Sat. Nov 26th, 2022

Ghosts, demons, spirits, the paranormal? Many do not know the exact time period that the origin of haunted entertainment began. However, there is a history that dates back centuries ago to when Americans became engaged with the supernatural. Industrialism played a large part in sparking the beginnings of people believing in the hauntings that surrounded them. The beliefs in these hauntings from the 1880s has expanded to today’s modern popular entertainment industry. Halloween is now a big business that feeds off of people’s desire for fear and curiosity of the unknown. The history of haunted America has expanded over the years into a part of our modern culture that allows people to question what is real and what is not.
Hauntings, ghosts, and spirits give people an escape from reality and many test their limits during this time of the year to quell their curiosity of the unexpected and supernatural. Many enjoy playing into the fear that is associated with Halloween and everything it has to offer. The adrenaline that pumps through your veins as your body prepares for fight or flight is something that sucks people in and leaves them gasping for breath and with frantically beating hearts as they anticipate what is to come next. Fear has been the primary factor for Americans engaging in haunted attractions for years. The chance to get personal with a place of haunted history is the opportunity that many take on, however scared they may be to do it. Locations deemed legitimately haunted catch people’s eyes and have them seeking out opportunites to investigate firsthand. The search for real haunts can be difficult, because many places utilize made-up stories to entice people to come.
If one wants to attend a place of real haunted history and experience the chills that come with it, they need to attend a location that is credibly haunted. Pennhurst Insane Asylum located in Spring City is one of the most haunted places in Pennsylvania. Built in 1908, the campus has been dilapidated and abandoned for years before it was restored a few years ago. The asylum holds a history of torture and neglect that fell upon the mental patients that stayed there. It was said that patients were chained to the walls in dark tunnels, children were left for years in cribs, sexual abuse occurred by the staff and even murder haunted the halls. The school was open in 1908 for the mentally and physically disabled and could house 10,000 patients at once. The school was meant to help them. However, they were often accused of dehumanization and many of the staff had records of abuse. The school faced a lawsuit in 1986 which closed it down for good due to unsanitary, inhumane, and dangerous living conditions.
I personally have been to Pennhurst on multiple occasions; once when it was abandoned and a mass of ruins, and once again when it was restored into the haunted attraction it now becomes during the month of October. As a senior, my friends and I stepped foot on the asylum property to explore the darkened grounds and eerie rooms. As we traversed among the dilapidated buildings, we came across old props, filing cabinets, furniture, and clothing scattered about. There was even a dentist’s chair left behind that was bolted to the ground. I later learned the chair was used for kids who acted out of hand. If they were playing with another child and bit them, they got a warning. The second time it occurred, they were strapped to the chair and all of their teeth would be removed. About the time we found the dentist’s chair, a clatter resonated down the long, pitch-black hallway towards us. It could have been a rat or any other type of animal, but needless to say we did not stick around to find out.
I must say I am a thrill seeker and a true believer of the supernatural; Pennhurst most certainly has a creepy vibe. The fact it was abandoned at the time probably added to this vibe, but it constantly felt like we were being watched. The goose bumps I sported throughout our nighttime adventure did not truly fade until we were back in the car and driving home. A few weeks after the trip the unique asylum was featured on the Travel Channel where Ghost Adventures delved into the unexplained and supernatural that exists among the walls.
My second time back at the infamous Pennhurst was when myself and a few friends of mine took the trip to Spring City last October. Each year we try to visit a new haunt to celebrate Halloween. Even though I had been to Pennhurst before and believed it was legitimately haunted, I wanted to go back and see the changes they had made to the deteriorated grounds of the asylum. The changes were truly amazing. They took the same approach as other haunted attractions have before them; however, the effects and ideas they incorporated into the asylum were bone chilling. Compared to when we had wandered among the buildings alone, now we were waiting in line outside as screams pierced the night air and echoed around us as we shivered and huddled close together for warmth. After paying $40 to experience the whole shindig we walked through the doors that led us to the “reception area” where we checked in and participated in an ink-blot test given to us by the “doctor.” The whole place had an antique feel about it as if we had travelled back in time to when Pennhurst was up and running. We then continued our tour by walking through the cafeteria, up the staircase, and through the dormitories that used to house the mentally ill years ago.
Blackened walls and the smell of charred wood lingered in one room; there was a fire in this room which occurred many years ago. Legend has it that a physician by the name of Dr. Henrich Chakajian was given the worst inmates from the school to perform “radical experimentation with untried drugs, new procedures and open brain surgery” on. These unorthodox treatments were said to have led to an uprising when a fire broke out. The fire killed the doctor along with a few patients and staff. In the chaos, some patients escaped, while others were caught and left in the underground tunnels to die.
Another room housed an electrotherapy scene. Strobe lights and fog machines made it difficult to discern what was occurring in front of you as you watched actors perform shock therapy. The most frightening part in my opinion? Traveling through the asylum’s underground tunnel system. Thrown into the tunnels with only a flashlight, our group had to slowly creep forward as screams erupted ahead of us and actors jumped out to scare us in their attempts to separate us from each other. Running out into the cold night air with my heart pounding out of my chest ,I had never breathed in fresher air. The level of fear I experienced at Pennhurst, as they tied together its thrilling fictional folklore to the hauntings that exist there, solidified my opinion of it being one of the most haunted locations I’ve ever visited.
The haunted culture of America has been around for years, although there is no origin that one can pinpoint of where it all began. One thing that is certain is that fear is such a common part of our everyday existence that ghost stories are not as distant as they may appear. The pleasure that one finds in the haunted history of our country can become addictive, as they begin to seek extreme experiences. The supernatural aspects of this world have become a fascination to thousa
nds. Haunted attractions have taken up a chunk of our modern culture through the month of October. The entertainment industry realizes that fear of the unknown will always work to their advantage.
Whether someone is a skeptic or a true believer there is always going to be strange things that occur in this world that no one will be able to explain. Many are not willing to change their beliefs unless they see the evidence for themselves, but sometimes one just has to believe in something they cannot see.
Taylor Montgomery is a third year student majoring in communication studies. She can be reached at TM789375@wcupa.edu. 

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