The following article is for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as scholarly research or as a final authority on the subject.
Welcome to Freaky Friday. Today we have a combo urban legend and paranormal tale. Our subject today is the Gore Orphanage legend. The site is located in Lorain County, Ohio, not far from Lake Erie.
Alan D. Hopewell introduced me to the Gore Orphanage haunting in the comments of my post on The Devil’s Road. Research on Gore Orphanage turned up exactly the kind of stuff I love to read and write about.
The haunting at Gore Orphanage is one of those stories that has a lot of details, many of which seem to be plucked from completely unrelated happenings. It has an interesting true story that has been all but lost in the spooky experiences of legend trippers.
The basic legend goes like this:
“There is this place. . . it’s kind of close to my town and it’s called “Gore Orphanage” and it was back in the 1800s I believe. It was an old building, all that’s left is the foundation now, but, uh, it was an old guy who ran it, Old Man Gore, they called him. He was a mean guy and all the kids in there they were really deprived I know that. . . the place caught on fire. The old man Gore he got away and he left all the kids in there to burn to death. OK. I guess they screamed and all they did was make a hell of a lot of noise and, uh, they all burned, that’s all. And all that’s left now is the foundation and supposedly if you go back there at night now, you can still hear the screams of the kids burning in the building.”
from Bill Ellis’s “What Really Happened at Gore Orphanage”
Enough research and reading will turn up versions of the story which include:
- children’s handprints on the car
- occult happenings at the haunted location
- vehicles chasing trespassers
- a ghostly woman on a bridge
- a man who warns away visitors and threatens them (this man is thought to be a ghost)
The truth about Gore Orphanage—as far as I can tell—is that the stone foundation most legend trippers think is the foundation of the orphanage was actually the Swift Mansion.
The mansion was built in 1840-1842 by Joseph Swift. It had fourteen rooms. The French style and columns across the front were made in Troy, New York. They were brought to Ohio from New York by boat and oxcart. The family called the mansion Rosedale for the elaborate gardens they had fashioned around the home.
Swift was a Massachusetts farmer who had relocated to Ohio. He did well with the farming, but poor investments in the railroad forced him leave the property in 1865.
The Wilbur Family Tragedy
The property was then occupied by Nicolas Wilbur, a New York native who was a farmer and a politician. The Wilbur family occupied the mansion throughout the rest of the 1800s and into the early part of the 1900s.
According to local legend, the Wilbur family was involved in spiritualism—which during that era meant seances. Rumors of the Wilbur’s family’s interest in contacting the spirit world may be the basis for the modern legends about the area.
The part of the Gore Orphanage legend that has the children burning up in the orphanage may come from a Wilbur family tragedy. Four of Nicolas Wilbur’s grandchildren died over an eleven day period during a diphtheria epidemic.
It believed that the children died in the house. Though some legends say the children were buried on the property, their graves are in Maple Grove Cemetery on Mason Road.
After Nicolas Wilbur’s death in 1901, the property sat empty. As early as 1905, teenagers went legend tripping to the old, deserted mansion to look for ghosts.
How Gore Orphanage Ties In
In the 1920s, a restoration the Swift Mansion was planned. However, the mansion burned to the ground in 1923. The fire has been blamed on vandals or a careless drifter who was using the house as shelter.
Historically, the Swift Mansion was associated with seances, tragically dead children, and it did burn to the ground. The legend has all these elements, just not in the right order.
A big part of the legend is the elements involving the orphanage. The road on which the ruins sit is named Gore Orphanage Road. So where’s the orphanage? Let’s talk about that next.
In 1902, Reverend John Sprunger of Bern, Indiana bought up several neighboring properties along modern day Gore Orphanage Road. Sprunger built and began Light of Hope Orphanage. The orphanage operated successfully for twelve years.
Some accounts say the Swift Mansion was used as staff housing. All the historical accounts I read claim that no children were housed in the mansion.
Following Sprunger’s death, the orphanage was lost to bankruptcy. The orphans were re-located to other orphanages or homes. One of the dormitories may have burned after the place was deserted, but historical records agree nobody burned to death at the orphanage. Forty years passed before the site began to be referred to as “Gore Orphanage.”
The Lake View School Fire
The legends of children burning to death may come from a tragedy that happened forty miles from Gore Orphanage Road in Collinwood, Ohio—a suburb of Cleveland. On March 4, 1908, the Lake View School in Collinwood caught fire and burned during school hours.
It is estimated that 176 children and teachers perished in the fire at Lake View school. Folklorists speculate that the story of Lake View school tragedy came to Lorain County with families leaving Cleveland’s urban area and settling in the more rural Lorain county. The events of the story were simply applied to local settings.
Who is Old Man Gore?
Some of the legends surrounding Gore Orphanage Road mention an ominous, diabolical character named Old Man Gore. It is interesting to note that there was no Old Man Gore.
The road was originally laid on out the boundary separating Lorain County from Huron County. A surveying error resulted in a thin strip of land—one resembling the gore of a dress—needing to be annexed to Lorain county. And, thus, the road was named Gore Road and later became Gore Orphanage Road.
All debunking legends aside, there are some creepy stories about Gore Orphanage Road and its surrounding area. Paranormal groups have been out there and reported all sorts of phenomena. Individuals tell stories about hearing noises and encountering apparitions. The Wilbur family did hold seances in the Swift Mansion when they lived there. Maybe some of the ghosts stuck around.