My eyes snap open. I’m instantly awake as if some internal alarm has been tripped. Against the faint light entering the windows, I see a dark form standing over me. I lay motionless for several long seconds before throwing a roundhouse punch and hit … nothing.
Was it real or a dream? I’ll never know, but that event, which occurred decades ago, sparked an ongoing casual interest in the paranormal. Connecting some high profile haunted sites with wickedly twisty southern Ohio roads seems like a great excuse for a theme tour.
It’s mid-August, and my wife, Sharon, and I feel a mix of excitement and trepidation as we climb aboard the matte black 2012 Honda CB1000R and head for four days of the unknown at several of the most notoriously active haunted sites in the country. Our 654-mile round-trip begins and ends at historic Roscoe Village in Coshocton, OH. The daily mileage is modest, ranging between 138 and 190, but that’s fine with us because our stops are the focus. The exceptional tarmac grudgingly takes a backseat on this ride.
A Day of Extremes
The morning air is sultry, and there’s a 30-percent chance of thunderstorms this afternoon … nothing unusual for Ohio. I’m not concerned about the forecast; after all, we’re riding a two-wheeled stealth bomber and should be able to out-run just about anything.
We head directly for the infamous Mansfield Reformatory where we’ll take a self-guided tour of the defunct prison. We’re soon slamming corners on Route 60, which snakes through the Ohio hills with some 15-mph hairpins thrown in for kicks. By late morning we pull up to the enormous, ornate stone prison. Built in 1886, the reformatory was intended to be a facility where first-time offenders received humane treatment and rehabilitation, but it soon became marked by deplorable conditions, torture, and murder.
Closed in 1990, the prison was reopened to the public in 1995 by the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society. It is considered to be a very active paranormal site with orb photos, cold spots, EVP (sound) recordings, and sightings of phantom ex-prisoners being the most common experiences.
The rules are simple; follow the arrows, don’t close the cell doors, and don’t eat the cornflake-sized leaded paint chips peeling from nearly every surface. The leisurely excursion leads us through the warden’s quarters where scenes for the movie Shawshank Redemption were filmed. My arms easily span the distance between the cell walls in the six-story cellblock. I can’t fathom spending a day, let alone decades here. We don’t have any “experiences” while at the prison, but we leave with a lingering morose that is hard to shake.
We’re in need of a mood mender and find it in vibrant downtown Mansfield as we stroll through the Richland Carrousel Park. We split a “Shawshankwich” at the Café on Main before heading for Malabar Farm near Pleasant Hill Lake.
Motorcycles and Gear
2012 Honda CB1000R
2005 Suzuki V-Strom 650
Pass the Cottage Cheese Please
Malabar Farm was the home of Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Louis Bromfield, and the property’s rich history includes the 1945 wedding of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Bromfield’s 33-room mansion, called the “Big House,” is the most notable structure on the grounds and is reputedly haunted by both Bromfield and his pet boxer.
There is also a darker story related to the property. In 1896, a teenager named Ceely Rose, whose home is situated on Malabar Farm, poisoned her family with arsenic-tainted cottage cheese in retaliation for a misunderstanding over a boy. She was sent to a mental institution for the remainder of her life. Numerous strange occurrences attributed to Ceely have been witnessed at her home, as well as the Malabar barn, where annual plays depicting her story are held.
Leaving Malabar Farm, we head south toward Granville, noting that the sky is darkening. I toss glances over my shoulder at the storm, which is rapidly closing the distance between us. “Keep your eyes on the road,” Sharon yells as the wind intensifies to a dangerous velocity.
Last Minute Refuge
My final look reveals an ominous greenish sky and miniature tornado-like swirls of dust. Leafy branches dance on the pavement like brooms without handles as I slalom around pieces large enough to take us down. We need shelter and turn in to one of the sparsely scattered driveways on Route 586. A woman standing at the front door instantly invites us in.
We pass the time by talking about RoadRUNNER and are quickly informed that we’ve stopped at the right place when we divulge our tour theme. There are several ghosts residing at this home, and the owner’s young sons, who seem especially receptive to contact with the ethereal visitors, describe one as an older lady with bluish hair.