Ghosts of Ohio
Lore & Legends

Gore Orphanage

If Ohioans were asked to come up with a short list of their favorite local ghost stories, Vermillion's Gore Orphanage would certainly make an appearance on the majority of the lists. Even though the alleged events are said to have happened well over 150 years ago, it is still one of the most popular spooky Ohio travel destinations. The site is deserted now and only a few bits and pieces of the orphanage foundation remain. But it's easy enough to find; just look for the foreboding road sign directing you to Gore Orphanage Road.

It is said that the Gore Orphanage was in operation sometimes in the 1800s. A mysterious fire started in the building that quickly engulfed the entire structure. Lining up all the usual suspects from all the different versions, the likely cause of the fire was one of the following:

  • Old Man Gore—the owner of the orphanage who was either attempting to collect some sort of insurance money or just simply hated children.
  • Disgruntled Male Employee—While he is never named, this shady character had some sort of beef with orphanage owner Mr. Gore (who, in this version, loves children) and decided to exact his revenge.
  • Unknown Crazy Man—Again, this figure is never named. All that is ever told about him was that he lived in the woods surrounding the orphanage and hated all the noise that the kids made.
  • An Accident—The most common version of the accident story has one of the orphans accidentally knocking over a lantern. In another version, the lantern is kicked over in the nearby barn, but the fire quickly spreads to the main building of the orphanage.

Regardless of how the fire started, the results were catastrophic. Presumably, none of the orphans were able to escape the blaze and all perished. In the aftermath, authorities took away Mr. Gore's license and refused to allow a replacement orphanage to be constructed on the site. Nearby townspeople wanted nothing more than to quickly forget the tragedy and simply razed what remained of the burned out shell of the orphanage and allowed nature to take its course and reclaim the land. Out of sight, out of mind.

But such a tragic event isn't going to fade easily, and in this case, the tragic fire somehow left a "stain" upon the area. Locals began whispering that you ventured out to the remaining ruins of Gore Orphanage at night, you would see the ghostly shapes of the dead orphans running and playing in the woods. Sometimes, the children appeared to be on fire and yelling and screaming things like "help me" as the foul stench of burning flesh filled the air. Other late-night visitors reported seeing bright lights swirling and weaving through the woods, which they took to be the ghosts of the dead children. And those who believed the orphanage fire had been intentionally set sometimes felt the spirit of the guilty party makes an appearance at the site in the form of a dark, shadowy shape lurking near the foundation remains.

A final occurrence at the orphanage site was people who parked and left their cars near the remains would find it covered with tiny handprints when they returned. In such an isolated area, anyone else coming into the area would quickly be discovered. The only explanation was that the ghosts of the orphans were attempting to physically push the car away from the orphanage, perhaps in a ghostly warning to stay away lest the car owner suffer a fate similar to theirs.

Will the real orphanage please stand up?
When one starts digging for the nuggets of truth in the orphanage legend, the first fact they'll find is that there was indeed an orphanage in operation on Gore Orphanage at one time. After that, though, any similarities between the truth and legend are completely coincidental.

The actual orphanage was known as the Orphanage of Light and Hope and it was started by Reverend John Sprunger and his wife sometime around 1903. The date is a bit open to debate since the orphanage didn't consist of one big building, but was instead made up of a series of buildings that Sprunger acquired one by one over the years. The remains of one of these buildings, and the one the curiosity seekers flock to when they want to see the remains of the Gore Orphanage, is actually that of the Swift Mansion.

Swift's Hollow
In 1817, Joseph Swift purchased over 400 acres of dense woods and flowing streams in and around a valley in Vermillion with the intention of building a sprawling estate. As the only landowner, locals began referring to the area as Swift's Hollow. Incredibly, Swift would spend more than 20 years clearing the land in preparing for his dream home. Finally, in 1840, construction on the Swift Mansion finally began. When finished, the enormous home featured stone pillars, 15-foot ceilings, and over fourteen rooms, which included servant's quarters. Swift and his family continued to live in the spacious mansion until a series of bad investments forced Swift to put the property up for sale.

Spiritualism and the Wilbur Family
When Nicholas Wilber bought the Swift Mansion in 1874 for his wife and children, little did he know they were opening one of the biggest chapters in the Gore Orphanage legend. Sadly, the main event in this chapter happened between January 13th and 19th, 1893. During this time, four of Wilber's grandchildren—Jesse (11), Ruby (9), and twins Roy and May (2)—all became gravely ill and died when an epidemic, believed to have been diphtheria, swept through Northern Ohio. It's important to note here that none of the children are believed to have passed at the Swift Mansion. Regardless, all four children were buried next to each other at nearby Maple Grove Cemetery.

Obviously, Nicholas and his wife were distraught over the loss of their grandchildren. Rumors have circulated that in their grief, the Wilbers began conducting sťances inside the former Swift Mansion in an attempt to contact their departed loved ones. Whether or not these events actually took places is open to debate. But if the sťances did indeed take place, it would not have been surprising as the Spiritualism movement was in full force in the late 1800s and sťances were common. Regardless, the death of the four Wilber grandchildren provided that nugget of truth that children had perished on the property.

In 1895, the Wilber family sold the property to the Sutton family. Seven years later, in 1902, Sutton sold the home to Rev. Sprunger to be used as part of the Orphanage of Light and Hope. And with that, all of the elements of the Gore Orphanage legend were finally in place save for one; the fire. That was to take place several years after the orphanage closed down in 1916. Abandoned and now known as the local "haunted house", the once-proud Swift Mansion caught fire and burned to the ground in December of 1923... with no one inside.

What's in a name?
Of course, one questions still remains; if there never was a Gore Orphanage, what's up with the road being called Gore Orphanage Road? Well, that all stems from a term surveyors use to describe a wedge-shaped piece of land; a gore. So while the original seldom-traveled road was known as Baldwin Road, locals began calling it Gore Road based on the shape of the land the road traveled through. "Orphanage" was added to the road name when the Orphanage of Light and Hope began operating on the road.

© The Ghosts of Ohio