Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Before making one of my ever more regular visits to my home town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, last month, I first emailed my friend, Joerdie, and suggested she, our mutual friend Jim Bowsher, and I should go on an outing together. Jim doesn’t have email...or a cellphone...or a computer, despite being a writer, researcher and historian. Jim’s old-school and considers those things distractions, folly if you will. So Joerdie’s always our go-between—except when I call Jim on his landline—since snail mail from Patagonia to Ohio can take weeks...months.  Nothing new for Joerdie. She has long acted as Jim’s link to the virtual zone that just about everybody else these days thinks of as the “real” world. Cyberspace, the place where “everything’s happening.”

By way of suggestion—though I said I was up for whatever adventure they might have in mind, since, knowing Jim, if he had gotten wind of a potential archeological treasure trove somewhere, wild horses wouldn’t be able to restrain him from going off to sift through layers of time to see what he could find, so he would ultimately decide our destination—I said I’d heard of an abandoned prison in Mansfield, Ohio, that was supposed to be one of the most haunted places in the United States and that I thought it might be fun to go there. Did she or Jim know anything about it?
They did. Joerdie wrote back right away to say that she and Jim went on a practically annual pilgrimage to that area, which was very close to Malabar Farm, one of their favorite places to visit. And it was about time for them to go there again, so we could go together for sure. I should count on it.
When I blew into town from Patagonia, via Miami, one of the first people I called on checking into the Wapakoneta Best Western was Jim.
“So Joerdie tells me you want to go up to Malabar Farm,” he said.
“To the old Mansfield prison, actually. But Malabar Farm sounds nice, even though I know nothing about it,” I said. “The prison just sounded like something I might want to write about.”
“Well, we can do that too,” Jim said, seeming to betray a certain air of ennui, “but you’re going to love Malabar Farm!”
“Is it the old prison farm.”
“No. Nothing to do with it.”
“Oh, so maybe we could go to the prison, and if there’s time after...” I tried.
“Joerdie’s setting it up with our friend down there, Mark Jordan. You’ll love this guy, and he’s an expert on that area.”
That night, I got together with Jim for supper at near-by Woody’s bar and grill and then we went back to his place to continue our chat. While there, I again mentioned the prison, and he again said, yes, we’d be going down to Malabar Farm the next day. Then he called Joerdie and she confirmed we’d be heading for Mansfield the following day, Monday.
Why was I so interested in going to an abandoned prison? Well, for one thing, because it’s the one where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed: the feature film starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, based on a Stephen King novella called Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. And for another thing, because it was there that another close friend, photographer Mary Jo Knoch, took one of the most haunting pictures I’d ever seen. An image one might describe, superficially, as of a chair and a window in an otherwise empty room, but a scene that I was unable to get out of my head for days after seeing it and that, when I first saw it hanging on her living room wall, I was sure was a print of a hyper-realistic painting.
The next morning, I picked Jim up at his house and we drove up to near-by Shawnee where Joerdie lives. On the way, I said I’d drive. I had a rental, it was all-wheel drive, a Mazda CX5, and comfy to ride in, so there was no use Joerdie’s having to use her car and fuel.
The Ohio State Prison of Shawshank fame
“Oh, no,” Jim said. “She’ll want to drive. She always drives. And she’s got all this stuff in the back of her vehicle that she takes along so...better not mess with it.”
It was a lovely November morning. Cool, not cold, and sunny. And Jim was right. Joerdie had it all under control, her big Lincoln SUV waiting and ready to go as she took orders in the kitchen, where we stood chatting with her pleasant, soft-spoken cardiologist husband, Eric, another home town boy: “Dan, do you want a coffee for the road? I have a Thermos mug here for you, if you do. Jim, you do, right? Water? Well, there’s water in the car...”
And soon we were on the road. Along the way, Joerdie spoke to her car, saying: “Call Mark Jordan.” And it did.
I listened as she and Mark made plans to meet at Malabar Farm and horned in once again: “And then I’d like to go to the prison in Mansfield.”
“Mark,” Joerdie said, “Dan wants to go to the prison, so do you want to meet us in Mansfield for lunch?” He was game and suggested the traditional Coney Island Diner on Main Street.
Whenever Jim, Joerdie and I get together, we always have a lot to talk about and this was no exception. And in the midst of the running dialogue, we missed the turnoff of I-75 for 30 East to Mansfield. Joerdie’s navigation system told us which exit to take in order to backtrack south and catch Route 30 from a different angle.
Then something strange happened. Just shortly after Joerdie called Mark Jordan again to let him know we’d missed our exit and would be arriving a little later, Jim said, “Hey, this isn’t Mansfield coming up already, is it?”
Now, Mansfield is a good hour and forty-five-minute to two-hour drive from our neck of the woods and, according to my watch, we’d only been on the road for a little over an hour.
“It can’t be,” I said.
“Can’t be,” Joerdie said, “but it is.” And then looking into the rearview mirror, she said to Jim, who was riding in the backseat, “We’re warping again, Jim.”
“Warping?” I asked, bewildered. And in a confidential-like aside to me, she said, “This happens to us all the time.”
“But only in this car,” Jim added. “I don’t know what it is but it’s something about us traveling in this car...”
And sure enough, we were on the outskirts of Mansfield, as if magically transported there in record time, despite missing our turn and having to backtrack south to Route 30.
Joerdie called Mark again and told him the news, that we were pulling into Mansfield.
“Already?” he asked. “I thought you said you’d missed your turn...”
“We did.”
“Then how the...Well, I haven’t even left the farm yet to drive into town so you’ll have to wait for me.”
When they hung up, I said, “If I hadn’t been in the car with you, I’d never have believed it. This is crazy!”
Jim said nothing.
Joerdie just smiled.
This was business as usual for them. I’d just happened to witness it.
To be continued...


mary jo knoch said...

i think i have heard this before and i am still leaning in waiting for next.

Joe Ballweg said...

Another wonderful piece Dan. Wapakoneta is not on the map though....some of your uninformed fans may need some help to find it!

Sylvia said...

Great writing, Dan. I enjoyed every bit of it.
Really does seem to have been a kind of magical experience. Can't wait for the "to be continued..." bit.

Dan Newland said...

Thanks so much for reading it and for your comment, Syl!

Dan Newland said...

Thanks Jodi! And thanks for the inspiration.

Dan Newland said...

Thanks for reading it Joe! You're right about the map. I'll see if I can find a different one.

Cathy Stanford said...

Love this! Warping huh? I need a ride in that car...How fun! I'm with everyone else..We need the "rest of the story"!

Dan Newland said...

Thank you, Cathy!