Bissman Building, 1886
Ben Bissman (IV) was approximately 8 years old when he began working at the Bissman Company Wholesale Groceries. Whether it was sneaking candy for his grandfather or cleaning, Ben was always participating in or observing business activities. Prior to learning the history of the Bissman Building, it felt essential to learn the history of the family who began the revolution of the 130 year old building.
Beginning in 1853, Michael Bissman and his nine sons traveled from Germany in search of safety and in pursuit of success. After settling in Mansfield, the Bissman family began a grocery distribution center in 1872. Originally located where the Richland Carrousel sits today, it was not until 1886 when the Bissman family decided to invest in the development of their current building, located at 193 North Main Street.
Commissioned by Michael and his son Peter, the Bissman Building is approximately 50,000 square feet, includes five-stories, an underground basement, and a working elevator! The contractors, Hancock and Dow, completed the Bissman project at the beginning 1886, and went on to complete the Ohio State Reformatory later that year. Ben expressed that the Bissman Building was somewhat of a "design test" prior to the Ohio State Reformatory being built. Utilizing a similiar gothic romantic style and multiple stories, the two buildings have many unique and historic characteristics.
Bissman Company Wholesale Groceries was in business from 1872 until 1976. Since the beginning, the grocers would start roast the famous Red Band coffee beans at 4 AM. The sweet aroma would fill the streets and local residents would stop by before work. A few years later, the Bissman grocers would begin roasting peanuts at 4 PM. Once again, the sweet smell would attract local residents and workers to stop by the store before going home. While locals would be snacking on peanuts, grocers would encourage the sale of beverages. The Bissman Company included a wide variety of alcoholic beverages, as well as hand-rolled Cuban cigars, and privately labeled canned goods - truthfully, it is no surprise that the business remained successful for so many years.
According to Ben, on average, the Bissman Company would employee between 40-50 employees at a time, with the average longevity of 25 years. The longest length of time for an employee to stay with the Bissman Company was approximately 55 years.
During the prime years of the business, the Bissman Company would donate thousands of t-shirts to local bars and events. Eventually to combat costs, the Bissman family invested in a t-shirt press. Soon after the family opened Pirate Printing, a local screen printing and embroidery company. Originally located on Marion Avenue in 1974, Pirate Printing has since been relocated to the first floor of the Bissman Building for the last 15 years.
Since the close of Bissman Company Wholesale Grocery in 1976, the Bissman family has continued Pirate Printing and has expanded into a small automotive repair shop.
In addition, the Bissman building has been restored into a haunted attraction. Drawing people in from across the world, the Bissman family has had visitors from Germany, France, Canada, England, and South Korea. Including stories of F.W. Simon, who died in 1911 after getting his head severed in the elevator. It is said that F.W. Simon started working for the Bissman's in 1872 and was a lead proponent in teaching the family proper English and mentoring them on American business habits. Another story is of a night watchman who was hired in 1910 after a robbery. Paranormal evidence shows that this man kidnapped and murdered a young girl, Ruth, and then buried her in the dirt basement of the Bissman building.
The historic appearance and paranormal characteristics of the building has made it a prime location for many photographers, many events and programs, and a site of many movies (Shawshank Redemption, Mushroom Head, Robot Girl). In terms of popular paranormal television sites, the Bissman family has been featured on Ghost Hunters (Syfy), Ghost Asylum (Destination America), and twice on My Ghost Story (Biography Channel).
Personal Interview with Ben Bissman IV on November 3, 2016
Haunted Bissman Building - www.hauntedbissmanbuilding.com
Pirate Printing - www.pirateprinting.com
Shawshank Trail - www.shawshanktrail.com