Like the Goldfield Hotel, the Pennhurst State School and Asylum was on my Top 5 list of haunted places to visit. In Summer 2015 I went to Pennsylvania to visit my family, and it gave me the perfect opportunity to check it out.If you want to read about Pennhurst’s history there are a few great websites such as Preserve Pennhurst, The Pennhurst Project, and Pennhurst Asylum: The Shame of Pennsylvania. There is also a television news report from 1968, called Suffer The Little Children that helped bring public attention to conditions inside Pennhurst. We arrived at Pennhurst about 6 pm and while waiting for my friend Nick to arrive and let us in we wandered around the outside and took some pictures.
Pennhurst opened its doors for Patient No. 1 on November 23rd, 1908. Within just a few years Pennhurst was underfunded, understaffed, and overcrowded. As early as July 29th, 1913 there were reports of abuse at the institution. A man named John Jacobs was arrested and charged for beating two young men who just didn’t move fast enough for his liking. He beat both of the men with a wooden club.
By 1923 there were accusations of mismanagement of funds. The superintendent was paid $5,000 a year ($79k today) along with a residence, expensive car, two servants, and a chauffeur.
In the 1960s an eye opening documentary was released by a local reporter named Bill Baldini. You can watch it here. At the time this was produced Pennhurst was housing 2,791 patients, most of whom were children. There were nine medical doctors on staff and eleven teachers, none of whom had any training in special education.
By the time Pennhurst finally closed its doors in December, 1987, over 10,000 people had passed through its doors. When you think about the vast amount of people, in severely questionable conditions, suffering from varying degrees of mental and physical illness, it’s not surprising the location is considered to be quite haunted.
It wasn’t until the location sat empty and caretakers began experiencing strange things that the site got the reputation as one of the most haunted locations in the United States.
Doors would slam shut, loud sounds and voices were often heard coming from inside the buildings. When the caretakers would go inside to flush out trespassers no one could be found. In the Quaker building, shadow figures are often seen, as well as full bodied apparitions. One of these is a small girl with long black hair. The Quaker building also has reports of people being shoved and scratched and items being thrown from across the seemingly empty room.
An apparition of a nurse has been spotted in the Limerick building. She’s seen wearing an old fashioned nurses’s uniform.
Having spent some time inside Pennhurst I can vouch that the place feels heavy. The history of what took place here still hangs in the air. It’s one of those places that you just will never forget the feel of.