Friday, April 18, 2014

Hauntings: Pennhurst Asylum

(Lexa's Note:  This post is long because 
the true history behind the facility is so shocking.)
 
 

Pennhurst Asylum (Pennsylvania)

In 1908, the “Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic” was built.  It contained many buildings and was capable of housing as many as 10,000 patients, medical staff, and employees.  Pennhurst's patients were committed by court order or brought by a parent or guardian for things like: vices of constitution and habit, feeble-minded disorders, blindness, defective sight or hearing, muteness or imperfect speech, paralysis, epilepsy, imperfect gait, deformity of face, head, limbs and/or feet, microcephalic or hydrocephalic head, and offensive habits.

In 1913, the Commission for the Care of the Feeble-Minded labeled the disabled “unfit for citizenship” and said they posed a "menace to the peace.” The Commission decided they should be locked up permanently, so their genes would not be intermixed with those of the general population.


The Real Life Horror Story


Pennhurst patients (both adults and children) were tied to beds, their bedding was rarely changed, they wandered in various states of undress, and some were imprisoned in solitary confinement for bad behavior or forced to take tranquilizers to stay docile.  Some patients were strapped to wheelchairs by straightjackets.  Most toilet areas didn’t have toilet paper, soap, or towels.  Patients beat and severely injured one another.  Rapes were common.  Staff members hit and beat patients.  After being committed, some mentally challenged patients lost the ability to walk, talk, or control their bowels.  There were also allegations of forced sterilization.

In 1968, conditions at Pennhurst were exposed in a television news report by CBS correspondent Bill Baldini called “Suffer the Little Children.” The documentary revealed much abuse and neglect. It included a doctor describing how he dealt with a bully who’d beaten another patient by figuring out which injection would cause the most pain to the bully without permanently injuring him, and then administering it.

Pennhurst remained open.

In 1977, a class action suit was brought by patients and heard by a U.S. district judge, who ruled that the conditions at the institution violated patients' constitutional rights.

Pennhurst remained open.

In 1983, nine employees were indicted on charges ranging from slapping and beating patients (including some in wheelchairs) to arranging for patients to assault each other.

Pennhurst remained open.

After many appeals and legal fights, Pennhurst was finally closed in 1986. Its buildings were abandoned, left just as they were, with patients’ clothes and belongings strewn about, and furniture, cabinets, and medical equipment, some dating as far back as the 1930s, were left to decay. 



The Ghosts of Pennhust


Since Pennhurst closed, visitors to the property have reported seeing shadows moving along corridors or scurrying away from the light, objects have been thrown through the air, and doors opened and closed by themselves.  People have heard shouts, crying, and screaming.  They've been touched, scratched, and shoved or felt an icy wind in areas that are sealed.  Many visitors experience such an overwhelming feeling of despair inside the buildings, they can't remain inside them for longer than a few minutes.




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27 comments:

Andrew Leon said...

That's one of the places I researched. That video, "Suffer the Little Children," can be found on youtube, I believe.

Medeia Sharif said...

That picture is horrifying. Looking at these dates, even though this was decades ago, it seems so recent. At first I thought it was the 1800s/early 1900s with the descriptions of abuse. How horrible that it took so long for reform.

roeisbusywriting said...

Wow this is scary. Worse it took s long to be closed down.

Sophie Duncan said...

With such an awful, awful history, it's not surprising the poor unfortunates dumped there have left an impression. And sometimes we think the abandoned mental hospitals in horror movies have no grounds in reality!
Sophie
Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles - A to Z Ghosts
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Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That it stayed open that long is appalling. That the whole staff was that uncaring really shocks me. How could people work there and think doing those things to others was normal or acceptable?

Shah Wharton said...

Unfortunately, this kind of 'mental health care' wasn't completely uncommon. Women, children, the poor or otherwise vulnerable were severely and inappropriately judged and shut away for the weirdest 'offences' against society. A wonderfully insightful book about how woman especially suffered in this way is The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980.

Great post Lexa. If anywhere deserves to be haunted it is a place like that. The second American Horror is set in just such a hospital. *Shivers.

shahwharton.com

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I know about this place as I have lived with-in a few miles of it for 40 years. Some of the "clients" still live in the area and I ocasionally see one, an elderly gentle soul, sitting on a bench smoking his cigar. There are people who worked there who deny that they ever saw the abuse that was reported, but what Bill Baldini reported, was so disturbing that it changed the way forever, on how the handicapped are housed in this country. Note, that I did not say "treated".

Today, the building still stands and has, in the past few years, been used by a company during Halloween time, for a haunted house tour, complete with freakish creatures jumping out and scaring people. It is a big success. The souls of those who lived there and experienced those atrocities are still being exploited.

Ava Quinn said...

How horrific. It's despicable that it remained in use so long.

Dani said...

Gut wrenching!! Though its horrible want the staff did, it's still fascinating!

mshatch said...

I remember visiting Alcatraz and the cell block area was the most depressing so I can imagine how a place can feel haunted and that place would surely have a hopeless hellish vibe to it. I wonder if anyone has tried to bless the place or do something to bring peace? How awful for all those patients, ugh. It makes me sick sometimes to think what people do to each other.

messymimi said...

How scary for the people who were trapped there!

Julie Flanders said...

So unbelievable that it remained open that long. Wow. :(

Jennifer Hawes said...

I think Ghost Hunters (or some other show) featured this place on an episode. So sad. Probably why there is so much documentation in the health care industry now!

Bish Denham said...

OMG, OMG, OMG... That is simply horrifying. Who needs to write fictional horror when the truth can be so much more terrifying.

Stephen Hayes said...

It's comforting to pretend institutions like this no longer exist but that would be naive. In earlier times people would dress up and visit asylums to be entertained by the insane and mentally challenged. Goya did a fabulous painting of this.

cleemckenzie said...

So much for civilized modern treatment of other humans. I'm not sure I could watch that video.

Kate Larkindale said...

No wonder the place is haunted! How horrible that a place so barbaric could stay open so long.

Chippyminton13 said...

The things that go off behind closed doors and open ones in this case it would seem.

Stopping by from A To Z

Chippy

Nicole Pyles said...

Oh this is just awful. I can't imagine the pain these people experienced.

Jocelyn Rish said...

It's mind boggling that it took almost 20 years after the first documentary to get the place shut down. I think I recently watched a horror movie based on this place - or maybe it's the sad fact that there were many like this place to inspire horror movies.

Kim Graff said...

Oh, wow. That's just horrible. I can't believed after each of those horrific exposures, they remained open. I've always been extremely fascinated by asylums (shocking, isn't it?) and have been doing research for a YA Horror set in a 1890s New Orleans asylum off and on for a year. It's pretty insane the stuff that "doctors" got away with and what they thought about how the mind worked. Did you know well into the 1900s, Shakespeare was considered a leading resource for understanding the mentally unstable? Doctors would read his work to try and get a better understanding of how the mind worked, because so many of his characters were not well, and they thought that would HELP them. It blows my mind. Sure, Shakespeare is a good writer and whatever, but he is not the person to turn to if you are a medical professional to figure out what to do with a patient.

Leslie S. Rose said...

How awful that it takes that much effort to get rid of a place so full of malice.

Mary said...

When I started reading this, I had in my mind that it was the 1800's. What a shock to learn it wasn't just in my lifetime, but was shut down after I got out of college. Incredible that such things went on in our country in my lifetime.

Loni Townsend said...

It's crazy that the horror stories have roots in real life examples like this. *shudder*

Inger said...

What an unbelievable story. My sister had the worst form of Downs and could do very little and lived in group homes. Reading this, I am again reminded of how blessed she was to have been born in Sweden. 1986, is way, way too late to close a place like this.

Al Diaz said...

And to think this type of "care" is pretty common, or was at the time. Horrible stories about certain asylums here in Mexico are heard too.

Zoe Byrd said...

I saw "Suffer the Little CHildren." How horrific.

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