The Paranormal at Home: Hauntings in 50 States – Pennsylvania’s Pennhurst State School

Please click here if you would like to read the first article in the series.

Pennhurst State School is a place that has developed a very dark reputation. The institution became the subject of controversy before it closed decades ago. And today the building stands as a reminder that strong emotions and tragedy can sometimes leave a lasting mark on the physical world.

Haunted Pennsylvania: Pennhurst State School

Pennhurst State School
The Pennhurst Administration Building

The Pennsylvania government authorized the creation of a facility for the mentally disabled. This process included a review of what were considered “feeble-minded” individuals living in county hospitals, reformatories, almshouses and prisons. The number came to 1,146. It was decided that the new facility must be capable of housing no less than 500 patients with room to expand.

The Eastern State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic opened  on November 23rd, 1908. It took only four years for the building to become over crowded. Rather than find other places to care for those in need, the facility continued admitting orphans, immigrants and criminals.

The general attitude towards mentally disabled individuals did not improve in the coming years. Legislature in 1913 created the Commission for the Care of the Feeble-Minded. The goal was to keep the disabled hidden away from the general public to prevent them from reproducing and because they were deemed a “menace to the peace.”

Pennhurst in 1934
Overhead view of Pennhurst campus
c. 1934

Three years later, cottages were added to segregate female patients from the males to help prevent pregnancies.

It’s difficult to put into words just how terrible conditions were at what was later renamed Pennhurst State School and Hospital. CBS10 created a 5-part TV report called Suffer the Little Children in 1968 that helped shed light on the situation. Click here to see the 35 minute series (warning: some scenes may be unsettling and angering).

About 15 years later, 9 Pennhurst employees were charged with abuse of patients. The abuse included beating and slapping both able-bodied and wheelchair-bound patients as well as arranging fights by encouraging certain violent patients to assault one another.

The demise of Pennhurst started with a legal battle between the facility and a prior resident. Terry Lee Halderman spent time as a patient at Pennhurst. She filed a lawsuit after her release, accusing the hospital of inhumane treatment, dangerous conditions and violation of the 8th and 14th amendments.

The District Court ruled that certain patient’s rights had been violated. The facility was closed after community-based services were required for all patients as part of a settlement agreement.

Paranormal Activity at Pennhurst State School

Pennhurst State School has become a bit of an icon in the paranormal world. The Ghost Adventures team recorded its November 6th, 2009 episode at the vacant facility. Among the many people interviewed during the episode, which included former patients, employees and CBS10 correspondent Bill Baldini, lead investigator Zak Bagans spoke to witness Sarah McConnell about her investigation of the infirmary building.

McConnell stated that the group she was with heard nothing while in the operating room but later noticed the distinct sound of someone violently throwing up captured on the video footage. Click here to jump to Sarah’s segment.

Briana Pietropaula, a second eyewitness in a separate incident, described being in the Quaker building with a friend holding a candle.  The candle blew out and, as soon as it did, they heard a young girl laughing. At first, only Briana and her friend heard the sound. They asked the rest of the group if they heard it, and they said that they did not. As soon as they said so, the sound happened again and everyone heard it.

Pietropaula also described seeing a young girl in a dress sitting with her knees drawn up in the Franklin Building. The group believed they felt the child’s energy after that because everyone became very depressed and miserable until they left.

Pennhurst property manager George Munro described being outside on the property when a contractor and the contractor’s 20-year-old son approached him. The man suddenly began pointing up towards a window in a nearby building. He appeared shaken and unable to speak. Munro asked him what the problem was and the contractor stated that someone was in the window.

Munro looked up and claims that he also saw a figure in the window with the curtains pulled back. They went to check it out and found all the tunnels and doors sealed and no one inside. The curtains are also covered by heavy mesh on the inside so a person couldn’t pull them back without removing the mesh.

The types of experiences reported at Pennhurst are varied. Some hear loud bangs and voices, others have seen ghostly figures.

Alleged EVP of a young boy captured at Pennhurst

The Paranormal Afflictions Research Association (PARA) created a compilation of their best Pennhurst EVPs. Their website also includes an evidence page with a total of three videos available for viewing. The “best of” compilation can be seen below.

PARA’s “best of” Pennhurst EVP compilation

Pennhurst State School Today

Pennhurst State School is no longer inhabited, but the building still seems to be active. The Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance advocates certain uses of the site.  4.5 acres are currently utilized by Penn Organic Recycling LLC for composting.

The property is a popular spot among paranormal groups. The administration building and tunnels are used as part of the Pennhurst Asylum commercial haunted house between September and November.

Have you been to Pennhurst State School (or would you like to go)? Share your personal experiences or investigative approach to this location in the comments.

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