Monthly Archives: April 2015

Spooky history

The original OSR structure opened for business to 150 convicts in September 1896.

The Ohio State Reformatory opened for business to 150 convicts in September, 1896.

A while back, Groupon had a deal on tickets to tour the Ohio State Reformatory, the now-famous 19th-century prison where parts of movies such as The Shawshank Redemption, Air Force One and others were filmed. (A dozen TV shows and music videos have also been shot there.) We finally found a good date to go, so we drove all of 15 minutes to get there, yesterday morning.

I mentioned to a Facebook friend that I’ve lived nine miles away from this place for over four decades, but never visited until this weekend. Strange for sure, although the property wasn’t always a restored historical landmark. The dilapidated structure was closed in 1990, and inmates were transferred next door to the newly-finished Mansfield Correctional Institution, now referred to by locals as “Manci.”

Sitting and rotting for years, surely destined for the wrecking ball, the place was a huge eyesore in Richland County until a group of citizens formed the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society in 1995, and rallied to save it. The work is ongoing, funded by private donations and tour fees.

The place was designed in Germanic-Romanesque style in order to give prisoners hope of returning to a more noble and virtuous lifestyle after serving their sentences. Not sure how that all worked out, but it certainly must have had a dramatic impact on convicts upon first coming up the main access road. It looks more like a haunted castle than a correctional institution. Chamber of Horrors, yikes.

At six stories, the east wing is the largest freestanding cellblock structure in the world.

At six stories high, the east wing is the largest freestanding steel cell block structure in the world.

Most unsettling — aside from the creepy historical vibe (and the silence, as we were first inside the building, and for the most part, alone in our wanderings) — was the sheer size of the cell blocks. How these men could have eked out any type of existence that wasn’t permanently scarring is beyond me. The hopelessness…all I could think about was the hopelessness of the inmates in these hellish surroundings.

Two men shared a 7×9 foot cell.

The warden, his family, and some lower administration were also housed on-site. The warden’s quarters take up a surprisingly large amount of space in the main house, spacious even by today’s standards.

Inmates attended chapel, and were allowed a library from which to glean edification of their brains and souls. Conversely, those who refused to be inspired or taught stood a better chance of ending up in the solitary confinement wing. Terrifying.

Being incarcerated is one of the most frightening things I can imagine. Being locked up in a place like the OSR? Unimaginable. Located just outside the windows of the old structure is the modern-day prison, although we were forbidden to take photos of the place.

Nowadays, the newly-restored main guardroom is a place for receptions, meetings and other events that can further raise funds for the ongoing restoration. I read an article somewhere in my research this morning that quoted a Preservation Society member as saying the massive restoration was designed as a “100-year project.” I can easily imagine it taking that long to completely restore or renovate this massive structure.

So, there you have a mini-review of the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. If you’re ever in the area, definitely give it a go. If I rated venues here at RtB, I’d definitely give it five cheeses on the Rat-O-Meter scale.

And now…back to reality. Oy.

Unpopular opinions

Go ahead. Pile on.

  1. I think the Grateful Dead is one of the most overrated bands of all time.
  2. I think there should be a special place in hell for mean people — on Earth.
  3. I think folks should stop worrying about how offended they are at every little thing, and try to concentrate more on enjoying life, because it’s too dang short.
  4. I think the bad guys win way too often.
  5. I think mega-churches should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.
  6. I think people who refuse to see the evil of Common Core State Standards and its high-stakes testing are deliberately, willfully (and therefore unforgivably) ignorant.
  7. I think a lot of discipline problems at school would go away if a big ol’ alligator-arm principal was allowed to throw a kid or two up against a locker, like in the old days.
  8. I think all political parties should be disbanded, defunded, and prohibited from ever forming again. And go back to popular vote for the presidency.
  9. I think deregulation of the airline industry was a bad idea. Say it with me: ol·i·GOP·o·ly
  10. I think that before anyone complains about anyone else’s profession, the complainer must first spend a year at the job in question.

Bring yer own! Set, go. ;-)

Stuff I miss

It’s Easter Sunday, and this heathen will go to confession for a moment.

First, some history:

  • I was raised in a Baptist home. We went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and once midweek for as long as I can remember. Sick, well, rain, shine, blizzard — the Collinses were in that sanctuary. At a young age, I could recite the books of the Bible in order, and I loved it when we had Bible drills at Sunday School. I won those bad boys on a regular basis.
  • That said, our upbringing wasn’t the strictest of the Baptist flavor — not by a long shot. We were allowed to play cards and buy rock and roll records. We got Easter baskets and were permitted to go trick-or-treating. Later, we were allowed to attend school dances (just shortly after being allowed to wear pants to school — that was a big, big deal for me as a 7th grader). We were encouraged to read our Bibles at home, but not forced. Yet, we weren’t allowed to say the phrase darn it because it sounded too much like, well, that other word. We weren’t allowed to say Oh, my gosh because “gosh,” you know, could be misheard as “God.” And that would get you slapped right across the chops. Our parents were a little on the quirky side, but whose weren’t? Heck, my sons would probably say that about me today.

So, what’s this got to do with my nostalgia today? Well, in 1996, I forswore organized church, and I haven’t been back. It’s a decision that 99% of the time, I am glad I made. I won’t use this forum to go into the reasons why, but suffice it to say that removing the Sunday morning routine from my life has not distanced me from God, but rather just from the politics, drama, rules and prejudices surrounding the operation of the business called church. I believe that if I died tonight, I would go to heaven, even though I haven’t set foot in a church service more than 3-4 times in the last 19 years. Nothing anyone says will sway me from that conviction (so please don’t try), and I rejoice in it. I love God the same — even more completely and personally — now as I did in all the years I went to church. And before some well-meaning-but-kinda-passive-aggressive know-it-all comments “That’s between you and God,” I’ll say it’s between me and God, and it’s all good. :-)

Still, sometimes, like this morning, I miss parts of the church experience. Specifically, it’s the music, which should come as no surprise. Of all the hymns I’ve sung in my life (and there have been many), Easter hymns are my absolute favorite, with this one at the top of the list. I miss congregational singing. Mind you, not the pop-ish kind, with the ubiquitous “praise band” and worship leader up front, and lyrics on the screen and no music to follow, so if you don’t know the tune you’re basically standing there just listening and not participating, and by the time you actually get the melody by the 15th time through the chorus, the song’s over, but real hymns in the traditional style, with a powerful pipe organ accompaniment; a huge sound, filling the space, sung SATB.

Sounds kind of funny, coming from someone who was there at the very beginning of the praise band movement back in the 80s, pushing for its inclusion into modern worship. Heh. That’s the way of it, I guess. Time can change folks.

Yet I won’t return to the church building, because of the stigma attached to “Easter and Christmas Christians.” I shouldn’t care, but I do, and there you go. Some old habits die hard.

So that is what I miss.

Happy Easter and Blessed Passover to all — enjoy this beautiful day!