Located on the edge of the original battlefield along Steinwehr Aveneue and Cemetery Hill, the orphanage stands as a reminder of the brutal past that, not only those fighting in the war but also, those who lost parents, family, and loved ones also felt the horrors of the war. The war did not simply end for the residents of Gettysburg, rather it lived on with the death of crops and income, through the fatalities of families, and the destruction of homes. The Children’s Orphanage should be seen as a tribute to those who suffered after the war and well after, even if they were too young to take part in the tragedy that struck our nation.
After the Civil War, there were children left without families, homes, and necessities. Children were taken in by relatives, neighbors, or left on the street. After a local petition, the Children’s Orphanage was opened in 1868 and housed 22 kids. A year later, the count grew to 60 children, overcrowding the two-story building. Accommodations were made and a new wing was added, but by 1870 nearly all funding was depleted. With the number of children in the building, a disciplinarian was hired: Rosa Carmichael.
Six years after her appointment, Rosa was charged with numerous accounts of cruelty and aggravated assault. The abuse was the main action that led to her indictment. The original file was based on a 16-year-old boy’s escape from the orphanage, in tattered clothing, no shoes, and missing part of his arm. This boy also told the story of two girls who were forced to wear boys’ clothing while being locked in the dungeon to shackles.
As Rosa’s sentencing continued, her punishments grew crueler and more regular. She even hired an older teenager to beat the children who misbehaved. Rosa locked a 4-year-old boy out in the cold of winter in an outhouse. He was released when bystanders heard his screams. She had girls stand on desks in one position until they passed out from exhaustion. Rosa had a 5’ x 8’ dungeon built in the basement with shackles and torture devices which lead to an unknown number of children’s’ deaths.
Although adamantly claiming slander & falsehoods, Rosa was charged and removed from her position – as well as being removed from the town. The orphanage closed in 1878.
The orphanage was eventually turned into a Civil War Museum based on soldier’s lives during the time. The owner, Cliff Arquette, was also an actor. Cliff would allow for tours of the basement for curious tourists while he would narrate the tours themselves.
In 2014, the museum closed permanently and is now occupied by Ghostly Images Tours and Gift Shop.
It is claimed that many visitors to the old orphanage hear the crying and pitter-patter of footsteps echoing in the halls. Laughter has also been heard within these walls, while some guests have felt tugs on their clothing. Children in worn clothing have been spotted throughout the building when no children had been on the premises. It is rumored that Rosa has been seen peering out of windows and walking the grounds behind the house. The shackles have been heard rattling when no breeze is active in the basement. The overall ambiance of the building is said to be an overwhelming sadness and a feeling of despair.