…Audrey Flack paintings
As I pulled off Ohio highway 30 onto route 545, and into the grounds of the ancient Ohio State Reformatory, built from the mid 1800s through 1910, located in Mansfield, Ohio, I could already feel the weight of being inside the thick, imposing walls that houses the world’s largest free standing steel cell block.
I thought of what it must have felt like to see this place as a person in the past who was traveling there to serve time. If it were me I think I would have said something like “Oh shit!” upon sight because those are the exact words I muttered when the structure popped into my view.
Having grown up in Ohio an hour away I’ve heard the stories about this place for a long time. I’d never visited before and decided to finally go and see it for myself.
I parked my car, bravely popped out and kept saying “Oh shit” and “Holy fuck” repeatedly as I advanced toward the entrance. Inside I paid my money and walked into what felt exactly like one of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episodes.
People who believe in specters and spirits, or at least want to consider the idea as possible, think it’s haunted by some of those who were incarcerated, employed, and died there.
Of the 154,000 inmates the structure housed, 215 of them died on the grounds at some point during the 94 years the prison operated.
I admit that one of the reasons I wanted to visit the prison was to feel part of a place that many feel ghosts inhabit. I’m a non-believer, though, however much I’m intrigued by the possibilities of existence in supernatural form once a human body dies.
I do adore old things. If that old thing is falling apart, most of the time I like it even better.
This place feels even older than it is. The steel the cells are constructed out of is rusting, and the leftover white and blue paint on its walls curls up in eye catching designs. The light is poor and the air doesn’t move. In complete silence the space was even more noticeably eerie.
To get to the cells I traveled the marked tour route through the administration building, and the drab, sad chapel before arriving.
All told I spent close to three hours inside the 6th tier of one wing of cells. I forget which wing but think it the east.
I took close to 500 photos. Inside one it smelled like someone had just smoked a stogy.
Each cell had a bunk bed with wire springs on the wall opposite its entrance, a toilet in one corner, a sink, a towel rack, and two shelves.
Also, in each cell, a shiny metal rectangle, approximately 9 x 7 inches, was fastened to the back wall and obviously served as a mirror.
If the light was right reflections were trapped within and I took many photos of those.
I took a photo of a specific mirror through the bars at the front because its brilliant light in the darkness stood out.
When I looked at that image later I was amazed to see a collection of various animal and human faces staring out of it from different spots on the surface.
In the top center of the rectangle I see the dominant figure of a young, blond girl, her hair parted down the middle, whose perfectly formed left eye began asking me questions as soon as I noticed her.
As suggested to me the images may be the results of the metal being weathered over the years.
However, my eyes pick out crisp shapes, even if they are simulacrum in nature.
Why is the image of a little girl present, or does the likeness in the middle even look like one?
Whatever else I think, I feel certain the eye to the right is the distinct shape of a human’s. That eye has caused me to try to open my own.
On Tuesday last week I headed out the door to relax and spend time with nature at Ohio’s Mohican State Park. Twenty miles later I happened to notice an abandoned factory off road on the left so I pulled over and drove back to check out the scene.
In front there were piles of junk metal. The building exhibited broken windows. There was no fence. ‘No trespassing’ signs were evident but I didn’t let that deter me.
I looked through a broken window and saw lots of wide open space, beams and girders. I knew there would be an open door somewhere. It was easy to find and I walked in without much thought.
Once inside I initially took a large number of photos showing the impressive length and width of the building. The silence of the space was paired with natural light streaming through the upper windows.
I spied office windows at the top of a set of metal stairs leading up to them and ended up on a metal grate platform looking down a mostly dark hallway. I felt uneasy. With an open door to my right five to seven feet way I took a single photo and purposefully took my time to insure the desired image would turn out crisp.
After all, to collect a bit of creepy atmosphere is one of the reasons a person like me would go into such a building in the first place. I held still and snapped the shutter deliberately.
That was as far as I got. As curious as I am, I wasn’t going further into the dark where I could be pushed and doors shut behind, imprisoning me.
Uneasy, and all by myself in this huge space, I backed away and traveled down to the floor of the factory again.
I took a few more photos, walked out the door, and had a relaxing time the rest of the day.
Later that night I downloaded my photos, eventually opening the office image. When I did the hair on the back of my neck rose up fast and stiff. I had stood still and taken my time. I thought “Why is the photo distorted?”
I turned my gaze to the floor by the door where the hinges are located and a shot of electricity coursed through me. I saw eyes, eyebrows, a forehead, hair, cheeks, a meaty forearm, and a hand extended. The eyes were gazing directly at me.
When I raised my camera earlier that day I had no idea anything of substance was nearby. There was no odd sound, smell, or sight.
I had been unsettled, yes, but that was all.
In this place where a complete salvage of equipment occurred, I noticed the dual drag marks headed the wrong direction and into the back of the nearby room on the right with the door open. Plus, was that a large stain on the carpet?
In the end, I called the local police department where the factory is located and turned myself in for trespassing. I thought if there were homeless people camping out, or if cadavers were inside that office it was my duty to report it.
But the dispatcher was bored by my story and only wanted a phone number from me in case an officer might need more information. That interchange still feels humorous.
Here I had, possibly, just had one of the very most exciting experiences of my life, yet law enforcement could barely tolerate listening.
Edit – At last glance, in a blow up of the final photo posted below, it appears there are images of three humans within.
What do you think of this?
*Photo information gathering credit to Julia Skop for the last in the sequence below.
“I don’t just wish you rain, Beloved – I wish you the beauty of storms…”
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton