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The Gore Orphanage Hauntings

Josh Hunt

Volume 22.3, Fall 2012

Locals say that you can still hear the ghostly screams of horribly burned children in the woods of Vermillion, Ohio; they are the children of Gore Orphanage. According to legend, a place called Gore Orphanage housed a hundred or so orphans. One night, either by malicious intent or by a tragic accident, the orphanage burned to the ground. The fire claimed the lives of all the children; some died immediately, while other innocent young faces turned to raw red flesh too horribly burned to live succumbed soon after. I was told this story when I was a kid growing up in Ohio and thought that it was time to find out if there was any truth to it. Using the tools of scientific paranormal investigation has revealed that there are several pieces that make up this supernatural puzzle.

Some people who believe the story is true make trips to the supposed area of Gore Orphanage in Ohio to check it out. Not only do the local folks in Ohio believe the stories, but a well-known author of books on ghosts and haunting states that “Ghost children also haunt the burnt ruins of Gore Orphanage in Medina, Ohio” (Ogden 1999). There are also local people who claim to have filmed ghostly children at the Gore Orphanage site (Petkovic 2003).

Some ghost-hunting groups have conducted investigations at the supposed site of Gore Orphanage. One group in particular has posted their investigation on their website. After giving a run-down of the legends, the author states “Regardless of which story you believe, something does seem to occur there on a regular basis. Mists and other phenomenon [sic] have been photographed near a small bridge that crosses a nearby stream on a regular basis, and lights and mists have also been seen to dance in an open field adjacent to the site” (Horodyski 2012). The ghost hunter then goes on to describe an “investigation” the team conducted on the premises. When it became dark, they headed out of the wooded area, and the author held his video camera at his side facing behind him. He captured “a bright glowing object” (Horodyski 2012). It seems the author, along with the rest of his group, believes that while some of the stories about Gore Orphanage may be dubious, their experience with this “bright glowing object” has convinced them that there must be some truth to it. The author states that “Our unearthly ‘escort’ off the property serves to convince me that something is definitely there, and that not all stories connected with the site can therefore be so readily shrugged off” (Horodyski 2012).

The first thing to find out is whether the ghost story is actually true. Was there an actual place called “Gore Orphanage”? Did it burn to the ground and take the lives of a hundred or so orphans? One would think a tragedy of that magnitude would be (pardon the pun) burned into the memory of the community in which it transpired. Since the story claims that this tragedy took place in Lorain County I began by asking the Lorain County Historical Society about it. An archivist at the historical society informed me that not only was there no fire at Gore Orphanage that killed children, but there was in fact no Gore Orphanage at all (Greenly 2010). This archivist referred me to the manager of the Lorain County Metro Parks who echoed that there was no such place as Gore Orphanage (Thompson 2010).

It’s not even clear where the name “Gore Orphanage” came from. Apparently, a Gore Orphanage Road does exist in Lorain County. That “Gore” is not referring to blood-soaked guts or anything gruesome like that but instead a surveyor’s error in the form of a thin strip of land that resembles the gore of a dress (Ellis 2003).

There is also the matter of where the “orphanage” aspect came from for Gore Orphan­age Road. It turns out there was actually an orphanage along that stretch of road at one point called the Light and Hope Orphanage. It was run by Reverend John Sprunger and his wife. It closed down after about fourteen years and there is no credible evidence that a fire there killed any children at all (Ellis 2003).

Children dying or being caught in a burning building seems to be the lynchpin of the whole story. This is the aspect of the story that has influenced people’s experiences of going to the supposed location of Gore Orphanage. The legend has it that one will hear screams of the dying children and see the spirits of children who are horribly burned. The first piece of the puzzle comes from the fact that a house called “Swift Mansion” existed there for some time. The owner, Joseph Swift, had to sell the mansion after he went broke. Swift sold it to a man named Nicholas Wilber. Wilber was married with four children. All of the children had died of diphtheria in a relatively short time. The family also took part in séances to contact spirits of the dead, maybe even their four deceased children (Ellis 2003). This explains where the story got its paranormal ghostly children aspect. That solves part of it, but not all of it.

There is still the aspect of children meeting their demise in a burning building. There is no record or evidence of an orphanage catching fire in Lorain County or all of the children dying there. However, there is the tragedy of a school called the Lake View Public School in the Cleveland suburb of Collinwood catching fire and killing many children. While there is no evidence that any place called “Gore Orphanage” in Lorain County caught fire and took a lot of children with it, this school did burn down, killing many children and some adults (Ellis 2003).

Despite claims by some amateur ghost hunters, the notoriously haunted Gore Orphanage—with its ghostly presences and horrible moans of disfigured children—does not exist. But the pieces that make up this story are based on grains of fact; elements of truth came together to make a Franken­stein’s monster of an urban legend. A surveying mistake, an orphanage that eventually went bankrupt, and the tragedies that struck the Wilber family and the Lake View Public School all came together to form one of the most popular legends in Cleveland, Ohio. In many ways, unraveling the truth behind the story is more interesting than the legend itself.


References

Ellis, Bill. 2003. Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We Live. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Greenly, Eric. 2010. Personal correspondence with author, November 23.

Horodyski, Joseph M. 2012. Gore orphanage. Cleve­land Supernatural Investigations. Online at http://www.clevelandsupernatural.com/04-Gore.html; accessed August 24, 2012

Ogden, Tom. 1999. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ghosts and Hauntings. Indianapolis: Alpha Books.

Petkovic, John. 2003. Doing a little goodwill haunting with ghost busters. Plain Dealer (October 24).

Thompson, Grant. 2010. Personal correspondence with author, November 29.

Josh Hunt

Josh Hunt is co-president of The Cleveland Skeptics (TCS) and he’s married to Ginger, the founder and president of TCS. He is currently earning his BA in psychology at Cleveland State University. More information on the TCS can be found at www.clevelandskeptics.org/.