Pennhurst Insane Asylum, Pennhurst State School and Hospital


Location: Spring City, PA Map

Operational: 1908- 87


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History of Pennhurst State School and Hospital

Pennhurst Insane Asylum is located in Spring City in a state of Pennsylvania, United States. Pennsylvania Legislature authorized funds to construct a large complex that became known as Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic.  Pennhurst State School and Hospital was completed in 1908 with intention to help physically and mentally disabled individuals to some degree of rehabilitation. It was very sophisticated and advanced at the time. In the beginning of the century belief in human ability to heal everything was very high. Pennhurst Hospital was one of the first large complexes that were intended to help patients. It was built on a 1400 acre area this state of the art school could house up to 3,500 patients at a time. The place was virtually self sufficient with 300 bed hospital with two surgeons on call, general store, barber shop, firehouse, green house and even its power plant that generated electricity. Besides Pennhurst had farms nearby that grew most of the food that was needed in Pennhurst. Buildings on the property are all named after cities in Pennsylvania and many are linked by tunnels that were used among others for transportation of patients. The buildings were separated on asylum department that took care of the people deemed dangerous for the society. Another part of the complex was intended for education purposes and was called school. In order to supply this large settlement Pennsylvania Railroad created a Pennhurst Station to deliver coal, new patients and medical necessities for the hospital.


From 1903 to 1908, the first buildings were constructed on 633.913 acres (256.535 ha) of Crab Hill in Spring City, Pennsylvania, Chester County on what was referred to as the lower campus. Out of the first few buildings constructed, 'F' was the Girl's Dining Room, 'G' was the Kitchen and Store Room, 'H', 'I' and 'K' were a Cottage for Girls, 'N' was the Boys' Dining Room, 'P' was the Teacher's Home, 'Q', T', 'U' and 'V' were a Cottage for Boys, 'R' was a School, 'W' was Laundry and Sewing, and 'X' was the Power House.

'P' was used as a temporary Administration building until the institution's opening in 1918 along with the opening of 'L' and 'M' in 1919. In 1921, Whitman and Wilson I and II were constructed along with Penn Hall for employee housing; in 1929, the Assembly building was complete and functioned as the gymnasium and auditorium.

The buildings on lower campus are currently labeled with letters such as 'F', 'I', 'K', 'P', 'Q', 'R', 'N', 'U', 'V', 'T', 'W' and 'X' with names later assigned in the 1960s (see below).

In 1930, the first buildings on the upper campus, otherwise known as the Female Colony, were completed and named Pershing, Buchanan, Audubon and Keystone. Capitol Hall was erected after World War II along with Devon constructed on lower campus. Horizon Hall opened later in 1971.


Eugenics in Pennhurst Hospital

Pennhurst School and Hospital appear at the time when eugenics become quiet popular in the Western World. Eugenics is a "science" of genetic composition of human population. Its theory stated that who were not smart enough or strong enough should be simply segregated from the rest of society to prevent breeding. Few decades later this World view will massacre millions of untermenschen (sub- human in German) in concentration camps, but in the early century it was a fairly noble and acceptable theory. Many patients were forced to relocate here and subsequently castrated or sterilized.


Patient who came to Pennhurst sanatorium came for different reasons. Some were stuck here by court order, others were brought by relatives or guardians in hopes that medicine will cure all problems. There was no definite distinction between mental retardation and psychological deviation. Many kids with fairly high IQ, but violent or harmful tendencies were brought to the same classrooms as kids with very low mental capacity. Obviously this made things only worse allowing these deviations to take full turn. The doctors were less than empathetic toward their patients. Chief Physician of Pennhurst State School and Hospital Henry H. Goddard once said:


Every feeble-minded person is a potential criminal. The general public, although more convinced today than ever before that it is a good thing to segregate the idiot or the distinct imbecile, they have not as yet been convinced as to the proper treatment of the defective delinquent, which is the brighter and more dangerous individual.


Closing of Pennhurst

It came apparent that Pennhurst State School did not live up to its task.  Injustices that occurred in Insane Asylum came to light in 1968 thanks to Bill Baldini, correspondent of local CBS 10 station. After Hospital vs Halderman case that had accusations of violations of Eighth (cruel and unusual punishments) and Fourteenth Amendments (unfair deprivation of life, liberty, or property) its fate was sealed. Terry Lee Halderman, a former resident of the hospital exposed unsanitary and simply dangerous conditions that existed here. Pennhurst Insane Asylum was full of screams of abandoned children and grown ups. Over three thousand of its patients did not have enough staff to care for them and most of them had only 3 minutes of psychiatric treatment in a single year. Besides cases of physical and sexual abuse arose on a large scale. Many kids that were biting each other got a warning. In case second case of biting arose all teeth were pulled out to prevent further attacks on each other. In fact it was proven that most patients experienced decrease in their mental, physical and intellectual skills. Pennhurst State School closed its doors on December 9th, 1987.


Suffer the Little Children (1968)


Pennhurst TodayToday part of Pennhurst Hospital is transformed into Veterans State Hospital, but many part of the former school are still in the same condition as they were before. Many ghost hunters and urban explorers come here for the thrill. Much of the former artifacts are still in place. You can find even patient’s folders with their histories. However police can arrest and fine you if you get caught. Although it rarely happens and in most cases they will just throw you out. Ghost Haunting in Pennhurst HospitalPennhurst Hospital Complex is believed to be haunted by spirits of people who either perished there or once worked here. Below is the list of some of the most haunted places in the hospital.

Quaker Hall of Pennhurst Hospital

Quaker Hall was reserved for the violent patients of Pennhurst. Needless to say violence and sadistic abuse was prevalent here. In theory this part of the asylum was meant to separate aggressive members of the small semi- independent community. Here they would learn to cope with their pattern of aggression and violence. Once they would rehabilitate it was expected that they would move to other parts of the complex once they cease to pose any threat to themselves and others. However in reality overcrowding made this dream virtually impossible. Stronger patients would pick on weaker ones and understaffed nurses either couldn't or wouldn't do anything about it. Over time violent patients became worse as their tendencies were left unchecked.

It is part of must see buildings in the Pennhurst Asylum. The most common apparition that is seen here is a that of a woman standing in a white gown in front of the window. Attempting to locate or catch this "prankster" left ghost hunters baffled as the buildings was empty upon further inspection. Many also people claimed to have experienced violent outburst of unseen force that pinched, hit and harmed visitors and ghost hunters.


Mayflower Hall of Pennhurst Hospital

This is another part of the Pennhurst Hospital that is famous for ghostly activity.

Candy land of Pennhurst Hospital

Influx of new patients and lack of proper funding forced administration of the complex to improvise with the buildings they already had. Some one came up with a bright idea of housing patients in the basement of some of the buildings. One of the most famous of such new additional rooms is a place called Candy Land. It is covered by murals intended to entertain children or those who were stuck intellectually at a level of a child.


Philadelphia Hall of Pennhurst Hospital

Philadelphia Hall is famous for a ghost of a forceful and aggressive male. Some reported hearing commands from unseen spirit. Others heart direct threats towards unwelcome visitors. It is widely believed if these are not just the voices in people heads, it must be the voice of an orderly "Clark" that still sticks around to push patients around. People who visited Pennhurst asylum reported several violent encounters with this entity.


Pennhurst Insane Asylum

So much for patient confidentiality