Fans Bought The 'Shawshank Redemption' Prison For $1
Shawshank Redemption isn't your typical Stephen King story. Many people don’t even know it’s based on a novella he wrote in 1982. King tells an anecdote of how he was in a supermarket one time when a woman recognized him, "obviously one of the kind of women who says whatever is on her brain." The old woman said, "I know who you are, you're the horror writer. I don’t read anything that you do, but I respect your right to do it. I just like things more genuine, like that Shawshank Redemption."
"I wrote that," said King. "No you didn't," said the woman, and then she walked away.
Whether or not people have read King's "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption," they like The Shawshank Redemption, and today, many fans do a pilgrimage to the place where the film was shot, Mansfield Reformatory. Mansfield was a prison with a pretty strange history. The architect, Levi Scofield, designed it to look more like a castle than a jail, and at the start, it served as a sort of halfway house and aimed to reform prisoners by treating them better than traditional prisons. This did not last long.
In 1930, the main Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus caught fire, and the state moved its violent prisoners to Mansfield. They overcrowded the entire facility. Over the next few decades, hundreds of prisoners died in Mansfield. Starting the '70s, inmates filed class-action lawsuits against the prison, and one suit actually won and forced the state to shutter the prison in 1990.
This was why the prison was vacant in the early '90s and could be used a filming location for Shawshank Redemption and later Air Force One—though, they also shot scenes for Tango & Cash here, even while the prison was still running. After filming wrapped on Shawshank, the state planned to demolish Mansfield. But a group of preservationists / film fans bought the place. Today, they hold tours of all the Shawshank filming locations and also rent out the building for weddings, for couples with unusual tastes.
The price the group paid to buy Mansfield from the state of Ohio? One dollar. We have a little trouble understanding how any plot of land this big could go for a dollar, with or without a historical landmark on top. We suppose though that the proximity to two other operational prisons might make it not the most desirable place to live, and there might be all kinds of regulations on exactly what you could build in this zone. Possibly, the state had no plans to do anything with the land, and selling it for nothing saved them demolition costs.
One dollar is also a price with some significance to Stephen King movies. King has long let amateurish filmmakers adapt his works for the nominal price of one dollar. In 1983, for example, he let a 20-year-old theater usher make a short film based on King's short story "The Woman in the Room." That usher was Frank Darabont, future director of Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist.
King charged a little more than a dollar to adapt "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption." He charged $5,000 ... which is also just a nominal price, and he never cashed the check. Instead, he framed it and sent it back to Darabont, writing, "In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve."