Updated: Apr 13, 2020
Ohio has tons of ghost stories and urban legends. Every time I look up haunted places, especially in the United States, I have to stop myself from going down the rabbit hole that is haunted Ohio. Seriously, what are you people doing up there in Ohio? Anyway, I’ve talked about some haunted places in Ohio before, so let’s go back there (metaphorically, it’s kind of difficult to travel right now) and talk about Gore Orphanage.
The Gore Orphanage legend comes out of Vermillon, Ohio, about 42 miles west of Cleveland in northern Ohio. As of 2018, the population of Vermillon was just over 10,000, so it’s a pretty small town.
According to legend, Gore Orphanage was established in the 1800’s and run by a man only known as ‘Old Man Gore.’ Gore wasn’t a very nice guy, and the orphans were often neglected. On November 22, 1910, the building caught fire. Old Man Gore managed to escape, but left the kids inside to fend for themselves. They tried to escape downstairs, but the staircase was already engulfed in flames. All the kids died in the fire, which reduced the orphanage down to its foundation.
There are different theories as to how the fire started. Some people have said Old Man Gore started the fire himself, either as insurance fraud or because he was a sadist and/or tired of the kids. Others blame a “disgruntled male employee” or an “unknown crazy man” — the latter lived in the woods near the orphanage and didn’t like the kids making noise. There’s also been speculation that Native Americans started the fire, or that it was started accidentally when an orphan knocked over a lantern in the barn. Whatever happened, this is clearly when the hauntings began…or so the story goes.
There is plenty of reported supernatural activity on the site where the orphanage ruins are believed to be. People have reported smelling smoke and hearing the roar of flames, as well as seeing the ghosts of orphans covered in flames and running through the woods. Apparently nobody ever taught these orphans to stop, drop and roll.
A “dark, shadowy shape” has been spotted on the grounds. It’s believed to be the spirit of the person responsible for starting the fire — if it was indeed set intentionally.
People have also claimed to hear footsteps on the remnant of the front porch and children singing nursery rhymes. Bright lights have been spotted in the woods and little, bloody footprints in the snow. You can also apparently hear and see children on a nearby bridge at night, dressed in period clothing who disappear as soon as you cross the bridge. Children crying has also been reported from the bridge. Other reports include the smell of burning flesh and satanic activity in the area.
In my research, I also found a photo of what appears to be a strange little girl peeking out from behind a tree in the area. At least that’s what the writer of the blog entry says. I will let you decide for yourself.
There are a few more stories I want to share of supernatural rumors in the area. The first says that if you park on the side of the road, turn your car off and flick your headlights on and off three times, you’ll hear the screams of the dying children.
The last two stories borrow pretty heavily from other popular urban legends. In the first, a couple heads to the orphanage ruins and parks their car nearby to go for a walk. When they got back to their car, they heard what sounded like rain drops on the window. As it turns out, it wasn’t rain drops — it was drops of blood from a child hanging from a tree above their car.
The other story is more general. It says if you park your car on the edge of the road, leave and later return, you’ll find little handprints on their cars…almost as if the children have been surrounding it.
If you’ve been on my channel for awhile, or even if you haven’t, this might sound familiar. It’s very reminiscent of the haunted railroad tracks of San Antonio.
So, here’s the part where I spoil all the fun: There’s no historical evidence that Gore Orphanage ever existed. There was no building, no fire there — how could there be in a building that doesn’t exist? There was no Old Man Gore, no burned up orphans. So where did the story come from? As it turns out, there are several different true (or at least mostly true) stories that the legends could have derived from.
the Collinwood fire
The Collinwood fire happened at Lake View School in Collinwood, an area that is now part of Cleveland. (I believe Lake View was an elementary school, but I’m not sure.)
On March 4, 1908, a school janitor noticed smoke coming from the basement. He rang the fire alarm and managed to escape, but many of the children weren’t so lucky. The school only had two exits, and the front one was already blocked by flames by the time they got there. Children fought their way to the back exit, but it was locked. Firefighters tried to unlock and open the door, but it opened from the inside, and the children crowded one another so much that they couldn’t get out. Of the roughly 370 people inside, 172 children, a teacher and a rescuer were all killed. It took less than an hour for the building to completely burn.
Much like the fictional Gore Orphanage fire, the cause of the Collinwood fire was never determined. There were rumors that the janitor deliberately started it, and I believe he was even in police custody for awhile, but no charges were ever filed. There was also speculation that it was caused by girls smoking in the basement. Whatever happened, this appears to be the first piece of the puzzle in the legend.
A real house built in the area was known as Swift Mansion (also known as Rosedale). It was built in 1840 by a wealthy farmer named Joseph Swift. (I have read sources that said Joseph Swift had two children who died while he lived in the mansion, though I couldn’t confirm this.) Swift lived in the mansion until 1865, when he sold it to the Wilbur family.
The Wilburs had a reputation for being…strange. They were rumored to be spiritualists and hold seances in their house to call “the spirits of small children back to earth”. Nicholas Wilbur and his wife, Eliza, had four grandchildren who died from diphtheria during an epidemic of the disease in 1893. It’s not clear if the children were living with their grandparents at the time of their deaths but what is clear is that the Wilburs, like most grandparents, didn’t take this well. Their seances ramped up with the intent of communicating with their grandchildren. Mrs. Wilbur was also said to pass food to her dead grandchildren at meals and even tuck them in at night.
Nicholas Wilbur died in 1901, and the house continued to fall into decay until it burned down in 1923. Another source said the Wilburs sold the property in 1895 to its new owners, the Sprungers, who provide the next piece in our puzzle.
the Light and Hope Orphanage
Joseph Sprunger started the Light and Hope Orphanage in 1903. It’s not clear if the orphanage was on the same property as Swift Mansion, or if the orphans were kept elsewhere. The orphanage also doubled as a school, teaching the orphans and “destitute children” skills like agricultural work.
Most of what I read about life at the orphanage wasn’t great. Sprunger was said to be a religious fanatic who believed in faith healing, telling sick children to pray rather than taking them to a doctor. The children were said to be fed calf lungs, hog heads and sick cows, and their food was often spoiled — if they were fed at all. Corn was supposedly boiled in the same water as dirty underwear. The building was infested with rats and bedbugs, and the children were reportedly rented out to farmers as slave labor. They were also frequently beaten.'
One source tells a different story. A 2014 article in The Morning Journal claims the children weren’t mistreated at all and the Sprungers were nice to them. No records of the place seem to have survived, I’m not sure which version is true.
There are a couple of reports of fires at the orphanage. The Morning Journal article says there was a fire on the property, but it was contained pretty quickly and there were no deaths. Another source talks about a fire at a girls’ home that was part of the property but, again, there were no deaths.
Joseph Sprunger died in 1911a nd the Light and Hope Orphanage closed in 1916. These three historical happenings are thought to have spread and become distorted via word of mouth into the Gore Orphanage legend we know today.
Just one quick note before we move on: There is a tombstone for someone named Sprunger in Indiana that sounds like the same person, but his name is listed as Johann, not Joseph. So it’s possible that Joseph wasn’t his real name, or that his name changed at some point for some reason.
Gore Orphanage Road
So Gore Orphanage isn’t a real place, but Gore Orphanage Road apparently is. It was built to separate Lorain County, where Vermillon is, from neighboring Huron County. It was originally named Gore Road because there was a surveying error during the building of the road and a strip of land had to be annexed. In this context, the word ‘gore’ refers to a piece of material used to make clothes — and apparently that’s what this annexed road looked like. It later became Gore Orphanage Road when the Light and Hope Orphanage was in the area.
Just a note about Gore Orphanage Road — I couldn’t actually find it in Vermillon, at least not on Google Maps. The only Gore Orphanage Road I could find in the area was in Wakeman, about 14 miles south of Vermillon. I don’t think this is too strange. It’s possible that Gore Orphanage Road isn’t the street’s official name, or that Google Maps is wrong. I just wanted to point that out in case anyone else goes looking for it, at least online.
There are a couple of movies based on the Gore Orphanage legend, or at least inspired by it. The first is called Gore Orphanage. It was made by a Pennsylvania couple on a shoestring budget and described as a psychological thriller. It follows a nine-year-old girl who is taken to Gore Orphanage after the death of her entire family, where she has to “fight to survive.” You can stream it here. There’s also a novelization written by the movie’s co-writer and director, Emily Lapisardi. You can get it here.
The other movie is called The Legend of Gore Orphanage, but I couldn’t find much about it. From what little I did, it looks like a standard supernatural horror movie that incorporates the legend in. According to its IMDb page, it was actually filmed in Vermillon. I found a Facebook page for it, but there haven’t been any updates since 2018. So I’m not sure if or when we’ll get to see the movie.
According to the Northern Ohio Paranormal Society, the “orphanage” grounds are now part of Lorain County Metroparks. The area is open to the public and you’re free to roam as long as you don’t disturb anything. If you’re from Ohio and have heard this legend before, I’d love to know what you think in the comments. I’m always curious to hear about these stories from a locals’ perspective. Of course, if you’re not from Ohio I would still love to hear your thoughts.