If Ohioans were asked to come up with a short list of their favorite local ghost stories, Vermillion's Gore Orphanage would certainly make an appearance on the majority of the lists. Even though the alleged events are said to have happened well over 150 years ago, it is still one of the most popular spooky Ohio travel destinations. The site is deserted now and only a few bits and pieces of the orphanage foundation remain. But it's easy enough to find; just look for the foreboding road sign directing you to Gore Orphanage Road.
It is said that the Gore Orphanage was in operation sometimes in the 1800s. A mysterious fire started in the building that quickly engulfed the entire structure. Lining up all the usual suspects from all the different versions, the likely cause of the fire was one of the following:
Regardless of how the fire started, the results were catastrophic. Presumably, none of the orphans were able to escape the blaze and all perished. In the aftermath, authorities took away Mr. Gore's license and refused to allow a replacement orphanage to be constructed on the site. Nearby townspeople wanted nothing more than to quickly forget the tragedy and simply razed what remained of the burned out shell of the orphanage and allowed nature to take its course and reclaim the land. Out of sight, out of mind.
But such a tragic event isn't going to fade easily, and in this case, the tragic fire somehow left a "stain" upon the area. Locals began whispering that you ventured out to the remaining ruins of Gore Orphanage at night, you would see the ghostly shapes of the dead orphans running and playing in the woods. Sometimes, the children appeared to be on fire and yelling and screaming things like "help me" as the foul stench of burning flesh filled the air. Other late-night visitors reported seeing bright lights swirling and weaving through the woods, which they took to be the ghosts of the dead children. And those who believed the orphanage fire had been intentionally set sometimes felt the spirit of the guilty party makes an appearance at the site in the form of a dark, shadowy shape lurking near the foundation remains.
A final occurrence at the orphanage site was people who parked and left their cars near the remains would find it covered with tiny handprints when they returned. In such an isolated area, anyone else coming into the area would quickly be discovered. The only explanation was that the ghosts of the orphans were attempting to physically push the car away from the orphanage, perhaps in a ghostly warning to stay away lest the car owner suffer a fate similar to theirs.
Will the real orphanage please stand up?
The actual orphanage was known as the Orphanage of Light and Hope and it was started by Reverend John Sprunger and his wife sometime around 1903. The date is a bit open to debate since the orphanage didn't consist of one big building, but was instead made up of a series of buildings that Sprunger acquired one by one over the years. The remains of one of these buildings, and the one the curiosity seekers flock to when they want to see the remains of the Gore Orphanage, is actually that of the Swift Mansion.
Spiritualism and the Wilbur Family
Obviously, Nicholas and Harriet were distraught over the loss of their grandchildren. Rumors have also circulated that in their grief, the Wilburs began conducting séances inside the former Swift Mansion in an attempt to contact their departed loved ones. Whether or not these events actually took places is open to debate. But if the séances did indeed take place, it would not have been surprising as the Spiritualism movement was in full force in the late 1800s and séances were common. Regardless, the death of the four Wilbur grandchildren provided that nugget of truth that children had perished on the property.
In 1895, the Wilbur family sold the property to the Sutton family. Seven years later, in 1902, Sutton sold the home to Rev. Sprunger to be used as part of the Orphanage of Light and Hope. And with that, all of the elements of the Gore Orphanage legend were finally in place save for one; the fire. That was to take place several years after the orphanage closed down in 1916. Abandoned and now known as the local "haunted house", the once-proud Swift Mansion caught fire and burned to the ground in December of 1923…with no one inside.
What's in a name?