As I look back on 2016, an arguably dismal year, I try to seek the positive. Some of the most memorable trips I took were during the fall/Halloween season. One of those trips was a tour of Pennhurst Asylum in Pennsylvania. Pennhurst State School and Hospital was known as Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic at the beginning of its operation. It was a state hospital for people who were mentally and physically disabled. It closed in 1987 and suffered a reputation as a corrupt hospital with reports of terrible treatment of their patients.
In 1903, little research was done involving those with disabilities. They were often seen a burden to society. People with intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, and mental disorders were seen as one in the same. The belief was that they were all unfit to be members of society. People with these conditions ended up in state hospitals and prisons. Even teen mothers were sent away to Pennhurst.
Bill Baldini, a news anchor for NBC10 exposed the deplorable conditions of Pennhurst in a five part series that aired in 1968. The exposure led to questions of the validity of the hospital. The series showed patients strapped to beds with dirty diapers on, patients walking around naked, and nearly no one to attend to the patients. Former patients were also interviewed about the horrors of Pennhurst. In 1977, a US district judge ruled that the conditions at Pennhurst violated the human rights of the patients that were seen there. In 1983, nine former employees were indicted for abusing and neglecting patients and forcing patients to assault each other.
Finally, Pennhurst was closed in 1987 with the ruling of the case of Halderman v. Pennhurst State School and Hospital. After the closing, there were reports of a supposed haunting. With the amount of people who suffered in the care of Pennhurst, many believed the ghosts of the victims still hang around the facility.
Tours are on the more expensive end, but are well worth the money you pay. The tour guide led on that Pennhurst wasn’t really as bad as everyone made it out to be. She explained that many patients lamented its closing. I was doubtful after watching the five part series on it that can still be found on YouTube. The series showed footage inside the hospital and you can see that the patients were neglected and little was done to help them be incorporated into society. The tour was eye opening despite the tour guide.
The grounds are overgrown and in shambles, giving Pennhurst an eerie vibe. Old swing sets and playgrounds are still standing, rusting in the sun. Once you enter some of the buildings, a chill goes through your bones knowing the horrible things that have taken place in those rooms. Both my friend and I’s digital cameras were malfunctioning. Her’s kept on flashing multiple times after one picture was captured. My camera detected a face in the corner of a bathroom stall. Once I captured the image, it was flipped upside down, a phenomenon that my camera rarely performs. Maybe these occurrences were just coincidences heightened by our fear. Either way, what went on at Pennhurst would not have been in my knowledge if I hadn’t visited the site in October.