2013 Road Trip Notes, Day 9: Back to Our Cells

cell block, Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield

The last day of vacation is always the worst. Our trips are spent living several days outside the confines of the everyday rat race, determining our own itinerary, making up our meal schedule as we go, enjoying the activities of our choosing in faraway places where our normal responsibilities can’t follow us. Inevitably the time arrives for transitioning from the freedom of the open road to the confines of our ordinary lives and the cubicle jobs that fund these expeditions.

Before we arrived home this afternoon, we stopped at one final attraction: a tour of the Ohio State Reformatory in the town of Mansfield. Formerly a prison from 1896 until its shutdown as the result of a 1990 court decree, what’s left of the Reformatory is now open for public tours. In 2010 we paid a similar visit to Philadelphia’s own Eastern State Penitentiary, a notorious prison that’s now a “stabilized ruin” for gawkers like us to see up close for ourselves. The OSR, on the other hand, doesn’t claim to be “stabilized”. The advance literature cautions you not to touch anything because it’s not only decrepit and dirty, but also because some portions were coated with unhealthy kinds of paint. Chunks of plaster are still falling from the ceiling in some spots. Very little about the facility has been glossed over or romanticized. Several areas are unlit and flat-out spooky.

I found the whole place fascinating, and not just because numerous music videos and movies have filmed scenes at the OSR — most notably The Shawshank Redemption, Air Force One, and Tango and Cash. There’s something about the unsettling vibe of an abandoned structure that piques my curiosity, especially a place that saw decades of use for housing the most disturbing of individuals. For those whose interest is even more intense than mine, the OSR hosts regular, sincere “ghost hunts” for those drawn to the place by numerous claims of alleged paranormal events. Options in this category include two-hour specialty tours or even dusk-to-dawn stays through 5 a.m. That part’s a bit beyond me, but having seen the place up close, I imagine an overnighter would be quite an unforgettable occasion.

Alas, once our prison tour was done, life’s obligations demanded that we finish the long drive home and resume our positions in the little boxes that comprise our standard mode of existence. I’ll admit we’re glad to be back in our own beds, burnt out on six-hour drives, and really tired of restaurant food. Some parts of our structured little lives could never be replaced full-time by the nomadic path.

We’ll be locked into our routines once again soon, but we look forward to our next opportunity to break out. Like Andy Dufresne, we have our own little rock hammers to chip away at the walls that surround us, and plenty of time to dig a new path to freedom next year.

(Thanks very much to those who’ve been following along. As with our 2012 road trip, rest assured the photo collection for this year’s road trip will be serialized in future MCC entries. Check back soon!)

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