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'Shawshank Redemption' Fans Flock To Mansfield, Ohio, For Movie's 25th Anniversary


An estimated 20,000 people are headed to Ohio this weekend to celebrate the 25th anniversary of "The Shawshank Redemption," the classic film about the lives of two men serving prison sentences.


MORGAN FREEMAN: (As Ellis Boyd 'Red' Redding) But I'm telling you, these walls are funny. First, you hate them, then you get used to them. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on.

KELLY: Fans of the movie are flocking from all over the world to a small industrial town that houses the film's iconic cellblocks. Katie Blackley reports.

KATIE BLACKLEY, BYLINE: A large wooden desk sits in the middle of an otherwise empty office in the Ohio State Reformatory. Tom Clark is the resident "Shawshank" expert and tour guide here. He's pulling out his phone to scroll through a playlist.


TOM CLARK: Now the look of joy on their face when they hear this music as they're in the room where that scene was shown in the movie - now they're all wearing headsets, too. And I'm wearing a mic. So I go right into Red's narration. I say I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words and makes you heart ache because of it.

BLACKLEY: This is Warden Norton's office, he says, where one of the film's iconic scenes is scored by Mozart's "The Marriage Of Figaro." As Clark shows off the room, he picks up a tattered Bible.

CLARK: This particular Bible has an inscription in the beginning. It says Dear Warden, you were right. Salvation lay within. Signed, Andy Dufresne.

BLACKLEY: Nearly everything in this room and throughout the 40-acre closed reformatory is staged to be how it was in 1993, when director Frank Darabont filmed his iconic drama starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Darabont chose the reformatory in Mansfield for his directorial debut three years after it closed as a working prison. Built in 1896, the building is massive, originally housing 1,900 first-time offenders. According to Tom Clark, it was originally meant to be a place to reform offenders.

CLARK: As a reformatory, they had three goals - help the inmate find God, find an education, then find a job.

BLACKLEY: Behind the Gothic Romanesque structure were training facilities for the inmates. As the prison model changed in the mid-20th century, the reformatory was transformed into a maximum security facility with 1,300 steel-and-brick cells. It earned a reputation for violence and brutality until finally closing in 1990. It was slated for demolition until Hollywood came calling.

CLARK: Thanks to the movie and thanks to this building and the Shawshank Trail, we're actually carving a strong name for ourselves.

BLACKLEY: Mansfield sits between Cleveland and Columbus. Westinghouse and General Motors were once big here, employing most of Mansfield's workers. But by the late 20th century, those companies moved their plants, and thousands of manufacturing jobs dried up, sending the region's economy into a steep decline.

Carmone Macfarlane is with the Phoenix Brewing Company in downtown Mansfield. She says it caters to the many "Shawshank" fans that walk into their tap room with themed beers.

CARMONE MACFARLANE: Our Redemption IPA, Rooftop bohemian-style lager, and the newest beer, which we brewed for the 25th anniversary, the Rock Hammer Session IPA.

BLACKLEY: Fans of the film might recognize the bohemian-style lager from a scene where Robbins and Freeman share a beer on the prison's roof. The rock hammer is a nod to Robbin's eventual escape. Fan Brad Mavis lives nearby and was in the movie 25 years ago. He says that escape and the message it sends is why so many pay to tour these prison corridors each year.

BRAD MAVIS: It shows that no matter what adversities someone is confronted with that there is always hope that things will get better.

BLACKLEY: As a tourist draw, this is a big deal here, bringing in more than $60 million in just the past four years, considerable cash for this struggling economy. Director Frank Darabont and actors will return to Mansfield this weekend, joined by academics to celebrate "Shawshank" and its impact on both pop culture and cinema.

For NPR News, I'm Katie Blackley in Mansfield, Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF THOMAS NEWMAN'S "END TITLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Katie Blackley