The Haunting History of Gore Orphanage & Swift’s Hollow
It’s a nightmarish scene in the countryside of Vermilion on Gore Road over one hundred years ago. A gigantic fire engulfs an old orphanage burning dozens of young children alive. Desperate to escape the inferno, the children on the second floor found the stairs blocked by flames. Dreadful screams of the children trapped inside the blazing building pierce the ears of horrified onlookers unable to stop the carnage. The deadly destruction continues until the screams finally fall silent and the only sound that lingers is the crackling and roar of the hellish flames. The smoke ascends into the night sky, carrying with it the souls of over 100 poor orphan children. The building is soon reduced to a pile of glowing embers with only a remnant of the foundation and stone pillars forever preserved for future generations to happen upon.
Were the spirits of the helpless children extinguished with the flames, or do they still cry out in the middle of the night from beyond the grave? Do the lost souls wander the area, forever tortured by a reality too difficult to accept? Was the fire sparked by an orphan boy dropping a lamp? Or perhaps it was intentionally set by Old Man Gore, the abusive man who ran the institution, for insurance or just plain sadistic torture?
So is the legend of Gore Orphanage.
The Real Story of Gore Orphanage & Swift’s Hollow
For over a century visitors to Gore Orphanage Road have reported strange experiences of glowing lights, apparitions and chilling cries of unseen children. The area is said to be one of the most haunted locations in Ohio.
Despite the inaccuracies of the Gore Orphanage legend, the true tale of the institution and the Swift’s Hollow mansion are more haunting than fiction. Over the course of time, three tales of terror have been woven into one horrific legend of torture, fire and the paranormal.
Light of Hope, the actual name of the orphanage, was established in 1902 by a religious zealot named Reverend Johann Sprunger. The orphanage was located on Gore Road. The road was originally laid out along the boundary line dividing Lorain County from its western neighbor, Huron County. When a surveying error was discovered, a thin strip of land resembling the gore of a dress had to be annexed to Lorain. Due to the popular association of the institution with the road, the name of the street came to be known as Gore Orphanage Road – a fitting name for the location of a now infamous orphanage with a hellish history.
Johann Sprunger and his wife Katharina moved to the Vermilion area after their former orphanage in Berne, Indiana was destroyed by fire. Katharina was the daughter of Christian P. Sprunger. Though no explanation has ever been given regarding Katharina’s surname being the same as her husband, a diary of a worker at the former Light of Hope Orphanage in Berne states that the orphanage was run by “Brother and Sister Sprunger.” Three orphan girls were reported to have perished in the original Light of Hope fire. Two of Sprunger’s former Indiana businesses had also ended by fire. Prior to moving to Ohio the couple also lost their seven year old daughter, Hillegonda, and a son, Edmund, died at birth. The deaths appeared to spark a passionate obsession for religious pursuits in the couple.
The new orphanage site, just outside of Vermilion, consisted of four sets of farm buildings and covered 543 acres. An abandoned mansion was also located on the property. The once magnificent Greek revival house was built in the mid-nineteenth century by Joseph Swift, a successful farmer. Its many rooms were appointed with elaborate furnishings, ornate woodwork, marble columns, and other lavish decorations. But to the Swift mansion soon came bad luck. In 1831, Swift’s 5 year-old daughter Tryphenia died. In 1841, Swift’s 24 year-old son, Heman, also died. Soon after Swift’s fortunes dried up due to poor investments in the railroad business. He sold the home to Nicholas Wilber, a renowned Spiritualist. Mysterious rituals and seances were said to be held regularly in the secluded mansion home conjuring up the spirits of deceased children. The ghosts of children were said to appear frequently at the seances held in a special room of the home. Wilber’s children were rumored to be psychic and could communicate with the ghosts of dead children. While records and gravestones claim that four Wilber grandchildren died from a diphtheria epidemic after the Wilbers moved from the home, residents insisted that they died at the Swift mansion and were buried there. The home was abandoned in 1901, and teenagers almost immediately began taking trips to the site, daring each other to enter the infamous haunted home.
Reverend Sprunger did not utilize the abandoned home for the new orphanage. Instead, he attempted to build a new, self-sustaining religious community on the property. He and his co-workers were devout Bible-believing Christian people. A chapel room was located in the boy’s schoolhouse for frequent religious ceremonies. Up to one hundred and twenty children were inmates of the orphanage at one time. Boys lived at a farm called the Hughes farm and girls at the Howard farm. The orphanage also housed a small printing press used to print their own school books, as well as a paper entitled “Light of Hope.”
But rumors of darkness and despair soon plagued the Light of Hope orphanage. Orphan children ran away from the home, often wading through the Vermilion River to escape to Vermilion. The children told horrific stories of abuse, neglect and slave labor. The children were said to eat a diet of calves lungs, hog heads and sick cattle – if they were fed at all. Corn was boiled in the same pot used to boil soiled underwear. Although there were cows on the farm, children were said to often only be given butter once a week and occasionally pepper or sugar.
The children’s rooms were infested with rats and vermin. On occasions, rats crawled onto the beds and bit children while they lay asleep. There was said to be only one bath tub for the boys, which they were allowed to use once every two weeks and had to use the same water.
Children told stories of Sprunger and the farm overseers beating them with a strap until great raw welts appeared on their bodies. Sprunger would also rent out the inmates of the home to neighboring farmers.
Illnesses and disease were alleged to be treated only by prayers. Witnesses stated the children received a lack of regular schooling.
In 1909 an investigation was conducted, but because the State of Ohio had no laws or regulations pertaining to the operation of such institutions, nothing formally could be done about conditions at the orphanage. The Sprunger’s admitted to much of the allegations against them.
Shortly before the investigation, in 1908, a disaster took place in the town of Collinwood, some forty miles east of Vermilion. 176 elementary school students were burned or trampled to death when they became trapped in a stampede situation and couldn’t escape a fire that was consuming their school. The children began descending down the stairs to the exit after the fire alarm was sounded, but the front stairwell was blocked by flames. According to witnesses, the children at the front broke from the lines and tried “to fight their way back to the floor above, while those who were coming down shoved them mercilessly back into the flames below.” Those who made it to the rear exit found it locked. Outside rescuers unlocked it but found it opened inward, so it was impossible to move against the press of dozens of desperate bodies. The fire swept through the hall, springing from one child to another, catching their hair and the dresses of the girls. The cries of the children were dreadful and haunting. The school’s janitor, a German-American named Herter, was accused of setting the blaze (though he lost four children in the fire and was badly burned trying to rescue one), and for a time he was detained in protective custody to keep residents from lynching him.
The horrific tale of this event is thought to have been relocated when families of the Collinwood area (now East Cleveland) moved further west of Cleveland. Some historians believe the horrid memories of such an event were too disturbing for Collinwood residents to bare and were thus “relocated” outside the area. What better place for the terrifying memories to descend than the already legendary site of Swift’s Hollow and Gore Orphanage. In fact, the tragedy brought about the end of the town of Collinwood. As a result of the incident, unable to sufficiently guarantee fire safety resources for its residents, voters approved an annexation of Collinwood into Cleveland within two years of the fire.
Mr. Sprunger died two years after the investigation, and the doors of the orphanage permanently closed in July of 1916 after years of financial troubles. Pelham Hooker Blossom of Cleveland bought the Orphanage property, leased it to farmers for a period, then finally sold the land. The Hughes House is all that remains of the Sprunger property. Part of the orphanage buildings burned and the rest were torn down.
The children of the Light of Hope orphanage were dispersed throughout the community or returned to their relatives or guardians and the nightmare was over for the children of the Gore Orphanage. Many were too afraid to recount the conditions they endured at the institution. The few that had nowhere else to go were taken back to Berne, Indiana by Mrs. Sprunger. It was exactly 13 years after it had first opened.
Swift’s Hollow is the location most often visited by those seeking a taste of the supernatural. A graffiti covered sandstone column marks the entrance of the area, which contains the foundations of this once magnificent mansion. Today all that remains of the Swift Mansion are sandstone blocks from its foundation. Located deep in the woods, these remnants are now scrawled with graffiti left behind by late night visitors. They stand in the forest like guide stones for all those daring enough to seek an experience of the legend of the Gore Orphanage.
The Swift’s Hallow mansion was never used as part of the orphanage. Instead it became a Mecca for late night vandals, and it is presumed that one of them was responsible for burning the house down in late 1923. Early legend held that Mr. Wilbur helped the Sprunger’s build the Light of Hope orphanage after loosing his own grandchildren. Mrs. Wilbur was said to have gone insane over the tragedy.
Stories were told that she’d set the table three times a day and passed food to the children as if they were sitting there. At night she would light a lamp and say, “Time for bed, children come on,” and then she’d put the kids to bed. Some said the children were psychic and could bring children back after they died.
In the early 1900’s teenagers began to visit the home. In time they began to take their first automobiles to Gore Road to attempt to get them up the steep ravine without stalling and to negotiate the sharp curves without crashing. The true test of bravery though was to enter the Swift Mansion at night and prove you weren’t afraid of the haunted house.
The location of the orphanage is on Gore Orphanage Road approximately 1/4 mile north of Rosedale just across the small Vermilion River Bridge. It is just past the spot where Gore Orphanage and Sperry Roads meet in the hollow. The remnants of the orphanage cannot be seen from the road, but substantial remains abut Sperry Road hill.
Though there is no proof that any deaths actually occurred at the “Gore Orphanage” or Swift’s Hollow, the chilling memories of torture, abuse and occult activity are haunting in their own rite. Perhaps the lost souls of the children of Collinwood did descend upon the infamous area where many of the living are known to go in search of the spirits of forgotten children. Perhaps they seek the ghosts of the Wilber children to be brought back to the land of the living.
Paranormal investigators say the ghosts of Gore Orphanage Road may actually be esoteric “imprints” – a kind of snapshot in time. Frequently, violent or traumatic events seem to release an energy that imprints the action on a place or object. In this kind of haunting, incidents repeats themselves like a videotape rewound and played over and over again. These hauntings can be seen, heard, felt or even smelled. Tragic imprints can even “relocate” themselves to other areas of high paranormal energy.
Reverend Sprunger’s body was buried in a cemetery in Indiana, but some say his soul still wanders the grounds of the Light of Hope religious compound he founded on Gore Orphanage. Katharina Sprunger moved back to Indiana in 1916 and never returned to the area, at least not prior to her death in 1953.
Ghostly apparitions, balls of lights, haunting screams of children and visions of fire have been reported by many a visitor to Gore Orphanage Road. Many claim to have found the dusty fingerprints of children when returning to their cars. Whatever the true story of Gore Orphanage, there’s little doubt that it has well earned its reputation as the most haunted area in Ohio.