Favorite Places

TRAIL20LOGOtilt1The Shawshank Redemption ranks high on many film fans’ favorites lists. It remains #1 as voted by IMDB users. http://www.imdb.com/chart/top So, I won’t bother with a review of the plot, characters, etc. You already know it. What I want to talk about are the film’s locations. Shawshank was filmed in Mansfield Ohio and locations close by. The biggest character in the film, next to Andy and Red, is the Ohio State Reformatory, which became Shawshank Prison for all exteriors and several interior scenes. The actual cell block in the film was built as a set and shot elsewhere. But, the beautiful exterior, and crumbling interior, are stunning to see. In fact, the city of Mansfield has wisely decided to embrace Shawshank fans by inviting you to tour the Shawshank Trail. The trail is a self-guided driving tour through Mansfield and nearby towns to view 14 filming locations from The Shawshank Redemption. Recently, my wife and I took a drive through the Shawshank Trail. While we didn’t make it to all 14 sites, we saw enough to satisfy our inner film geeks. We began at Shawshank Prison.

Click all pictures for larger view.

ShawshankTrail02Shawshank01 I’ve made a number of composites showing film clips next to the actual locations. Here is the opening shot of the prison from the film. It’s interesting to note that there seems to be an additional structure at the front of the building. I don’t know if that was built for the film, or was part of the prison that was later removed. The Ohio State Reformatory is open for self-guided tours. Expect to spend a couple hours at least. It’s a big place. Once you exit the gift shop with ticket in hand, you are greeted by Warden Norton. Then, get ready to descend into the depths.

On Apollo 11, astronaut Buzz Aldrin described the moon as “magnificent desolation.” That phrase Shawshank04is the first thing that came to mind upon seeing the inside of the reformatory. But, magnificent decay would be more accurate. Every surface is cracked, peeling, crumbling and rusting in such a way that it’s almost beautiful. Like the wreck of the Titanic out of water. It’s like discovering a long forgotten gothic dungeon.Shawshank03Shawshank02

There are large common areas such as the library, showers, kitchen, etc. But the biggest, and creepiest, attractions are the massive cell blocks. There are the east block and the west block. They differ slightly in size, age and design, but they are both chilling to walk through. Most cells are open, inviting you to enter if you dare. Apparently, ghost sightings are quite common here. We can report a ghost-free visit, however, I don’t think I’d want to be stuck here alone at night.

ShawshankTrail01Now, on to some specific filming locations. Moving chronologically through the film, we start with the Pugh Cabin. This is the site of the murder for which Andy is accused. It’s in the woods at Malabar Farm State Park in the city of Lucas.

The intro to the prison is above, so next is the scene where Andy looks up at the towering building as he enters Shawshank. ShawshankTrail03I thought I had the right spot for that scene, but I later realized that the entrance is in the back of the building. The grounds behind the building are off limits for tourists, so this “almost, but not quite” view is the best I could get. Many of the exterior scenes for the film were shot behind the prison in the courtyard. We were told the courtyard no longer exists. I believe the main reason it is blocked off is to prevent photos being taken of the current Mansfield Correctional Institution behind the reformatory. Any windows facing the Institution had notices that photography in that direction is strictly forbidden.

ShawshankTrail05ShawshankTrail04Next, we have the interior room where new prisoners line up to meet the warden. The posts look original, but the line has probably been repainted numerous times. Next, we jump to a few locations in downtown Mansfield for Brooks’ release from prison. We first see him timidly trying to cross a busy street. It’s fun to see that very little has changed in 20 years. The sidewalk is in better shape now. ShawshankTrail06ShawshankTrail07Brooks makes his way to the Brewer Hotel, which is actually the historic Bissman Building. It too looks almost exactly the same today, although I’m guessing that awning is a replica.

Brooks enters his shabby little room, but now we jump back to the Ohio State Reformatory. The scene was filmed in this room, but all of the original set dressing and furniture probably left with the filming crew. None of the furniture matches the film.ShawshankTrail08ShawshankTrail09 Finally, we take a stroll to the city park to feed the birds and hope Jake will stop by to say hello. But, he never does. This park is again in downtown Mansfield. It’s the original bench, but it’s not in its original location. They built a gazebo where the bench was located, so it was moved to a different side of the park. Still fun to see.

ShawshankTrail10Now, back to Shawshank and Andy’s time in solitary confinement. Those scenes were shot in the actual solitary cells at the reformatory and that whole section of the prison is intense. I actually snapped this shot from inside one of the solitary cells. Not the exact one Andy was in, since no window is ShawshankTrail11ShawshankTrail12visible in the film. After his time in solitary, Andy decides it’s time to escape Shawshank. He climbs through the tunnel he has dug through his cell wall and then through a long sewer pipe. Both of those set pieces were props created for the film, and both were left behind so we can see them today.

We again make a jump forward to when Red is released from prison. His post-prison journey starts as a mirror-image of Brooks’. Same hotel room, same job, same despair. But one thing keeps him from giving in to the despair or falling back into crime. A promise he made to Andy to find an oak tree next to a rock wall in Buxton and see what’s buried under a large chunk of volcanic glass at the base of the wall. Red’s journey begins with the purchase of a compass at a pawn shop. ShawshankTrail13That shop is now Carrousel Antiques in, yet again, downtown Mansfield. About the only thing remaining to verify the location are the buildings in the ShawshankTrail14ShawshankTrail15background. With compass in hand, Red hitches a ride out into the country and is dropped off on the road to Buxton. This rural intersection is in Butler Ohio. Of all the locations, I found this simple intersection to be the most magical. Red’s journey is one of my favorite scenes, and the shot of him walking off down the road is so beautifully done. And, adding to the magic, when we arrived at the intersection a young couple was admiring the view. I walked towards the intersection with my camera when the young man drops to one knee and proposes! No kidding! I really felt like I was intruding, so I congratulated them as I walked past on down the road, following in Red’s footsteps. As I was heading back to the car, they asked me to take their picture and the young man asked if I was a big Shawshank fan. We struck up a conversation about our mutual love of the film. He had hoped to pop the question at the location of the oak tree, but was told by someone at the prison that the tree was gone, having been destroyed in a storm. So, the road to Buxton had been choice #2. I was disappointed to hear about the tree since that was our next planned stop. ShawshankTrail16We went to look anyway since the Malabar Farm cabin was at the same location. To our surprise, the tree’s death had been greatly exaggerated. I was split in a storm a few years back, so it’s about half the size it used to be. But, it’s still THE tree. It is on private property, so it’s impossible to get a picture at the same view as the film. Humorously, as we were leaving the Malabar Farm site, the newly engaged couple drove in to take a look.

ShawshankTrail17After receiving Andy’s letter and invitation to join him in Mexico, Red makes the decision to “get busy living.” He etches his name in the same beam that Brooks used to hang himself. This is back in the Brooks room set at the prison. The etched writing is clearly different, which makes me wonder if it’s even the original beam, or a recreation?

The final location we sought out occupies only a few seconds in the film. Red is on the bus ShawshankTrail18headed to Texas with dreams of the future. This stretch of road with its curvy hill and red barn is in Butler Ohio. The barn is in need of fresh paint, but everything is still the same otherwise.

We spent the better part of a day on the Shawshank Trail and there were other locations we skipped such as the bank Andy visits after escaping and the court house used for his trial among others. If you’re a fellow Shawshank fan, I highly recommend taking the tour yourself.




A cemetery may seem an odd, or even creepy, choice as a recommended site, but Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis is unique.

It’s like a vast, outdoor history museum. The rolling terrain encompasses over 500 acres and 25 miles of paved road.

Crown Hill Cemetery was dedicated in 1864 and now contains over 200,000 grave sites. If you are a Hoosier, you will see many familiar names from local business icons to Mayors, Governors, Vice Presidents – and even U.S. President Benjamin Harrison. The notorious gangster John Dillinger was buried here in 1934. His grave marker was replaced numerous times as souvenir hunters continually chipped away pieces until they were unusable. The grounds also contain Crown Hill National Cemetery. It is the final resting place of over 2000 soldiers from the Civil War through Vietnam.

The National Cemetery began as a relocation of Union soldiers from Greenlawn Cemetery, which no longer exists. The 1.4-acre site in on a hillside behind the Gothic Chapel. The Chapel itself is a beautiful historic structure built in 1875.
But, based on the name, one would assume there’s a Crown Hill in here somewhere? And, you’d be right. Located on the western side of the main cemetery, The Crown was the highest natural point in the city limits, prior to the Unigov consolidation of 1970. If you venture to the top of The Crown, you can pay your respects to beloved Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley. Riley’s tomb is at the very top of The Crown and is arguably the most visited spot in the cemetery. Standing at the base of The Crown, it doesn’t look too intimidating. But, it’s a nice little workout getting to the top. Don’t worry, you can also drive if walking is too taxing. Riley’s tomb is just beyond view.

Once you’re at the top, you will be rewarded with a fabulous view of downtown Indianapolis.


crown09And a sweeping panorama from south to north. And we’ve just scratched the surface here. You can make a tour of the trees alone. The oldest are tagged and identified. Crown Hill offers numerous guided tours, but free wandering has its own rewards. Again, 25 miles of paved road. You can easily get lost inside. I have been asked on several occasions for directions to the exit by lost sightseers.

The wooded areas are home to 35-40 white-tailed deer. They stay hidden during the day, but I have seen them on numerous occasions. One particular sighting was very memorable. As I was rounding a gentle bend, I noticed movement in the distance. The road was progressing towards the movement and I gradually made out a group of 9 deer huddled together. And I was very aware that 18 eyes were watching my every move as I passed by.

And, don’t forget to check out the original main gates on the east side at 34th Street. Dating from 1885, this gothic portal is no longer the main entrance, but it remains one of the most impressive structures on the grounds.

Beautiful, historic buildings, inspiring landscape and even the occasional wildlife sighting all combine to make Crown Hill Cemetery one of my favorite places.

I have always said that, when it comes to snacks, I prefer salty to sweet. So, for me to recommend a candy company says something about the experience.

At first glance, Schimpff’s Confectionery in Jeffersonville Indiana is very much like many candy shops in tourist areas. What is different here is the history and the charm.

If you have occasion to be in the Louisville area, and have a little spare time, hop back north across the river to Jeffersonville and head to the historic downtown district. Follow the signs to Schimpff’s. It’s tiny. It’s quaint. It’s often crowded. Call ahead to see if you can schedule a candy-making tour. It’s free! Or, just show up on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll most likely join one in progress. Then get ready to step back in time.

Schimpff’s opened in 1891 and, four generations later, this family business is still going strong. Current owners Warren Schimpff and Jill Wagner Schimpff purchased the business in 1990 and continue to offer local favorites that built their reputation throughout Kentuckiana for over 100 years.

Jill hosts daily tours of the 19th century candy making equipment as Warren creates their cinnamon red hots. schimpffs05Schempff’s has been famous for their cinnamon red hots since they opened and the family recipe is still used today. The vintage equipment has been given a modern boost with an electric motor, supplanting the hand crank. Other than that, you truly get the sense of old school candy making and, the best part, you get to sample the goods fresh from the molds.

The store sells all manner of hard candys and chocolates. Try the local favorite, the Modjeska, named after 19th century Polish actress Madam Helena Modjeska. She was asked by a Louisville confectioner, following a performance in Louisville in 1883, if he could name a confection after her. She readily agreed and a local favorite was born. The story alone means you should try them.

Don’t get me wrong, Schimpff’s is not the caliber of destination to plan a day around. It’s a small candy store with a small museum and a candy-making tour. But, if you are passing through the area on interstate 65 and need a break, it’s worth it. I’ve been there four times, so far, and always enjoyed the visit. I can’t recommend the Modjeskas since I’m not a marshmallow fan (my kids like them), but try some cinnamon red hots or chocolate covered cashews, yum.

Visit their website schimpffs.com