The legend of the Gore Orphanage near Vermilion, Lorain County Ohio is the stuff of nightmares. Imagine this scene: as fire engulfs an old wood frame building, the agonized cries of small children trapped inside Pierce the night air. Horrified onlookers stand by, unable to help. The hellish inferno continues for over an are, until finally the screams fall silent and the only sounds that linger are the roar of the flames and the cracking of timbers. Before long the building is reduced to a pile of glowing embers and a few stone foundation pillars.
As red-hot sparks trail off into the black sky, suspicions focused on the Old Man Gore, the man in charge of the institution. His cruel and sadistic treatment of those in his care had long been the subject of hushed gossip around the shores of Lakes Erie. Could he have set the fire himself?
Many in the greater Cleveland area have reported strange occurrences in the woods near the site of that fateful fire. It is said that the screams of the trapped and dying children can still be heard there to this day. Many believe it to be one of the most haunted locations in all of Ohio.
But although Gore Orphanage Road does exist, no one with the name Gore has ever lived there. Bill Ellis, associate professor, English and American studies, Highacres, Penn State Hazleton, has another explanation for the are roads name. " The road was originally laid out along the boundary line dividing Lorain County from its western neighbor, Huron County, " he explained. " When a surveying error was discovered, a thin strip of land resembling the gore of a dress had to be annexed to Lorain. The route then became known as Gore Road. "
In 1902 a Lutheran minister, the Rev. John Sprunger, established an orphanage nearby known as the Light of Hope. As people associated the road with the institution, the street came to be known as Gore Orphanage Road. However, the site that most people associate with legends of the Gore Orphanage is not where the Light of Hope Orphanage stood. Instead, most visitors go to a deep ravine nearby known as Swift's Hollow. Although the orphanage did buy the land, it never put the magnificent Greek Revival house that once stood to there to practical use.
Known as the Swift Mansion, the house, once owned by a successful farmer named Joseph Smith, has it's own weird legends. Swift Mansion Though only the foundations of the house remain, in its glory the house had elaborate furnishings, ornate window frames, marble columns, and other lavish decorations. The first weird stories to come out of the hollow appeared in the early 1900s, when Swift sold his home to Nicholas Wilber, a renowned spiritualist. Rumors spread of the rituals and seances that Wilber regularly held in the house.
The tales of dead children in the Gore Orphanage legend may have their origins in some real tragedies at the mansion. Street Sign According tgo the book Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We Live, by Bill Ellis (University Press of Mississippi/Jackson, 2001): "The Wilbers were in the habit of calling the spirits of small children back to earth during their seances. Nicholas Wilber's son, Miller, had four children, aged two to eleven, who died during the course of seven days at the height of a diphtheria epidemic. Residents insist that they died at the Swift Mansion and were buried there. The tragic deaths of these four children were remembered by this tigh-knit farming community."
When the home was abandoned in 1901, it became a mecca for late-night vandals and teenagers visiting it on a dare. It is presumed that one of them was responsible for burning the house down in late 1923.
The legend of Gore Orphanage also owes much to a historically documented disaster that took place forty miles away in the town of Collinswood. In 1908, 176 elementary schools students there died in a fire at their school, either from the fire or from being trampled to death in the stampede to escape it. This historical event has many uncanny similarities to the Gore Orphanage legend, so the details may very well have migrated from the school to the already legendary site at Swift's Hallow.
Tale from Victor E.
"I have been to the gore Orphanage only once. It turned out to be a pretty frightening night. Apparently, in the early 1900s one of the orphans was walking to the outhouse with a lantern. He tripped and fell, igniting a huge fire. The steps leading from the top floor to the bottom collapsed almost immediately. Townsfolk from Vermilion gathered, but all they could do was stand and watch as the hundreds of orphans many floors above them met their collective doom." Gore Orphanage They say that it was so gruesome that people safe on the ground died just from the shock of seeing those kids burning in the inferno.
Ever since then, people have said that the ghosts of these orphans haunt the spot on which the orphanage used to stand. Kids from my school said that they had heard strange sounds in the woods, like kids crying and doors slamming shut, even though there are no buildings close by. Some kids even said they actually saw some orphan ghosts, but I never believed them.
When my friends and I went there, I was a bit creeped out by the road leading up to the place. It's really dark because of the overhanging trees, and there's a messed-up looking wood bridge you cross over. When we arrived at the site where the orphanage had once stood, I did hear some strange creaking noises, but I'm pretty sure it was just the trees rubbing together in the night breeze. What happened when we made our way back to the car, however, would change my tune.
As we got close to the car, my friend Jake noticed that all the windows were fogged up. There wasn't another human being in sight, it was a cool night, and there was now explanation as to why the windows were fogged up. Then my other friend, Shawn, saw the back window. There, on the misty glass, were the faint impressions of little handprints. We all freaked out instantly.
Trying to calm down my friends, I pointed out that Jake had a little brother who is only four years old, and the marks had surely been made by him. Secretly though, I was just as freaked out as anyone else there. I was just trying to convince myself that there was a rational explanation for them-which there was not. If those handprints had belonged to Jake's little brother, how is it that nobody noticed then on the way up there that night?"-Victor E.