Philadelphia September 15, 2017
This Asylum Near Philadelphia Has A Dark And Evil History That Will Never Be Forgotten
While we have much to be proud of in Philadelphia, there are a few things that we wish never happened. Sadly, in the 1900s, horrific treatment of the handicapped, orphaned, immigrants, and mentally ill is a dark piece of American history, and some of these appalling human rights abuses existed right in our own backyard.
At the same time that eugenics were practiced in Nazi Germany, sterilization experiments were being conducted on epileptic patients in New Jersey. While the country fought for civil rights, the mentally ill were tormented in prisons that were more terrifying than any nightmare.
Pennsylvanians were not immune to the horrific conditions I am talking about – in fact, the Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Spring City was one of the most torturous places in the entire country and, equally disturbingly, it stayed open through the mid 1980s. Pennhurst Asylum has a dark and evil history that we will never forget.
Pennhurst first opened its doors in November of 1908 as an asylum for the mentally and physically handicapped.
Criminals, orphans, and even immigrants were sent here to be housed, deemed "unfit for citizenship" and locked away from the world forever.
By 1913, the Commission for the Care of the Feeble-Minded was created, stating that residents at Pennhurst posed a danger to the public peace. The majority of the residents were children.
The Commission categorized their patients as either "epileptic" or "healthy," and further described them as either "imbecile" or "insane." There was hardly any effort to contribute to the lives of these patients, and few were ever educated or involved in anything that would legitimize the asylum's name as a "school."
In the 1960s, Pennhurst housed nearly 3,000 people, still mostly children. The administrators insisted that they only had room for around 1,800 patients, but nothing was done about the overcrowding.
Just 200 patients were involved in any sort of therapeutic program to improve their condition. Budget shortfalls and a staff of only 9 medical doctors and 11 teachers meant there was very little that could be done to improve the conditions.
However, many believe that even with a larger budget and greater staff, conditions would not have improved.
In a five-part television series that broke the news of the horrific Pennhurst nightmare, one doctor admitted asking about which injection could cause his patients the most pain without permanent injury.
Bill Baldini was a local reporter that got a tip on the abuse at Pennhurst, and he uncovered the true story of this abominable place. He revealed that he had a hard time even keeping his video crew working, as they were so disgusted and sickened by what they saw that nobody wanted to return.
Baldini's shocking television exposé described wards of young children in metal cages, lying in their own waste for days.
The series aired in Philadelphia in 1968. Naked, starving residents, children tied to beds, and doctors admitting horrible acts shocked the public, who had long ignored the isolated asylum. Though it was clear that Pennhurst needed to be shut down, it took nearly twenty years for the asylum to finally be shut down. In those twenty years, abuse remained rampant, children and adults were treated horribly, and Pennhurst became known as "The Shame of Pennsylvania." It finally locked its doors forever in 1987.
Pennhurst has remained in the public view, even after its door were closed. Like many abandoned asylums, it was never properly cleaned up. It soon became a target of urban explorers, many of whom desecrated the site with graffiti and other vandalism.
Most were drawn to the site by tales of the
, where the spirits of Pennhurst patients seek their final peace.
Please note: Pennhurst is not open to the public, but you may have luck finding planned tours and workships, such as
, hosted by Abandoned America.
Pennhurst was purchased by private owners who have been cleaning up the site, trying to reverse the damage and vandalism. As part of their restoration efforts, they've opened a controversial haunted house on site.
Though the haunted attraction does not bring visitors to the wards - only to administration buildings and a gruesomely-decorated morgue - many locals are outraged and claim the haunted house is disrespectful to those who suffered at Pennhurst. Only time will tell if the site becomes a memorial to past horrors wrought against children, the handicapped, criminals and immigrants, or whether the haunted attraction will diminish the suffering of those held captive at Pennhurst Asylum.
What do you think? Should Pennhurst be restored into a memorial, or is the haunted attraction simply a way to spread the story of a place too often ignored?