Pennhurst State School and Hospital opened in 1908 to treat people with mental and physical disabilities and closed in 1987 after reports of abuse to the patients. The site in Spring City reopened in Sept. 2010 as Pennhurst Asylum, a Halloween related attraction. The construction of the buildings to host Pennhurst began in 1903. The first buildings were completed and opened five years later. The whole campus of Pennhurst was completed in 1921.
Pennhurst was originally opened to provide care and schooling to mentally and physically disabled persons. According to www.opacity.us, the institution was overcrowded even prior to admitting “epileptics of normal mental capacity.” Pennhurst had also been named Eastern State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. This raised admission rates, while the number of discharged patients remained low.
In 1946 Pennhurst had seven physicians aiding over 2,000 patients. According to www.opacity.us, with 1,000 names on the waiting list, the number of Pennhurst patients grew to 3,500 by 1955. The patients ranged in age from infants to about 70.
The staff was overworked and had low wages. The patients were overcrowded and became neglected of the proper care they needed. The website www.opacity.us published that the lowest functioning patients were mostly bed-ridden in cribs and were unable to move much.
A lawsuit was filed against Pennhurst in 1974 as the abuse of residents was documented. Pennhurst was found guilty in 1977 of violating patients’ constitutional rights. Patients were moved to other institutions before it was finally closed in 1987.
Despite protests against re-opening Pennhurst as a Halloween attraction, the site opened in Sept. and is now known as Pennhurst Asylum. The Arc of Philadelphia board has been active in protesting the re-opening of what they called the “Institute of Terror.”
Ken Oakes, the Board President, would like to see Pennhurst be a “respectable” place to those who lived and died at Pennhurst, as opposed to making an “amusement” of the history of Pennhurst.
Pennhurst Asylum has been open for a month to tourists who have heard the stories of the institution and some had visited the site after it was abandoned. Tourists talked to other groups as they waited in line, exchanging stories. Several tourists, about mid 20s and older, told stories of visiting Pennhurst after it was abandoned. Some said they came to the site and remembered how creepy it was, and wanted to come back to see what has become of Pennhurst. Some tourists claimed to have already been inside some of the buildings and now wanted to see the new attraction.
Pennhurst Asylum has their tourists enter through the admissions building. Several rooms had actors dressed as doctors, some who would follow the tourists or try to scare them. The end of the attraction has the tourists find their way out by traveling through an underground tunnel. The tunnel would be pitch black without the use of strobe lights. Graffitti remains on the tunnel walls. The tunnel leads the tourist out to the entrance of Pennhurst, past the campus buildings.
Tourists were standing in line, waiting to reach the admission building, and could hear others screaming on the inside. Strange noises traveled through the crowds, like a small echo of a blunt object hitting the walls. While waiting in line, many tourists were asking each other, “Did you hear that?” or “What was that?”
Ginger Rae Dunbar is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at RD655287@wcupa.edu.