It‘s said to be one of the most haunted sites in northern Ohio, and now the legend of Gore Orphanage is being brought to life on film.
Uniontown film producer Cody Knotts and his wife, Emily Lapisardi, are filming “Gore Orphanage,” an atmospheric thriller about the urban legend that focuses on a group of orphans who died in a fire around the turn of the last century and haunt the woods in Lorain County, near Lake Erie in Ohio.
The borough of Scottdale has no ties to the legend — which has been debunked repeatedly, though faithful ghost chasers on the Internet insist it’s valid — but the couple couldn‘t have found a more perfect place to film the story than that community’s Greystone Manor.
The four-story classic revival mansion on Chestnut Street is steeped with historical significance. Its 18 rooms, five bathrooms and multiple stone fireplaces were built during the height of the Arts and Crafts movement in 1905 for local industrialist and coal baron E.H. Reid.
The stone edifice is built almost entirely from natural materials featuring traditional craftsmanship, with simple lines and many built-in, practical features, like bookcases and window seats.
Large windows, nine roof dormers and 12-foot ceilings allow abundant natural light to wash into the home and contribute to an airy, open feel to many of the rooms. It also helps for filming, which Mr. Knotts and Ms. Lapisardi plan to continue through July. Mr. Knotts is producer and Ms. Lapisardi directs.
But the best part of the home, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, are the classic touches, including crown molding, pillars, pocket doors and stained glass windows. The third floor served as a ballroom and has a walk-out balcony.
“It’s the right period,” Mr. Knotts said of the house. “It feels like it had money. That‘s part of what we wanted in the story. We wanted a grand house that was built for these orphans.”
According to local history, the home was owned by Mr. Reid’s family until about 1980, when local history aficionado Richard Campbell stepped in to purchase it and restore it to its former glory.
Mr. Campbell, who named the home Greystone Manor, died two years ago without realizing his dream, but before he died, he passed the home onto an organization he founded, called the Keystone Industrial Heritage Foundation.
“He wanted to preserve the building,” Karen Kiefer, legal counsel for the organization, said of Mr. Campbell, who was also an engineer. “He was quite a philanthropist.”
The group leased the house for filming in the hopes of raising funding and awareness, and even perhaps attracting new volunteers.
“The idea is to preserve the industrial heritage of Scottdale and to make the building available for public functions,” Ms. Kiefer said. “It needs everything — electric, plumbing, heating.”
“It must be up to code before it can be eligible for funding,” said architect Jim Gayton, who volunteers his services, as Ms. Kiefer does, to the organization. “We‘re trying to bring it back to the way it was. Once we restore it, we need to maintain it.”
The fact that the home is in some disrepair makes it more appealing to filmmakers, who have been able to paint rooms, decorate and make small changes to accommodate the script of “Gore Orphanage,” set in 1934.
Few changes were needed in the home’s basement, where mildew and dark stone walls contribute to a “ghostly, creepy aura,” Mr. Knotts said.
A dank room in the basement serves as quarters for Ernst, a German caretaker at the orphanage, played by Internet entrepreneur Bill Townsend.
“In the movie, he hunts and traps animals and that‘s where the food comes from for the kids,” said Mr. Townsend of the traps, furs and other implements draped over furniture and clinging to his walls.
Ernst is a “creepy uncle type,” Mr. Townsend said.
“He has a special relationship with the children,” he said, “He’s like a big brother.”
Mr. Townsend, 49, grew up in Chartiers and ran unsuccessfully for a local Congressional seat in 1992 as a Republican. He is an Internet pioneer and author who has sold more than 450,000 books and appeared in several television shows.
Now based in Pasadena, Calif., Mr. Townsend also created the Amati Foundation, an international organization that provides stringed instruments for needy children.
When he caught wind of the film, he wanted to learn more.
“It was an interesting script,” he said. “I wanted to audition for it. I wanted to support it. It‘s nice to see movies being made in Pittsburgh.”
And although his only acting experience was in a 1982 Chartiers-Houston High School production of “Guys and Dolls,” Mr. Townsend is a natural, Mr. Knotts said.
Also starring in the film is 27-year-old Nick LaMantia of Monroeville, who plays a Detroit Tigers baseball player visiting the orphanage. He has also played lead roles in other films, including “All Saints Eve,” filmed in Pittsburgh in 2012 and “Everyone Must Die.”
“I’ve been lucky that I‘ve been able to get a lot of work around here,” said Mr. LaMantia, who has been acting for 10 years.
He is joined by three young actors who play major roles as children in the orphanage — Emma Smith, 9, of South Park, who is playing the lead role of Nellie; Nora Hoyle, 8, of Mt. Lebanon as Esther; and Brandon Mangin, 8, from Taylorstown, who is playing Buddy.
The children have varied experience in theater, television and movies, and some were hired based on other factors, including 13-year-old Jeremy Kaluza of Parma, Ohio, who was cast as a Polish immigrant named Harmon for his ability to speak fluent Polish.
Others, like Brandon from Taylorstown, had no experience.
“He’s very dramatic,” said mom Sabrina Mangin about Brandon‘s first acting job. “He did a read-through and they fell in love with him.”
To learn more about volunteering or helping the Keystone Industrial Heritage Foundation, contact Ms. Kiefer at 724-887-1005.
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1959.