The Living, the Dead, and the Incarcerated: A night in one of America’s most haunted, historic priso
On a sunny, blustery Easter morning in 2018, myself, my partner Ryan Bradway, and fellow investigator Jody Morin were traveling back home from a road trip to a haunted location in Kentucky. We were in central Ohio at this point, having spent 3 hours on the road so far, and in no particular hurry to reach our home state of New York.
“Do you know what’s right here!?” I asked, masking my excitement terribly. I got blank stares in return and couldn’t hold back.
“Mansfield Reformatory!” I said, hoping the inflection in my voice would imply my need to detour for a photo, even if it was a holiday and I knew it would be closed to the public. Ryan and Jody are no strangers to offbeat adventure, particularly in the pursuit of the haunted and strange, and agreed enthusiastically to seeing the building in person. After all, it was a mere 20 minutes from the highway we were on. Upon pulling off the road into the town of Mansfield and cresting a small hill, a veritable stone castle came into view, complete with arched windows, decorative stone porch columns and large, imposing wooden doors. Looming expansively beyond a manicured lawn and duck pond, the building stood silently, but somehow, not altogether completely quiet either.
The structure is behind a tall chainlink fence, giving the once-inhabited prison a truly secluded vibe. Gruesome, inhuman acts of violence that take place in the imagination of anyone who has only seen prison through the lens of Hollywood, began to take shape as I stood there staring. This was a place we had to return to, and we had to spend a night inside it.
Fast forward to May 2019, when the investigation we’d booked months earlier finally arrived. This time armed with four more paranormal investigators of varying backgrounds, we pushed open those big wooden doors for ourselves. After an incredibly informative and memorable tour from OSR staff member Keith Fischer, the seven of us assembled cameras, enjoyed pizza (an excellent perk of the overnight rental agreement), and began the head off into the darkened corridors of the prison.
While I had anticipated likely being intimidated by the sheer size of the dark corridors and endless cells, I surprised myself by feeling more a sense of excitement. There’s such a sense of wonder in such an architecturally stunning place, I imagine I was still somewhat distracted by just looking around like a tourist at every turn. If that actually assuaged any fear I expected to walk in with, all the better. We all split off several times that night, and covered as much area as we could with cameras, recorders and a hand-crafted EMF meter.
The EMF meter is usually not something Full Dark Productions uses on investigations, and I’m aware this may seem absurd to most investigators. As a documentary film crew, rather than a paranormal team, we attempt to capture the unknown by means of audio and video before we utilize “the rest” of the investigative arsenal. We are not opposed to the myriad devices, but we do not particularly believe they hold as much significance when it comes to personal experiences as one’s own eyes and ears can. That said, we took the opportunity that night to really spread the possibilities further as the night went on, utilizing that machine in several paranormal hotspots.
The prison itself is rather silent, being entirely encased in a stone exterior and newer roof. Most outside noise, besides an occasional car heard through a broken window, doesn’t contaminate audio recordings done inside the rooms and cell blocks. The sounds we heard that night, however, emanated from within the structure itself. Cell doors banging, metal on metal scraps and pops were reported by all of us nearly every time we returned to our central nerve center in the Bullpen. The audible noises astounded us, but what we captured on our Panasonic RR-QR120 digital recorder from within the confines of the secret cells at the back of the attic altered our perception of the place entirely. The EVP itself seemed to be a screeching, while also harsh whisper, containing several vocal tones and by all accounts, angry. We cannot to this day make out the words it might have said, but listening to it that night gave us a new sense of excitement and awe. That feeling of validation as the mystifying unknown seemed to speak back from within the static, was both shocking and validating.
The strangeness of the night did not end with our personal experiences and that EVP though. As with so many investigations, and the hours we spend asking questions to the seemingly empty air, we had no idea what we’d come away with on our memory cards after after the night was over. Upon attempting to load all the camera footage onto our computer at home, the uncanny happened. The video file of the moment that EVP was captured, and initially played back by myself and my parter Ryan, was unplayable. The corrupt file would not open, even through four different software recovery programs and multiple frustrated sighs on my part. No other file on any camera came home corrupt, and so it begs the question: why? Was it a paranormal occurrence of camera malfunction, caused intentionally by some unseen force around us in the moment we were recording? Or was it just a very coincidental electronic situation, that occurred at the worst possible time in the entire evening?
One thing remains true; we know we will never know the answer to that. The answer is left up to perspective; to the interpretation of the meaningfulness of that event. If that EVP means to one person that someone was present and spoke while we audibly heard nothing, perhaps that corrupt camera file means it also didn’t want us to record the interaction. Perhaps in that perspective, we were being driven from the attic by someone still lingering on there. If the EVP means just that an unknown voice occurred on the recorder while Ryan and I were silent, and has no implication on the camera malfunctioning, then the camera is just at fault on its own.
While the final answer eludes us, the haunting reality of our time in Ohio State Reformatory remains part of us. What we experienced in the moment, throughout the cell blocks, the warden’s quarters, and the sites of lurid death and calamity, are the unexplainable things we will carry forward with our next paranormal endeavors. Personally, I’ve allowed the excitement of the experience to outweigh the fear, letting it further my want to face the unknown again. Investigating the paranormal doesn’t necessarily have a peak or a pinnacle moment for me, where nothing past that point could top what I’ve witnessed. I truly believe the strange and unusual is unfolding before us constantly. In lucky moments or maybe driven by our actions, it’s able to be witnessed and learned from. After spending a night behind the imposing stone walls of Ohio State Reformatory, we’re convinced there is far more activity, still moving, speaking, screaming out and interacting, than meets the naked eye.
Thanks for reading,
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