(Orig. Published 2002)
In the late 1800’s, there once stood a place in Vermilion called Gore Orphanage. The orphanage was run by Old Man Gore, who frequently abused and mistreated the children in his care. Many believe that he killed some children, burying them in and around the orphanage. One evening, a young boy accidentally set a fire in one of the dorms. Rather than help the children escape, Old Man Gore abandoned the building, leaving scores of helpless children behind to burn to death.Today, all that remains of the orphanage is the foundation, as well as some sandstone pillars. The ruins can be found along a trail off Gore Orphanage Road.
If you wander here at night, you can still hear the crackles of the fire and the terrified screams of the dead children. Wander further back in the woods towards the river, and you will find the tombstones of the other dead children glowing red like embers.
As vivid as this story is, it is based more upon legend than fact.
While an orphanage did exist here at one time, it was not called “Gore Orphanage,” but rather “Light and Hope Orphanage.” While the orphanage did burn down, it happened long after the place was abandoned. No children died in the fire. As near as research has revealed, no children’s graves exist here.
But the file on this one is far from being closed.
Do the ruins still exist? Yes. Did children die here? Yes, at least six. Are there supernatural and/or strange elements involved that would justify the widespread notoriety of this place? Absolutely.
First, to get the story straight.
Prior to the 1960’s this area was more commonly known as Swift’s Hollow. It is named after Joseph Swift, who moved here with his wife Eliza in the late 1820’s and built an estate along the Vermilion River, including a house known as “Swift’s Mansion.” According to Penn State Professor William Ellis, the mansion was the most elaborate of its kind at this time. Because Swift’s estate was so ostentatious, it drew much attention by others, who soon referred to his estate as Swift’s Hollow. This place continued to be known as Swift’s Hollow for almost 100 years.
Bad luck hit the Swift family, starting soon after they arrived. Research revealed that in 1831, Swift’s 5 year-old daughter Tryphenia died. In 1841, Swift’s 24 year-old son, Heman, also died. (What interesting names these children had). According to Professor Ellis, in the 1860’s, Joseph Swift sustained a devastating financial loss over some bad railroad investments and in 1865 was forced to sell the Swift Mansion.
Nicholas Wilber purchased the property from Swift. Soon thereafter, Swift’s Hollow developed an even eerier reputation. According to Professor Ellis, Nicholas Wilber was a spiritualist who was known to hold séances within the Swift Mansion. Of course, this fact is hardly surprising since the spiritualist movement was quite popular at this time. However, there is little doubt that the local folk in this relatively rural area found Mr. Wilber’s practices to be more sinister. Professor Ellis notes that “many wild and weird stories were told about the place during and after [the Wilbers’] occupancy.”
Like the Swifts, the Wilber family suffered great tragedy while living in the Swift Mansion. The Wilbers lost four of their grandchildren to diphtheria–Jesse, age 11; May, age 9; and twins Roy and Ruby, age 2. These poor children all died within 6 days of each other, from January 13th to January 19, 1893. They died in the Swift Mansion.
Eliza Wilber died in 1899. Nicholas Wilber died in February 26, 1901.
After the death of Nicholas, the Swift Mansion was abandoned and fell into ruin. Even during the early 1900’s, the mere existence of an abandoned house with a history of death was sufficient to spark the imagination of others. Professor Ellis notes that it was at this time that rumors started to circulate that Swift Mansion was haunted and that “neglected children’s graves” were found on the estate.
In 1903, most of Swift’s Hollow was purchased by Reverend Sprunger, who built the “Light and Hope Orphanage” for the purpose of caring for and giving farming vocational training to neglected children.
For reasons unknown, the Swift Mansion was never occupied by the children. Rather than house the children in the mansion, Rev. Sprunger instead built dorms around Swift’s Hollow, or housed the children in existing farmhouses that he bought from others.
According to Prof. Ellis, the “Light and Hope Orphanage” did not last long. Rev. Sprunger died in 1912. In 1916 the orphanage was closed for good. A dorm and workhouse burned down soon thereafter. However, no children were killed in the fires. In 1926, the abandoned Swift Mansion burned down.
So how come there’s a “Gore Orphanage Road?” According to Prof. Ellis, as well as others, this road was originally named “Gore Road.” It was named after the “gore” or skirt-hem shape of the road leading to Swift Hollow. “Orphanage” was added to the name much later, after years of associating the road with Rev. Sprunger’s orphanage.
All that remains of Swift Mansion is the foundation and columns, which are mistaken as the “Gore Orphanage.” The Swift Mansion can be found by accessing a trail off Gore Orphanage Road, on the other side of the bridge.
Below, some shots of the foundation.
Interestingly, while exploring the area, we found additional building rubble off trails found on the other side of the bridge. It is believed that these are ruins of a “Light and Hope Orphanage” dorm.
Below, the Swift children’s tombstones at Andress Cemetery.
The Wilber children are buried at Maple Grove Cemetery.
To the right, in addition to the upper right grave marker, this second inscription for the Wilber children was found on the monument itself.
Update! Earlier versions of this legend confirm that Swift Mansion and the orphanage are separate and distinct sites, located on opposite sides of the bridge.
In his 1975 anthology, Ohio’s Ghostly Greats, David J. Gerrick republished witness accounts regarding this hollow that existed at least as of 1973. Then, Gore Orphanage was known as the site of the “crying baby ghosts” (although it was also noted that the sounds of “crying babies” were more likely caused by trucks passing over the Ohio Turnpike bridge nearby). Swift Mansion–known then as “The Old Swift Place”–contained “evil” paranormal energy, and was a popular attraction for midnight seances and other questionable activity. It is believed that this “evil force” existed because the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Wilber, were spiritualists. It was rumored that when four of their children died tragically of diptheria, the parents kept the location of their burial a secret. Some believe that the children were actually buried under one of the fireplaces.
It is difficult to understand why the location of the Wilber children’s burial was such a mystery–the nearby Maple Grove cemetery contains the very-conspicuous, and lovingly-inscribed, grave markers for the Wilber children.
For some interesting stories and comments on Gore Orphanage, check out Creepy Cleveland’s Gore Orphanage page.
For Professor Ellis’ work on Gore Orphanage, check out his article, “What Really Happened at Gore Orphanage.”
For more information on the legend of Gore Orphanage, check out Forgotten Ohio’s page on this topic.
Click this link for more information about Light and Hope Orphanage.
Also be sure to check out Lorain County cemetery listings for more genealogical information.
4/14/05: Leon shares his very brutal experience at Gore Orphanage. Coincidence? Or was there something more sinister at play? Read on and decide for yourself:
So about a year ago, my friends and I decided to go check out the old Gore Orphanage. We took two vehicles later at night and went in as far as we could since it was now closed off and we were not allowed in there. We start walking up, but the girls that were with us got freaked out because they were hearing things and they decided to leave.
On our way home we stopped on a bridge with all sorts of spray painted words and symbols on it right outside of where we had just came from. I got out of the car and was being arrogant and yelling and raising hell . . . being the typical juvenile high school student. After a little bit of this, I got back in the car and we started to drive. Everybody was quiet and said that they felt some kind of eerie feeling, it felt like something just wasn’t right.
On our way home the two vehicles that we drove up went different ways. The one I was in was driving and an animal ran into the road. So, my friend who was driving swerved. We ended up hitting the ditch backwards and flipping the car four times. I Always wear my seat-belt, but this one time for as long as I’ve been in cars I was not. I got thrown around in the car and ended up with a concussion, glass in my pants, and scrapes all over my face. My back is still messed up from this accident though I’ve been going to the chiropractor for almost a year now. When I got out of the car the first thing I saw was a mailbox with house address 6662.
Maybe irrelevant or coincidence, but it’s my story.