uncomfortable” and the guests have sudden urges to leave the facility – and no one would ever blame them.

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