One night when Caleb Germany was in high school, he and some friends drove from Oklahoma City to Guthrie to see an abandoned building they had heard was a haunted orphanage. Germany asked How Curious: What’s the history of the building? Is it haunted?
When Germany visited the building for the first time with five or six friends, he said it was huge, dilapidated and illuminated by one eerie yellow light that made every shadow seem menacing.
“It felt like, ‘hey, if I were a ghost, this is where I’d be hanging out,’” Germany said.
He and a friend made it to the front door of the building before bolting in fear after hearing a noise inside. Germany visited the place with friends several more times during his high school and college years but never ventured inside.
Several legends offer explanations for the rumored orphanage ghosts.
In one, a deranged priest killed children and buried them under the building to keep their souls on the premises. In another, a cruel headmistress at the orphanage beat children to death. The abuse upset one member of the staff so greatly, they committed suicide in the building's bell tower.
“They say at midnight, if you’re up in the tower and wait and watch, you can see this shadowy figure fall down and hang by the neck,” said Jeff Provine, author and co-author of several books, including Haunted Guthrie and Haunted Norman.
The property, at 602 E. College Ave. in Guthrie, is the former Masonic Children’s Home, built by the Freemasons in the 1920s. More than 100 children reportedly lived there in its early days. The facility included a large gym and an indoor swimming pool.
“That February day in 1930, when I arrived at the mansion and got to know my hundred and thirty or forty new brothers and sisters, my extended family was born,” wrote Vonia Robertson Gough, a former resident, in a memory book published by the Oklahoma Masons in 1995.
“We all had plenty to eat, nice clothes and caring people to look after us,” Gough added.
The book does not mention severe punishments or harsh teachers, though negative reports likely would not be included in a publication sponsored by the Masons.
According to the Oklahoma History Center, the number of children living at the home dwindled in the 1970s before it ultimately closed in 1977.
The tales Caleb Germany and Jeff Provine heard about the building are among dozens of scary legends involving children’s homes and orphanages.
Peter Bradshaw, film critic for The Guardian, wrote “our profound yet unacknowledged fear of children” is a “great theme” of the horror movie genre.
“We are afraid of their vulnerability, which is our vulnerability,” Bradshaw wrote.
Other theories argue child characters are normally portrayed as harmless, so viewers find films that alter that portrayal disturbing.
Ghost stories are often rooted in truth, and many horrific things have happened to children. Recently, some former residents of a now-closed Catholic orphanage in Vermont accused staff of beating and sexually abusing children. Some of those orphanage residents died.
The former children’s home in Guthrie is now Dominion House, an events center and hotel operated by Julie and Trey Ayers. The old children’s dormitories have been converted into hotel rooms and the former cafeteria is now a grand ballroom.
A handful of event attendees have reported seeing and hearing unusual things.
Jeff Provine said some claim to have seen a little boy running around and others have reportedly heard children laughing. No one has mentioned seeing the shadowy figure in the bell tower.
“It’s been very positive,” Provine said. “In fact, one person told me it’s good luck if you have your event there and one of the kid ghosts shows up.”
But Julie Ayers, Dominion House director, said she has spent many late nights on the property and has never seen anything supernatural.
“I always say I’d be much happier if I had a story,” Ayers said, laughing.
“We had a lady...make a comment [online]...that the bathroom was ‘unseasonably cold.’ What she doesn’t know is I have an air conditioner that just solely feeds that bathroom,” she added.
Provine said legends and rumors about the building, like the ones How Curious questioner Caleb Germany heard in high school, will likely continue.
“An abandoned mansion there on the edge of town--that’s urban legend fodder right there,” Provine said.
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