Spooky history

12 April, 2015
Rat Fink

The original OSR structure opened for business to 150 convicts in September 1896.

The Ohio State Reformatory opened for business to 150 convicts in September, 1896.

A while back, Groupon had a deal on tickets to tour the Ohio State Reformatory, the now-famous 19th-century prison where parts of movies such as The Shawshank Redemption, Air Force One and others were filmed. (A dozen TV shows and music videos have also been shot there.) We finally found a good date to go, so we drove all of 15 minutes to get there, yesterday morning.

I mentioned to a Facebook friend that I’ve lived nine miles away from this place for over four decades, but never visited until this weekend. Strange for sure, although the property wasn’t always a restored historical landmark. The dilapidated structure was closed in 1990, and inmates were transferred next door to the newly-finished Mansfield Correctional Institution, now referred to by locals as “Manci.”

Sitting and rotting for years, surely destined for the wrecking ball, the place was a huge eyesore in Richland County until a group of citizens formed the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society in 1995, and rallied to save it. The work is ongoing, funded by private donations and tour fees.

The place was designed in Germanic-Romanesque style in order to give prisoners hope of returning to a more noble and virtuous lifestyle after serving their sentences. Not sure how that all worked out, but it certainly must have had a dramatic impact on convicts upon first coming up the main access road. It looks more like a haunted castle than a correctional institution. Chamber of Horrors, yikes.

At six stories, the east wing is the largest freestanding cellblock structure in the world.

At six stories high, the east wing is the largest freestanding steel cell block structure in the world.

Most unsettling — aside from the creepy historical vibe (and the silence, as we were first inside the building, and for the most part, alone in our wanderings) — was the sheer size of the cell blocks. How these men could have eked out any type of existence that wasn’t permanently scarring is beyond me. The hopelessness…all I could think about was the hopelessness of the inmates in these hellish surroundings.

Two men shared a 7×9 foot cell.

The warden, his family, and some lower administration were also housed on-site. The warden’s quarters take up a surprisingly large amount of space in the main house, spacious even by today’s standards.

Inmates attended chapel, and were allowed a library from which to glean edification of their brains and souls. Conversely, those who refused to be inspired or taught stood a better chance of ending up in the solitary confinement wing. Terrifying.

Being incarcerated is one of the most frightening things I can imagine. Being locked up in a place like the OSR? Unimaginable. Located just outside the windows of the old structure is the modern-day prison, although we were forbidden to take photos of the place.

Nowadays, the newly-restored main guardroom is a place for receptions, meetings and other events that can further raise funds for the ongoing restoration. I read an article somewhere in my research this morning that quoted a Preservation Society member as saying the massive restoration was designed as a “100-year project.” I can easily imagine it taking that long to completely restore or renovate this massive structure.

So, there you have a mini-review of the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. If you’re ever in the area, definitely give it a go. If I rated venues here at RtB, I’d definitely give it five cheeses on the Rat-O-Meter scale.

And now…back to reality. Oy.

Unpopular opinions

8 April, 2015
Rat Fink

Go ahead. Pile on.

  1. I think the Grateful Dead is one of the most overrated bands of all time.
  2. I think there should be a special place in hell for mean people — on Earth.
  3. I think folks should stop worrying about how offended they are at every little thing, and try to concentrate more on enjoying life, because it’s too dang short.
  4. I think the bad guys win way too often.
  5. I think mega-churches should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.
  6. I think people who refuse to see the evil of Common Core State Standards and its high-stakes testing are deliberately, willfully (and therefore unforgivably) ignorant.
  7. I think a lot of discipline problems at school would go away if a big ol’ alligator-arm principal was allowed to throw a kid or two up against a locker, like in the old days.
  8. I think all political parties should be disbanded, defunded, and prohibited from ever forming again. And go back to popular vote for the presidency.
  9. I think deregulation of the airline industry was a bad idea. Say it with me: ol·i·GOP·o·ly
  10. I think that before anyone complains about anyone else’s profession, the complainer must first spend a year at the job in question.

Bring yer own! Set, go. ;-)

Stuff I miss

5 April, 2015
Rat Fink

It’s Easter Sunday, and this heathen will go to confession for a moment.

First, some history:

  • I was raised in a Baptist home. We went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and once midweek for as long as I can remember. Sick, well, rain, shine, blizzard — the Collinses were in that sanctuary. At a young age, I could recite the books of the Bible in order, and I loved it when we had Bible drills at Sunday School. I won those bad boys on a regular basis.
  • That said, our upbringing wasn’t the strictest of the Baptist flavor — not by a long shot. We were allowed to play cards and buy rock and roll records. We got Easter baskets and were permitted to go trick-or-treating. Later, we were allowed to attend school dances (just shortly after being allowed to wear pants to school — that was a big, big deal for me as a 7th grader). We were encouraged to read our Bibles at home, but not forced. Yet, we weren’t allowed to say the phrase darn it because it sounded too much like, well, that other word. We weren’t allowed to say Oh, my gosh because “gosh,” you know, could be misheard as “God.” And that would get you slapped right across the chops. Our parents were a little on the quirky side, but whose weren’t? Heck, my sons would probably say that about me today.

So, what’s this got to do with my nostalgia today? Well, in 1996, I forswore organized church, and I haven’t been back. It’s a decision that 99% of the time, I am glad I made. I won’t use this forum to go into the reasons why, but suffice it to say that removing the Sunday morning routine from my life has not distanced me from God, but rather just from the politics, drama, rules and prejudices surrounding the operation of the business called church. I believe that if I died tonight, I would go to heaven, even though I haven’t set foot in a church service more than 3-4 times in the last 19 years. Nothing anyone says will sway me from that conviction (so please don’t try), and I rejoice in it. I love God the same — even more completely and personally — now as I did in all the years I went to church. And before some well-meaning-but-kinda-passive-aggressive know-it-all comments “That’s between you and God,” I’ll say it’s between me and God, and it’s all good. :-)

Still, sometimes, like this morning, I miss parts of the church experience. Specifically, it’s the music, which should come as no surprise. Of all the hymns I’ve sung in my life (and there have been many), Easter hymns are my absolute favorite, with this one at the top of the list. I miss congregational singing. Mind you, not the pop-ish kind, with the ubiquitous “praise band” and worship leader up front, and lyrics on the screen and no music to follow, so if you don’t know the tune you’re basically standing there just listening and not participating, and by the time you actually get the melody by the 15th time through the chorus, the song’s over, but real hymns in the traditional style, with a powerful pipe organ accompaniment; a huge sound, filling the space, sung SATB.

Sounds kind of funny, coming from someone who was there at the very beginning of the praise band movement back in the 80s, pushing for its inclusion into modern worship. Heh. That’s the way of it, I guess. Time can change folks.

Yet I won’t return to the church building, because of the stigma attached to “Easter and Christmas Christians.” I shouldn’t care, but I do, and there you go. Some old habits die hard.

So that is what I miss.

Happy Easter and Blessed Passover to all — enjoy this beautiful day!

Glory days

15 March, 2015
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Why do I feel so nostalgic this morning? Possibly because I saw one of these while reading the news. I’ve always loved the look of a ’65 Mustang. And now that they’re bringing that classic look back, well, here I am, wanting one. Please send it to me. Rat Fink, Finkleman Street, Finkville. And please fill up the back seat with these. And these.

Seriously, fiends. I don’t ask you for much.

Dad’s toy

I remember, as a kid, seeing Mustangs and thinking they were the coolest, sleekest things — almost as fantastic as the powder blue ’63 Pontiac Tempest convertible Dad drove. I have a distinct memory of this car: Mavis and I lying down in the back seat (circa 1965, before the days of seat belt laws), watching the stars go by on a warm Sunday evening drive home from Grandma’s house. Good times.

I don’t know when the Tempest left us, or what happened to it. I’m sad I never asked while our folks were alive. There’s a blank space in my car memories until 1971, when Dad — obviously a Pontiac man — drove home in this beauty – a brand new Pontiac Catalina. And yes, I’m being sarcastic. :-)

Thank the gods, we never owned a station wagon. At least I don’t *think* we did. Everyone at the time was buying the soon-to-be-ubiquitous Town & Country-style “woodies.” Thank you, no. (However, I did run across a rather funky update on the theme. Fun.)

Our parents threw down a hundred bucks for this gem, which was nowhere close to the shape of the one in the picture, I might add. All I remember is rust, and doors that were almost impossible to open, as each one weighed 6,000 lbs. I was embarrassed to ride in it, and it was about as dependable as a screen door on a submarine. I remember getting sick at school one day (I came down with a bad stomach bug, and the nausea was so bad, I asked my teacher for the bathroom pass, but didn’t make it to the door before passing out; I woke up seconds later with a shoe missing and my arm in the garbage can…humiliating), and Mother couldn’t get the dang car started, so my principal had to drive me home. More humiliation.

I’ll bet you have some fun family car memories. Or maybe some of the not-so-fun, don’t make me stop this car variety. :-) We had those experiences, too.

Happy Sunday!

Update from the front

6 March, 2015
Rat Fink

When it’s been almost two weeks since I last spoke to you, you know stuff is going down. Between DT rehearsals and the war that is turning into nothing short of a national civil rights issue, I’ve been dragging it up to bed early every night, and out early the next morning. Haven’t seen my grandsons in forever, and 21 days out from my show, the cracks are starting to spider out. Time for some Sunday rehearsals.

February made me shiver, and not just because it was the coldest one on record.

But here’s to a brighter March. My cast will improve; it’s always rough during the last three weeks. I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever done a show that hasn’t included the standard weeping and gnashing of teeth for a full month before opening. Not sure that scenario has ever existed — although I will admit I wouldn’t mind experiencing it. :-) We’ve sold 600 tickets at this writing; I hope the 15th anniversary is a success. I’m looking forward to seeing some old cast and crew members, and taking pictures.

The anti-testing fight rages on. And when I say “rages,” I mean there’s plenty of rage — from both sides. It’s become ugly on several fronts, but we must stay the course. We’re making progress, but no huge policy change ever happens without a long, protracted fight. And that’s what this is, believe you me.

I have an appointment today, so I’m not in school at the moment. It’s nice to sleep in until 6:15 and take your time with coffee and reading. And writing to you. I’ve missed you here!

Happy weekend, fiends.

RF, weary warrior