One of the most haunted places in the state is the site of the old Gore Orphanage, located in Lorain County not far from Lake Erie. I learned about this one from an old issue of the Ohio Folklore Society Journal, and later a piece in Haunted Ohio. According to the author--Dolores D. Stinson--the story goes that a Mr. and Mrs. Sprunger from Indiana started the orphanage in 1903 after their own children died. Financial troubles developed and the place closed in 1916. But this is where it gets vague. Apparently another orphanage was built on the same site, or maybe the old orphanage got a new name. They began to refer to it as the Gore Orphanage, or the Light and Hope Orphanage.

Anyway, one night the orphanage (the new one, I guess) burned to the ground. There was a rumor that an "old man from the river" who hated children started the fire. Kids were killed, apparently.

It is said that if you visit the site late at night you can hear the screams and smell roasting children. There is also apparently a tree with a tire swing near the site where you can see a child sometimes.

Not long ago I received an e-mail from a man who lives near the Gore Orphanage. It inspired me to make the long trip up to visit the place. If you read it, you'll understand why. Here it is:

My wife, daughter and I visited Gore Orphange on October 26, 1999. Our experience is as follows: We went there not to really find anything, just for shits and giggles. Most people commonly believe that the bridge and the field on the right is the site. It is not. If you pass the field you will come to a wooded area. There you will find a 4 foot tall sandstone pillar, that marked the entrance to the orphanage. We parked our car and got out and went about 20 from the road where the pillar stands. You might have to look hard, because it's easily missed. As soon as you step in the woods you have a feeling of being watched. And a sadness envelopes you. We went there in the middle of the day (4 p.m. approximately). It was cool and crisp. No fogs or mists. (at least not yet!) Immediately upon entering the area we heard above our heads, in the trees above, a squeaking door open and heavy footsteps. This repeated itself three times. The door sounded like one of those really heavy oak ones and the footsteps sounded like heavy steps on hardwood floors. At this point we went back to our car and got our tape recorder and our camera. We placed the recorder on the sandstone pillar. We then took several pictures. As I took the pictures, mists began to come around. We heard the dull roar of a fire and crackles of the flames. I heard mumbling voices. My wife became extremely uncomfortable and we went back to our car. As we drove off, I asked my wife to stop the car and I unrolled my window. There stood a young boy. He had blond hair and he was about 7 years old. He was wearing ragged old clothes (a red sweater and dark pants.) He sneezed. I asked him his name and he said "Jacob". He appeared scared and looking for something. As we left he stood in the middle of the road and waved bye. As we passed the bridge, we taped again. Later that day, we had our pictures developed. In the background you can see 4 childrens faces and a man in the distance in the woods. I wonder if the man is the one that you speak of. He looked very ominous. The ominous man showed up in every shot. Later after reviewing the recordings, we heard the dull roar through the whole tape (and no it was not windy) about 4 minutes into the tape there is about 3 minutes of mumbling, somebody saying "Help Me" and screams (about 6). You can hear the door open in the beginning, "Jacob" saying "Jacob" and also Jacob's sneeze. There is no way that we could have made these noises. We were in complete due to the awe that we felt. While at the site we did not hear the screams or the voices. We going to get the pictures enlarged to poster sizes to get a better view. Later we found on our car tiny handprints. And on the drivers side window there was Richard written from the inside of the car. If you have any other questions about Gore Orphange (I live about 15 minutes away from it), feel free to contact me at [REMOVED]. Thank-you.

Needless to say, I was excited to check it out, and in mid-November I did. I went with my friends Hoss, Elvis, and Redneck, and we took my car from Toledo, where two of them go to school. It was a long drive. When we reached Gore Orphanage Road we couldn't find the place, so we asked directions from a guy who was working in his garage. He was extremely helpful and friendly, and I'd like to thank him for his directions, which led us back onto another road and eventually to the nature preserve area where the ruins of the orphanage are. It's not likely we would have found it otherwise.

The road dead-ends near the home of a park ranger, and the layout is just as the guy who e-mailed me describes it: A field on the right, followed by a clump of woods. On the other side of the road is even more woods. Beyond the metal guardrail which serves as a roadblock the roadway continues on an incline. At the top is a ridge which gives an unbelievable view even at night: a huge valley with a river running through it, woods, and hills, visible for miles.

After some unsuccessful looking around, Elvis and I were on our way back down the road when we heard a sound coming from the treetops in the clump of woods to our left: creaking, like the opening of heavy wooden doors. I of course remembered the description of this in the e-mail, and for a few moments I was really, genuinely scared.

We moved into the wooded area and came across what is left of the Gore Orphanage, which stood here until it burned in 1916 or 17. As creepy as the stories are, it should be noted that a gore is a wedge-shaped piece of land, usually used to correct a surveyor's error. It's a scary name, anyway. Today all that remains of the orphanage is the foundation, which has trees growing up through it.




After a while we realized that the creaking in the trees was actually the trees creaking against each other in the wind; we could see the trees move when the sound came. And there were no footsteps to accompany the creaking--at least, not that we heard. While we were being terrified by the sound of the trees we both thought we heard something else--little pieces of voices, possibly kids'--but when we saw where the sound of the doors was coming from that ended. I'm inclined to believe that this sound was interpreted by our minds due to our fright, and was not anything real.

We eventually found the stone pillar that was mentioned in the e-mail, and even found another one which is taller but has been knocked over. The shorter one has some creepy graffiti on it.


We sat quietly in the foundation for a long time, waiting for ghosts; we tried to talk to the ghosts; we even tried calling them by name (Jacob, Richard). Nothing happened. The creaking trees gave us a good scare, but beyond that, nothing. No kids, no old man, no screams or fire sounds.

On the way back I got a flat tire, and Redneck, who had cut his hand the previous night while looking for Nazareth Hall in Grand Rapids, bled about three gallons while helping me get it fixed. I thank him for his sacrifice.

A few weeks later I got the pictures I took developed, and I found this one:


There's an interesting white smear in the middle of this picture. What is it? I think it's probably a camera error. Still, I have to admit it's a little eerie, considering where it was taken. Unlike the Moonville Tunnel, the Gore Orphanage is a place where things are sighted regularly. Maybe something appeared in my picture; I have to keep an open mind. I'd like to add that I actually had this photo professionally analyzed by a third party, and he said it isn't explainable as something which came from my light source. He said that he's seen a lot of lens errors and other explainable anomalies, but this doesn't fall into any category he could think of. I'm not saying it's a ghost; I'm saying it's weird.


This photo was sent to me later on by someone who visited the site. On the supposedly-haunted bridge nearby he snapped a picture and ended up with the photo you see below.


After visiting the site, I did some research into the truth behind the Gore Orphanage legend and discovered some interesting facts. According to Bill Ellis's article "What Really Happened at Gore Orphanage," there never was a Gore Orphanage. Gore Orphanage Road was once called Gore Road, named for the wedge-shaped piece of land it traversed. The Reverend and Mrs. Sprunger did establish the Light of Hope Orphanage there in 1902, but it did not burn down; rather, old man Sprunger died and the Orphanage went bankrupt. The kids were relocated into other homes.

Interestingly, according to Ellis (a professor of Folklore at Penn State), the location which I visited is actually that of the Swift Mansion, an old Greek Revival house occupied by Joseph Swift after he had it built in 1840. It may have been part of the orphanage complex at one time, but it was definitely also a private residence. Swift's railroad stocks went flat in 1865 and he was forced to sell the house and leave the area. Records show him to have been a very ordinary farmer, but oral history claims that he was the leader of a group of spiritualists, who held weird occult rituals in the Swift Mansion.



Swift sold the house to Nicholas Wilber in 1865. If anyone held occult rituals in the house, it was Wilbur--but it's just as likely that he was the victim of rumors long after he had left the area. Wilburn did have four children aged two to eleven who died at the house in the course of seven days at the height of the diptheria epidemic in 1893--from January 13 through the 19th. They may have been buried there; one element of the original legend was "neglected children's graves" and their spirits that haunt the site.



As early as 1905 the site was famous locally as haunted, and the still-standing Swift Mansion was vandalized and visited late at night by curious kids. The Orphanage obtained the land and allowed it to fall into further disrepair while they built their dormitories around it. In December of 1923 it finally did burn down, but without anyone inside.

It is thought that the Gore Orphanage legend has become entangled with that of a real disaster which occurred forty miles east of Vermilion, in the Cleveland suburb of Collinwood. On March 4, 1908, the Lake View Public School there burned down, killing 176 children and school employees. The legend of the Gore Orphanage sounds suspiciously like a retelling of the story of the Lake View Public School disaster. An interesting example of the way oral history distorts real events, and the way that a nearly-forgotten tragedy can emerge through ghostly folklore. To read Bill Ellis's excellent article on this topic, click here.

For a different take on the legend, you can read some firsthand accounts of paranormal events at the site by clicking below.


To get to the Gore Orphanage, turn onto Sperry Road in Lorain County and continue to the offshoot of Gore Orphanage Road. Turn right onto it. You will pass over a creek on a low metal bridge. A field will open up to the right, and woods will be on the left. Continue on this winding portion of road until a clump of trees replaces the field on the right. If you look closely you'll see the sandstone pillar at the front corner of this clump. Inside is the foundation of the Gore Orphanage--well, the Swift mansion.


Remember that if you come to the place where the road is blocked off by a metal guardrail, you've gone a little too far. Off to the right from this is the home of a park ranger; the Gore Orphanage/Swift Mansion site is on State Park property, which makes it not trespassing, for a change. (Although I did hear from a parks official who claims that it's still trespassing. Somehow I just don't feel too bad about it.)

For more on the Gore Orphanage and the legends surrounding it, try the following links.

What Really Happened at the Gore Orphanage, by Bill Ellis
News Channel 5: Gore Orphanage Road Video Report
Spirit Seekers of Ohio: Gore Orphanage
Sandusky SPIRIT: Gore Orphanage



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Sources

Ellis, Bill. "What Really Happened at Gore Orphanage." Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We Live. Oxford: University Press of Mississippi, 2003.

Gerrick, David J. "Ohio's Ghostly Greats." Dayton: Dayton Press, 1982. pp. 5-7, 47-48.

Petkovic, John. "Ghosts, Haunts, and Urban Legends." Cleveland Plain Dealer. October 31, 2000 pp. 1A.