MANSFIELD – The Central Guard Room at the Ohio State Reformatory looked like a scene from "The Shawshank Redemption" on Saturday night.
The historic spot was the setting for an exclusive Shawshank reception as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of the film this weekend. A crowd limited to 175 people gathered to meet the actors of Shawshank after a panel moderated by Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies.
Guests were encouraged to dress in attire from the 1950s and 1960s, reflecting the era the film was set in (remember, Andy Dufresne escaped Shawshank Prison in 1966). The tunes from the Shawshank Jazz Band included the Ink Spots' rendition of "If I Didn't Care" that accompanies the opening shot of the movie.
Two things united the crowd in the Central Guard Room on Saturday: the dress code, and the love of "The Shawshank Redemption." Other than that, the crowd could not be more diverse as people from near and far gathered to pay homage to their favorite movie.
Not many people traveled further than Hardy Nickell, who came from Germany to experience Shawshank in person.
"I'm a big fan of the movie for over 20 years," he said. "I always wanted to come here and see Shawshank and the surroundings."
On Friday, Nickell spent the day visiting the other scenic filming locations other than the historic prison.
"Yesterday's scenic ride through the countryside where the tree used to be, driving past this farmland and farm houses and the streets going up and down, for me it was a feeling like it was the end of the movie where everything was coming together, and it was just really great," Nickell said.
George Figuray of Thornville, Ohio also enjoyed seeing the film sites other than the prison, which he has visited many times in the past. He said he enjoyed meeting the actors at Saturday afternoon's meet-and-greet and hearing their behind-the-scenes stories.
"Watching the movie after they've told you about it is kind of different," Figuray said. "I think I've seen the movie like, 500 times. I watched it every day this week before I came here. The whole first half hour of the movie, I can recite every line. My wife gets mad."
Still, the Ohio State Reformatory hasn't lost any of its charm or wonder on those who attended on Saturday, whether they had visited once or dozens of times before. Jay and Sherri Campbell, a couple who met the year Shawshank was filmed, were both working down the road at the 179th Airlift Wing when the movie came out.
"We always liked the prison, and then the movie came out," Jay said. "And the movie is so fantastic."
Both Jay and Sherri were clad in period garb they found at The Alley Vintage and Costume in Columbus.
"We did a big thing for the 10-year anniversary, and now we're at 25," Sherri said. "Time flies."
The Campbells said they were looking forward to meeting the Shawshank actors. Some actors were mingling among the crowd before the official panel - including Max and Cathy Gerber of Upper Sandusky, who both served as extras in the film.
Max Gerber brought a memento from the film with him on Saturday: the original costume he wore as a prisoner in the movie. The shirt and shoes still fit...the jeans, admittedly, were not the originals.
"I became friends with a lot of the cast and crew, we'd go to Tim Robbins' house and play basketball," Gerber said. "In the movie we were at the wood shop and I was right by Morgan until Frank Darabont was like, 'Max, we see too much of you.' So now I'm in the background."
Director and screenwriter Frank Darabont was joined on the panel by actors Bob Gunton, Gil Bellows, Frank Medrano, Claire Slemmer, Neil Giuntoli, Renee Blaine, Mark Rolston, Alfonso Freeman and Scott Mann. Each shared how Shawshank had impacted their lives.
Alfonso Freeman said the movie served as a bonding experience between him and his dad, Morgan. Frank Medrano said his character's name "Fatass" has followed him throughout his life, and even recited his iconic line: "I'm not supposed to be here!" Gil Bellows shared that in coming back to the Ohio State Reformatory after 26 years, he could feel new and old ghosts that had first presented themselves during filming.
But the binding experience between both the people sitting in chairs and those standing taking pictures on their phones in the Central Guard Room was that Shawshank was a life-changing experience.
"Shawshank didn't change my life until today," said Neil Giuntoli, who played prisoner "Jigger" in the film. "Today I saw how much this movie changed your life and how much it means to you. When I say I love you all, I really mean it. Without you, we wouldn't be here."