March 5 2012 by Sam Lowe
For that reason, a recent foray into the wilds of Ohio to drive the Shawshank Trail earned my personal high marks. There are a whole passel of things to see and, more importantly, I didn't have to wear hiking boots and carry a gallon of water to enjoy them.
The Shawshank Trail came about because of a movie, "The Shawshank Redemption." It was based on a short story by Stephen King and, although set in Maine, it was filmed in and around Mansfield back in 1996. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman portrayed the major characters. The plot revolves around inhumane prison treatment, corrupt prison officials and a happy ending where everybody gets what's coming to them.
The movie has become almost a cult favorite, particularly since it's shown regularly on late night television and is also available in disc form. Capitalizing on that, tourism agencies and area merchants developed the Shawshank Trail, a drive-it-yourself tour that takes visitors to some of the key locations featured in the film. The primary draw is the Ohio State Reformatory, shown in many of the prison scenes. It is a magnificent structure, built in cathedral style more than a century ago, and it housed more than 150,000 inmates before being shut down in 1990. Tour-takers can drive right up to the front door, thus avoiding a lengthy hike across a macadamized parking lot, as is so often the case.
A few miles away (less than a half-hour by car but more than a day's walk for those so inclined), the Wyandot County Courthouse in Upper Sandusky is an outstanding example of late 19th and early 20th Century architecture. The movie trial was held there, among the vaulted arches and classic staircases. Back in Mansfield, the vintage 1928 Renaissance Theater has been restored to its original elegance. The movie premiered there; now it's a well-respected facility that hosts live productions. The designs will make you wish they still built theaters like that, instead of today's gargantuan multi-plexes that charge exorbitant prices for admission and staggering sums for popcorn and Jujubes.
The trail also winds its way to Malabar Farm, where the movie's murder scene was shot. Once the home of novelist Louis Bromfield, it was the site of the Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall wedding. Their nuptial beds are still intact. In all, the trail features a dozen locales used in the film. Merchants have also gotten into the act. A restaurant offers a "shawshankwich;" a confectionary creates goodies that emulate (in chocolate) scenes from the movie; and a sweet shop bakes cakes that resemble the reformatory in miniature.
Some motels and hotels also offer special Trail deals. Among them is Best Western Inn Richland-Mansfield, which currently provides extensive information while exploring the possibility of developing a tourist package.
The trail wanders effortlessly through the rolling hills and Amish countrysides that are also worth a look. For details, contact the Mansfield Richland County Conventions and Visitors Bureau at www.MansfieldTourism.com or call 1-800-642-8282.