ShawshankedWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Saying Bill Mullen is invested in Upper Sandusky’s “The Shawshank Redemption” legacy is like saying a Sandusky River walleye is invested in water.
Mullen is the owner of the Shawshank Woodshop and Museum in Upper Sandusky, where scenes from the 1994 movie were filmed. The woodshop houses its original equipment — a Rube Goldberg-esque assemblage of belts and gears featured in a scene with Morgan Freeman — surrounded by glass cases filled with film props, autographed items and international memorabilia.
Mullen shows visitors his collection with a pride familiar to anyone who loves and lives a work of art and relives it through gathering its ephemera and sharing it with others. There are uniforms and shoes from the film set, scores of signed photos and a stand-up cutout of actor Tim Robbins in front of the three pinup posters used in the movie — Marilyn Monroe, Raquel Welch and, of course, the actress whose name was excised from the title of the Stephen King novella “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” when it was adapted for film.
Mullen introduces each element of the collection with a story, deftly guiding visitors from a collection of foreign posters to the actual bus used during filming. He is just as enthusiastic in welcoming visitors to the Wyandot County Courthouse, where Commisssioners Bill Clinger, Steven Seitz and Ron Metzger offer a tour of the magnificent structure, culminating in the courtroom where Robbins’ Andy Dufresne was convicted of murdering his wife.
The amazing thing is, as much as Mullen and his compatriots enthuse about Upper Sandusky’s role on “The Shawshank Trail,” their captivating efforts on that driving tour are just a fraction of the experience offered in nearby Mansfield.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the film, Mansfield has coordinated a three-day Labor Day weekend event with scores of activities and location attractions. From autograph sessions with “Shawshank” actors and lectures to tours and film showings, all things “Shawshank” will be celebrated in the town where much of the Best Picture Oscar nominee was filmed.
The weekend (visit the web site www.shawshank20.com for pages of details) is a fete of filmmaking, history, and an odd deference to life and death in equal measure.
The centerpiece of the experience is of course The Ohio State Reformatory, which served as Shawshank State Prison in the film. The formidable and forbidding structure was headed for demolition before writer-director Frank Darabont chose it as the atmospheric star of his film. In subsequent years, a private group purchased and maintains the facility as the centerpiece of a growing tourist attraction.
It would be dramatic but not inaccurate to describe the reformatory as a glimpse of Hell. The stone and steel fortress, which was built 20 years after the Civil War, housed more than 155,000 prisoners in its time until it was closed in 1990. It is a magnificent achievement in architecture, a monument to what men can do with their bare hands, a testament to good intentions and one of most frightening haunted places you will ever visit. Every faded stone strains to contain a screaming soul; every peeled strip of paint represents a wasted life; every sweating steel bar retains the battered psychic energy of desperate, unnaturally caged human spirits.
The reformatory offers a fascinating tour, winding through the Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque and Queen Anne designs, past offices, living areas and the cells, which serve as the most effective crime deterrent I can imagine. I have no sympathy for thieves, rapists and murderers, but the cramped two-to-a-cell conditions and the stark design of the holding pens combine to smother any inkling of hope or redemption.
There are 14 film sites along The Shawshank Trail (www.shawshank trail.com) — a path that includes the Shawshank Oak Tree, Malabar Farm, the Road to Buxton and the Haunted Bissman Building, where F.W. Simon was reportedly decapitated in an elevator accident as he was waving goodbye to co-workers on what was supposed to be his last day at work — and as it turned out, it was.
Ben Bissman’s family has owned the building for more than a century. An affable man with the gravity of a historian and the twinkling eyes of a showman, Bissman tells of shadows, noises, communicating spirits and enough apparitions to keep Peter Venkman busy for a month. The Bissman Building served as the Brewer Hotel, where ex-con Brooks hangs himself, and as the Portland Daily Bugle editor’s office. Bissman and his family were extras in the movie, but his movie set stories take a back seat to his literally haunting tales.
Mansfield is building a cottage industry around its connection to “The Shawshank Redemption,” but its downtown has plenty to offer a family looking to visit for a day. The Historic Carrousel District offers the namesake ride and scores of restaurants, merchants, museums and children’s activities.
Of course, even in the heart of downtown, Shawshank makes its presence known. The Squirrel’s Den sells Shawshank candy bars and has a number of movie scenes carved from chocolate; Ed Pickens’ Café offers a roast beef wrap called a “Shawshankwich” (Brooks’ roast beef, Red’s onion, Andy’s aioli sauce, lettuce, on a Warden’s wrap); there is Redemption Pizza, Shawshank Sundaes and Prison Break Old Fashioned Sodas.
It is fair to say most everyone is in on the theme.
Our guide for the day, Group Tour/Media Director Jodie Snavely, who has worked for the Mansfield & Richland County Convention & Visitors Bureau for more than 25 years, has undoubtedly traveled the Shawshank Trail hundreds of times, but she led us through the awesome sites, spooky sites, reverent sites and goofy sites with genuine love for her town and its Hollywood connection.
Her enthusiasm was shared by the guides, servers, elected leaders and business owners we met in Mansfield.
“The Shawshank Redemption” offers friendship and hope as its greatest themes; the folks who are carrying on the movie’s legacy two decades later have taken that message to heart.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and news director of 1370 WSPD. Contact him at email@example.com.
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