Sunday, July 30, 2017

Saturday in Prison...

Saturday July 29, 2017

Today Andrew and I met a couple friends at the Mansfield Reformatory (famous for its starring role in the 1994 film, “The Shawshank Redemption.” My friends had already been there, but neither Andrew, nor I had ever been there.

We were blessed with a lovely day with all sunshine and big, puffy clouds and not too hot with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees. Being a weekend it was quite busy, so even though we wanted to get booked onto a 1pm tour, we ended up having to wait until 2pm and our only option for tours was the History Meets Hollywood Tour:

History Meets Hollywood Tour 
Explore the past through this unique tour, which takes guests on a journey
through both the historical timeline of the prison and the equally iconic, fictional
story of inmate Andy Dufresne from the 1994 film, Shawshank Redemption. This
tour also includes information on the warden’s living quarters and several other
films and music videos filmed onsite.

If we ever visit again we hope to go on the Inmate Tour.

Inmate Tour 
Real-Life behind bars may be difficult to understand unless you have lived it.
Such is the case for tour guide, Michael Humphrey, who spent 14 months here in
the late 1960’s. Walk through the prison as Michael leads you through a normal
day for an inmate and hear stories that stick with Michael all these years later.

Since that wasn’t an option yesterday, I settled for buying from the gift shop, Inmates Speak Out: Stories, thoughts, ideas & plots conceived by those who lived, worked and died behind the walls.

Our young tour guide, Emily Smith, was an excellent guide who you can tell absolutely loves her job and is good at it. Due to having such a large group (though this may be normal anyway), we also had a “pusher” (wearing a “trustee” hat) whose job it was to make sure we all stayed with our tour and didn’t try to lock each other inside any of the cells. Of course this has happened before, which is the reason for their strict rules and procedures. In the event of an accidental lock-in, a locksmith from Columbus is called and the guilty party pays “bail” to get out (not really, bail, but it sounds funnier).

The other strict rule is to not take any photos out of the rear windows of the (minimum) security prison behind the reformatory. It’s a federal offense and not something to easily talk your way out of. Good to know. Note to self, no photos out the back window.

There’s one room on the inside of the building which has no windows since it is literally in the middle of the building. We were lead inside and told it was haunted, and then our guide asked for a volunteer to sit on the chair in the middle of the room. My friend’s husband, Jay, volunteered for this responsibility, after which the lights were turned out to see if anything happened. Nothing did, but Jay swears he sensed some paranormal activity of some sort or the other. We’re all pretty skeptical, though I have no doubt some people have experienced genuine paranormal activity, but those things seem to typically happen after dark, rather than in broad daylight, so I didn’t really expect anything other worldly to happen.

Just to provide a little timeline, the prison closed down in 1990 and the film crew for “Shawshank Redemption” arrived shortly thereafter to film their movie, which was released in 1994. Since then the building has fallen into disrepair with more peeling paint than a Sherwin Williams warehouse.
I was almost surprised so many people brought their children since lead paint is more harmful to young ones than we adults. As tourism increases and donations roll in, the building is slowly being restored a room at a time and is looking pretty good, though there’s still a long way to go. Sadly all the outbuildings you see in the film (like the laundry, wood shop, etc.) are long gone. It’s only the Castle structure that remains standing (which is still pretty magnificent looking from the outside).

Probably the biggest difference on the inside of the prison in contrast to what you see in “Shawshank,” is the fact that there’s only cells on one side of each block. There aren’t any wings where they face each other. I believe this is probably true of most prisons and I think that’s the case at Alcatraz too. They didn’t want prisoners to have face-to-face contact being across the way from each other, and I can totally understand the logic behind that decision.

My only complaint is not feeling like we had enough time to really explore this massive prison. A self-guided tour was included with the price of admission, but we didn’t really have time for much wandering around afterwards since the prison is supposed to close at 4pm and we had to head anyway. We probably could have walked around in the hour we had to kill before our tour started, but Andrew figured it would probably be a bit monotonous if we did that, and we agreed (but had we known how big the building was and how long our tour lasted we probably should have at least looked in a few rooms). All four of us agreed it might be worth a visit again someday (maybe at Halloween for the ghost tour?), and certainly the city of Mansfield in all its yesteryear glory.

Bonus story: Andrew and I were killing time waiting for our friends to arrive (they had a bit longer of a drive coming down from Northeast Ohio) and happened to stop in at the Squirrel’s Den in downtown Mansfield. I saw some postcards in the window, so I suggested we pop in and pick up a couple since they were likely to be cheaper than at the reformatory (they were, by half).

While we were paying for our purchases (including a bag of chocolate popcorn that Andrew had chosen) I happened to notice a yellowed article on the wall behind the cash register. The article ( was all about President Obama’s visit in 2012 while he was campaigning for re-election. The owner, LaDonna Secrist, who was interviewed for the article and the one checking out our items, told us all about it. I felt a little bad that we couldn’t stay to talk longer. Ms. Secrist was as kind as could be, like everyone (one of the employees at Doc’s Deli) we met in Mansfield who asked us if we were visiting for the day. Mansfield may have seen better days, but the people who still live there have a lot of spunk and spirit. If we ever get back for a return visit I hope to stop in for another tasty sandwich from Doc’s Deli (the cure for the common sandwich) and then some chocolate for dessert at the Squirrel’s Den (and further investigate the story behind the name as illustrated by some photos on the wall behind the counter).

All in all a great day and a nice visit with our friends. Have a great week everyone!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Movies Weekend

Sunday July 23, 2017
You might say this weekend was a bit of an escapist weekend – escaping into other times and places via the movies (and even VR [virtual reality] when I donned the headset & had a quick visit to Hawaii and London’s Tower Bridge briefly).

Friday night we attended the annual silent movie screening at the Ohio Theatre with musical accompaniment on the “Mighty Morton” organ by Clark Wilson (now in his 26th year of playing the organ for all the CAPA summer films).

The movie was, “The Freshman” (1925) directed by Fred Newmeyer starring Harold Lloyd (playing college freshman, Harold Lamb) and Jobyna Ralston as his college crush, Peggy. I have to say I was absolutely blown away by this film. The movie is a bit dated in a lot of ways, but the premise of being a college freshman and trying to fit in on campus hasn’t changed. Although “The Freshman” is categorized as a “sports movie,” and is apparently on ESPN’s top ten list of best sports films, I wouldn’t have necessarily classified it as such. It’s first and foremost, a comedy with some drama, and a bit of sports thrown in (much like “The Blind Side”). My favorite line from the movie was “Tate College: a big football stadium with a little college attached.” Hmmm, wonder what university that reminds me of…..

However you describe it, it’s a great film, and one I’d happily see again and again (and hopefully will be able to in the next few years as his library is slowly being converted to Blu-ray).

Both before and after the movie we were treated to a Q & A session with Clark Wilson interviewing Suzanne Lloyd, Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter (heiress and executor of his archives) who also brought some home movies (with musical accompaniment) to show the audience. Among other things Ms. Lloyd said a print of one of his earlier silent movies (on nitrate) was recently discovered (in someone’s attic or basement perhaps?) and is currently being restored, which is pretty exciting when you consider how few (like 80%) of movies made on nitrate (highly flammable!) still exist today.*

*If you want to learn more about that aspect of the movie business, the critically acclaimed Italian film, “Cinema Paradiso” can teach you all about the early days of cinema from a projectionist’s point of view.

Someone asked what it was like having Harold Lloyd as a grandpa. Being so young, he was just “grandpa” to her, and she knew he worked for the shriners (doing charity work), but that was about it. Someone else asked if they had a lot of famous people over at their house, to which she answered, “Robert Wagner, Debbie Reynolds (who was like a second mom to her), and Jack Lemmon (amongst others), who often slept on their couch and was eventually gifted their beach house.

My favorite story was Ms. Lloyd relating how as a teenager she got to see the Beatles perform at the Hollywood Bowl and meet them afterwards. As gobsmacked as she was meeting them, they were even more in awe of her because she was related to Harold Lloyd (I can just imagine John or Paul saying, “Do you know who your granddad is? Harold F*&ing Lloyd!”).

Though it was a long evening stretching to about three hours, it’s been a few years (at least since we got to meet Richard Linklater after a screening of “Boyhood” at the Wexner Center) since I’ve enjoyed myself that much at the movies.

On Sunday afternoon we returned to the Ohio Theatre to see a matiness of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Reflecting on it afterwards I pondered the question of whether or not race relations have improved  across the country (amongst other issues), I have to say, perhaps not. It’s a shame that 50+ years later these things still happen, and will probably continue to happen. Books will be written about it and movies made, but doubtful any will ever compare to Ms. Lee’s poignant story about the Finch children and their wise old dad, Atticus. No one will ever forget their reaction when Scout sees Boo Radley up close for the first time. I break out into tears every time. That moment has got to be on a Top Ten List somewhere.

Thanks to TCM (and dvds/Blu-rays) we can enjoy these films into perpetuity, which is something I am eternally grateful for.

I hope everyone has a great last week of July.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Two Movies and a Play...

Monday July 17, 2017
Last week was a busy week on the entertainment front. I saw two movies and one play.
Since our power was still out on Tuesday I suggested we go see the new "Spiderman Homecoming" film at the Dublin Village 18 cinema (the one with the comfy recliners). Having seen Tom Holland interviewed on the "Graham Norton" show I had already seen a clip from the film (and heard a good story about how he prepped for the role).
It's interesting to see one of our favorite superheroes as a teenager eagerly anticipating more chances to show off his super hero skills as well as the usual amount of teenage angst. I also love that Robert Downey Jr, aka "Iron Man" played such a crucial role in the film as did Jon Favreau who played his personal assistant. I can definitely recommend this film for anyone who likes the Avengers, Spiderman, or just a good old fashioned action and adventure movie.
The next movie we saw was "Baby Driver," which came out around the same time as "Spiderman." This movie is all about the soundtrack. The character of Baby (you'll find out his real name towards the end of the film) has Tinnitus (as do I) and listens to music almost non-stop to compensate for it, so we rarely see him without his earbuds in or sunglasses on (and he carries spares of those). He's a driver for a bank heist planner, Kevin Spacey, whose Mercedes Benz Baby once stole, and henceforth has been working to pay off his debt. Even after he was square, of course he wasn't quite finished. Like in the Godfather movies, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
My husband and I both enjoyed it and liked the soundtrack (which was synced to the action). My niece and I compared it to "Pulp Fiction," without the witty banter and dance scene (and no OD scenes either). Funnily enough, for a movie that's somewhat targeted towards millenials, it's rated R (for all the violence). Those who can't attend with someone over 17 will have to wait for it to come out on dvd or be streamable elsewhere.
I ended the weekend by attending a production of "Guys & Dolls" which was produced by the Hilliard Arts Council and held at one of the local middle schools. It was an excellent production with high quality performances by all. You can tell everyone takes their job seriously when you see how it all comes together. My only complaint, which is pretty much the case with every production, is that sometimes the orchestra drowns out the actor(s) singing. This time it was likely caused by there not being an orchestra pit, so close proximity definitely plays a part. Also, had I known it was going to be a three hour performance (the program said two) and that there were wooden seats, I might have grabbed a cushion to sit on. We were all grateful for the intermission after two hours of the play were over.
My reason for wanting to see the play, besides simply supporting the arts, is because I was in "Guys and Dolls" back in high school (my junior year). I was one of the bobbysoxers and had to borrow penny loafers from a classmate. I was a little surprised at how many of the songs I remembered and even (quietly) sang along at times. I walked out humming the songs relieving happier days.
All in all a pretty action packed week. We have a couple movie possibilities at the Ohio Theatre this weekend as well as "Despicable Me 3" on the agenda at some point.
Have a great week everyone!