“Andy came to Shawshank Prison in early 1947 for murdering his wife and the fella she was bangin’.

That was the famous line spoken by Morgan Freeman, aka Ellis “Red” Redman in the movie The Shawshank Redemption. How old were you when you found out that the movie was filmed at an Ohio State Reformatory rather than the fictional Maine prison the story led us to believe.  

Did you also know the movie was adapted from a book written by Stephen King named Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Me neither.

Tim Robbins got the leading role as Andy Dufresne, sentenced to life for the murders of his wife and her lover,despite his innocence. Interestingly, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise and Kevin Costner all wanted the part of Andy. Could you imagine any one of those others in that role instead of Robbins? Me neither. Personally, Morgan Freeman as Red,the contraband smuggler was the best character in the movie. His acting was superb, his narration even better.

The prison where the movie was shot is equally interesting. Located in Mansfield Ohio, construction began in 1886 on ground formerly used as a training camp for Northern Civil War soldiers. After many funding delays, the facility was completed 24 years later in 1910 at a cost of $1,326,769.

Originally built as an intermediate reformatory for wayward boys, it was designed by Cleveland architect, Levi Scofield. In1896, the prison took in 150 offenders, brought by train from Columbus.

Unfortunately, hard-core criminals began filtering into the prison, and with them, misfortune. In 1948, two past inmates, John West and Robert Daniels kidnapped the prison’s farm superintendent, along with his wife and daughter. Stripped of their clothes,the family was then murdered in a cornfield. Subsequently, the two criminals went on a crime spree, leaving six more people dead before being captured.West would die in a shootout with police and Daniels was later executed in Old Sparky, the prison’s electric chair.

William Haas was the first person executed int he prison’s electric chair in 1897. An illiterate farmhand, he raped and murdered his boss’s wife. More than likely still warm, the seat was taken minutes later when William Wiley, convicted of killing his wife, was also executed. Appallingly, the guards made the two prisoners flip a coin to see who would be executed first.

Urban Wilford had the misfortune to be the first officer killed at the prison by parolee Phillip Orleck in1926. Orleck returned to the prison to liberate another prisoner, shooting Wilford while he stood guard in a tower. Orleck was captured and executed within a year. Six years later guard Frank Hanger was beaten to death during a prisoner escape. Chester Probaski and Merrill Chandler were captured for their part in the beating and became intimate with Old Sparky.

A 1930 prison fire resulted in322 inmate deaths. By the time the prison was closed in 1990, due to a class action lawsuit filed by prisoners for inhumane conditions, over 200more people had died. Many perished of disease or suicide in the main part of the prison.

Then there was the “Hole” where the fictional Andy spent time on a few occasions. It was real and had its own horrific history. One man was killed after being piled into the same cell with another inmate, still another hung himself, and another man set himself on fire.

The prison had a few famous criminals. Henry Baker, who would later be part of Boston’s Great Brink’s Robbery was one.  Gates Brown took up residence at the prison before donning a Detroit Tigers professional baseball player uniform. After Doyle Baird was released from prison, he became a noted middleweight boxer.  

Many of the prison’s support buildings have been demolished while the rest of the complex became a museum.  What was left includes the six tiers of the East Cell Block which is the largest free-standing steel cell block in the world.

There is an ongoing effort to restore the facility by the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society and today the reformatory is a major Ohio tourist attraction. It has its own Face Book page and is considered haunted, which leads to its popularity as a major tourist attraction. Public tours can be taken of the facility daily.

Given the success of the film, my research led me to a believe a visit there would be something to put on a bucket list.  Maybe even run into Red.