Sometimes a location itself overshadows any of the films that shot there, as is the case with Alcatraz Island. Located just over a mile offshore from San Francisco, the island is most well known for it’s decommissioned federal prison, which operated from 1934 until 1963. During it’s 29 years of activity, the prison was known for housing “the worst of the worst” criminals. The list included Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the “Birdman of Alcatraz”), “Machine Gun” Kelly, James “Whitey” Bulger and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, amongst others. The penitentiary famously claimed that no prisoner successfully escaped. Due to the high operational costs, as well as salt water erosion to the buildings, the prison was shut down in 1963. Today, the island is operated by the National Parks Services and public tours are available.
The prison island has been seen in many films, such as “The Rock,” “Murder in the First,” “Escape from Alcatraz,” “Birdman of Alcatraz” and many more. Here we’ll take a closer look at the notorious island.
LOCATION: Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, CA 94133
The island view from San Francisco.
Island view from the opposite side, where visitors dock.
Utility house and power plant chimney.
A guard tower.
The water tower, which still has a message from a Native American occupation of the island, which lasted from 1969 to 1971.
The lighthouse tower.
Some of the prison cell blocks.
One of the typical prison cells.
A solitary confinement cell.
A cell where the most famous escape attempt was made, by widening a vent at the bottom of the cell.
The prison yard.
The gun gallery, where guards watched down over the prisoners. During one daring escape attempt, prisoners climbed up into this area and attacked the guards.
While the film is set in Maine, tucked away in the fields of Mansfield, Ohio, the Ohio State Reformatory hosted the production of the “The Shawshank Redemption” in 1993, after it had permanently closed from active prison use three years prior. Originally built between 1886 to 1910, the facility was built in three architectural styles; Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque and Queen Anne. In the wake of a class action suit by the prisoners, which cited overcrowding and inhumane conditions, the prison was shut down in 1990, with a replacement prison built directly behind it, which is still active today.
After the enduring success of “The Shawshank Redemption,” The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society began work to restore the facility to its original state, as well as recreate many of the film’s sets. They offer daily tours from April to September and weekend-only tours during the remaining seasons. The restorations are funded through donations and tour fees. The building housed a great deal of horrors, which can be felt as you explore the facility. Over 200 people are said to have died inside the prison walls. During Halloween season, the Preservation Society offers haunted tours in lieu of the film tours and a number of ghost-themed television shows have filmed at the location. Yet outside, the place feels quiet and serene. Other films to have shot at the prison include “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Air Force One” and “Tango & Cash.”
LOCATION: 100 Reformatory Rd, Mansfield, OH 44905
The front of the prison. During tour hours, music from the film score plays over loud speakers.
“Get busy living, or get busy dying.” The back of the prison is particularly difficult to photograph, as the tours do not cover this area, due to the facility directly facing an active prison. You are not allowed to turn your camera towards the active prison at any time, under the warning of immediate expulsion from the property, if you are caught doing so. There are guards from the active prison on constant lookout, to make sure no one is photographing the wrong prison. However, we can provide a brief glimpse of the “yard” where Red and Andy would meet.
The parole room, where Red keeps returning for his hearings. The table and chair props are not the originals, however, if I recall correctly.
This is where the inmates first line up to face the warden.
This is the warden’s office, where Andy locks the door and plays the music. The actor playing the captain really did break the window to the door in the scene, which is still missing today.
The warden’s office, where his fate is met.
This is where the production cut a hole in the wall, for the warden’s safe.
The showers seen in the movie were the prison’s real showers.
The hole Andy makes in the pipeline. This is the actual prop from the film.
This is a wide shot of the pipeline prop that Andy crawls through. Might ruin a little movie magic for you.
While similar looking, this is the prop used for the hole in the wall, behind the Rita Hayworth poster.
Brooks’ apartment. It was actually another room inside the prison.
This is unfortunately a replica. The real ceiling beam was, at one time, located in this room, but it was stolen. The Preservation Society recreated it.
Autographs from the film’s actors.
The cover from the crate prop, holding the library books that Andy had so frequently requested.
There’s really so much more to see inside the prison tour, such as the world’s tallest prison cell block. These were not the cell blocks seen in the film, however. The production opted to rent out a nearby warehouse and build their own set for the cell block, likely due to the unsanitary conditions of the real cell block. You are warned not to touch anything in this area, for risk of needing a tetanus shot. Since the rest of the features of the tour do not directly relate to the film, we will leave you with just one image of the many other, highly interesting things the tour has to offer.
Late in the film, Red has been released from prison and travels to Buxton to keep a promise he made to Andy. The spot where he’s dropped off was actually filmed in Worthington Township.
LOCATION: Snyder Rd / Hagerman Rd, Worthington Township, OH 44813
Pretty much all of the filming locations are conveniently marked with these signs, noting their film history.
Red takes a bus to leave town to Zihuatanejo, passing this barn on his way out.
LOCATION: Near the intersection of OH-95 / Butler Newville Rd, Worthington Township, OH 44813
Last, but not least, we leave you with one of Red’s prison shirts, which can be seen on display at Planet Hollywood in Florida.
LOCATION: 1506 E Buena Vista Dr, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
If you find yourself in Ohio, we highly encourage you to take the prison tour, as it remains one of our all-time favorite film locations. We do not wish to overlook the unfortunate history of this facility, however, with all of the atrocities that took place there.