Haunting Ghost Stories of the Ohio State Reformatory

Spirits of Tortured Prisoners Roam the Halls of the Old Mansfield Reformatory

Mansfield Reformatory
Courtesy Mansfield/Richland Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Ohio State Reformatory, also known as the Mansfield Reformatory, is a historic structure in Mansfield, Ohio that many believe to be haunted by inmates and guards that died there.

History of Mansfield Reformatory

Inspired by the architecture and design of German castles, architect Levi T. Scott designed the Ohio State Reformatory (OSR) in 1886 with the hope that the inmates would find their surroundings spiritually uplifting.

The construction of the Reformatory, originally named the Intermediate Penitentiary, began on November 4, 1886. The name was changed to the Ohio State Reformatory in 1891. Although the construction was not complete, 150 inmates were housed at the facility beginning in September 1896. When it was completed in 1919, it had the largest self-supporting steel cell block in the world, with 600 individual cells that were stacked six stories high.

Spiritually Demoralizing

Originally the facility housed young males that were first-time and non-violent offenders. The objective was to reform them by teaching them useful skills and enhancing their spirituality.

However, over the years the state was faced with a growing prison population and they were forced to send hardened criminals to OSR. The Reformatory became overcrowded and cells designed to hold a single man, now held three. The focus shifted from reformation to punishing unruly prisoners.

The punishments were administered with antiquated torture devices the included "the butterfly," a form of electro-torture, water hoses, a sweatbox for non-white prisoners, and "The Hole" which was a small, barren and solitary confinement cell. Along with the possibility of being tortured, the inmates were also subjected to extreme violence from other inmates, horrific food, rat infestation, and infectious diseases.

Preferential treatment was possible, but only to the inmates who could afford to pay for it.

Arthur Glattke - Administration Wing

In 1935 Arthur Glattke was appointed as the Superintendent of the Reformatory. He immediately began various reforms designed to improve the miserable conditions of the prison, although he could do little to relieve the overcrowding.

Glattke and his wife Helen lived in the administration wing of the Reformatory. On on November 5, 1950, Helen knocked a gun off the shelf of a closet while looking for a box. When the gun hit the floor, it fired and a bullet discharged into Helen's chest. She managed to live for three days but died after suffering complications due to pneumonia.

Glattke, well respected by prisoners and community leaders, continued in his position as Superintendent until he suffered a fatal heart attack in his office on February 10, 1959.

Prison Closure

Throughout the years and into the 1970s, an effort was made to keep up the maintenance on the Reformatory, but it was costly and a lot of work did not get completed. In the mid-1980s, a federal court ordered that the facility shut down by 1986. This came after a federal lawsuit was filed in 1978 by the Council for Human Dignity. The lawsuit claimed that conditions at the prison were "brutalizing and inhumane."

A new facility, the Mansfield Correctional Institute, was being built to house the OSR inmates. Construction delays forced the state to extend the closure date of OSR to 1990. 


The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society (MRPS) was formed in 1995 with the purpose of restoring the prison to its original state. A museum has been set inside the prison and money from tours and fundraising events paid for the renovations. The Reformatory has become a popular location for filmmakers, among the most prominent being many scenes in the movie, "The Shawshank Redemption."

Paranormal Activities

When the Reformatory finally closed, rumors began circulating that the prison was haunted by prisoners whose spirits were trapped forever behind the prison bars. Some of the dead prison guards who had inflicted torture on the inmates have also been seen and heard inside the prison. In response, the MRPS features "ghost hunts" and tours. Mansfield is now an established location for serious paranormal research.

Ghost Stories of Mansfield Reformatory

The Administration Wing:

Visitors and employees have reported experiencing strong paranormal events in the administration wing. This is where Warden Glattke and his wife Helen resided and where she suffered a fatal bullet wound from a gun that accidentally fell to the floor.

Some claim that they have smelled rose perfume coming from Helen's pink bathroom. Others have reported feeling a rush of cold air pass through them as they walk through the area. 

It is not uncommon to hear of a jammed camera shutter, which inexplicably resumes working again once the visitor left the area.

Ted Glattke, the youngest son of Helen and Warden Glattke, has said, in response to these paranormal experiences, that most of the information written about his parents haunting Mansfield Reformatory is based on sensationalism and inaccurate stories.

The Chapel:

The Chapel is the scene of many paranormal events. Many believe it is a nucleus for much of the prison's haunting and ghost tales. Supposedly, before the area became the Chapel, it was used for executions. People have said that they have captured many orbs in photographs and that they have recorded strange, unidentifiable sounds when inside the Chapel. Spirits have been cited hanging around the doorways, but quickly vanish once their presence has been detected.

The Infirmary:

Many prisoners died miserable deaths in The Infirmary. It has been said that sick and dying inmates were left there without care, many who starved to death because they were too weak to fight off the thieves that stole their food.

This area is known in paranormal circles to set off EMF detectors and many claim to have captured clusters of orbs in photographs. An unexplained gust of air passing by has also been reported by visitors in this area.

The Basement:

The spirit of a 14-year-old who was beaten to death in the basement has been spotted lingering among the decaying basement walls. Also spotted, is a guard who gives off sinister vibes.

The Library:

Psychics visiting the library have reported seeing the spirit of a young woman, possibly Helen, or a nurse who was killed by one of the prisoners.

The Inmates' Graveyard:

Visitors have reported seeing objects move in the graveyard and equipment failure is not uncommon there. 

The Cells:

When prisoners were still housed at OSR, some of them said that they felt a woman pull their blankets up around them in a comforting way. 

The Hole:

Located in the basement of the prison, The Hole was the ultimate punishment for unruly inmates. The cells were small and barren. Roaches and rats moved freely inside and outside of the cells.

A lot of negative paranormal activity has been reported in the 20 "hole" cells. Reports of sudden nausea, fever-like chills, and an uncomfortable feeling of being watched have occurred while visiting the area. It is perhaps the creepiest area of the prison.

Ghost Hunts

The Ohio State Reformatory offers Ghost Hunts to the public. It includes access to the building, allowing visitors to roam on their own if they choose to or to join a guided tour. Information can be found on the OSR website.