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History of Pennsylvannia’s Most Haunted Place: Pennhurst Asylum

by Scare Street | Dec 18, 2018 | New Releases | 0 comments

History of Pennsylvannia’s Most Haunted Place: Pennhurst Asylum

Asylums have long been known to be sites of unimaginable suffering and abuse , and Pennsylvania’s Pennhurst Asylum is no different.

Previously known as the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic, it was opened on November 23, 1908. In its 79 years of operations, there were hundreds of allegations of abuse and neglect of patients , many of whom were mentally or physically disabled.

But the activity didn’t stop after its closure. Many paranormal investigation teams have spent time on the 1400-acre property and have reported a plethora of activity, including apparitions, shadowy figures, odd temperatures, and moving objects.

But there are still unanswered questions.

History of the Pennhurst Asylum

Pennhurst Asylum

Ghost hunting has become a sort of cottage industry around the property, and there’s even a Pennhurst Paranormal Association. Their tagline is “They lived here, died here, and are still here.”

But before we get into the haunted stuff, we have to talk a little bit about our setting.

Pennhurst Asylum itself is a beautiful, sprawling campus of about 20 buildings. The older buildings are red brick with granite and terra cotta trimmings, making them quite striking. The facility was built to be almost entirely self-sufficient, with a power plant, farmland, and other facilities on the property.

For things that they could not provide for themselves, it was serviced by a private rail line that brought supplies from the outside world. Many of the buildings are connected by underground fire-proof tunnels to make moving patients around easier, like many similar facilities of the era.

The buildings were designed with small rooms for 2 or 3 people, but within four years of its opening, Pennhurst was already overcrowded due to pressure to admit immigrants, orphans, and criminals. Residents were classified with three categories: mental—imbecile or insane, physical—epileptic or healthy, and dental—good, poor, or treated.

In 1913, the Pennsylvania Legislature appointed a Commission for the Care of the Feeble-Minded, which stated that the disabled were “unfit for citizenship” and recommended a program of custodial care, meaning that Pennhurst would become even more overcrowded.

By the mid-60s, the asylum housed 2.791 people – 900 more than the facility could comfortably accommodate. Most of these patients were children, and despite the facility’s label as a “school” , only 200 of the residents were in any kind of art, education, or recreational programs that could have helped improve their condition, though many were high-functioning enough to improve with such care.

The facility had only 9 medical doctors and 11 teachers on staff, none of whom had special education training. Bullying was rampant and unpoliced, and its thought that this was the real reason for the many “accidental” deaths and suicides that occurred.

Pennhurst Asylum

This horrifying footage triggered public outcry, but it would still take almost a decade of legal actions against Pennhurst before the facility closed. The allegations that finally led to a lawsuit against Pennhurst Asylum were those of Terri Lee Halderman, who, upon a visit to her parents, was found to have unexplained bruises.

Although the case was never expected to go very far, the courts would find that the conditions at Pennhurst were deplorable, violating the Fourteenth Amendment. They also found that the institutions used cruel and unusual punishment, which violates both the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the Pennsylvania Mental Health and Retardation Act of 1966.

In 1983, nine employees were indicted on charges ranging from assaulting patients — some of whom were in wheelchairs, to arranging for patients to injure each other. All of these findings led to the District Court’s decision to close the facility – this was the first time that this was ever done based on a constitutional right to community services, and the case would become an important precedent known as the Pennhurst Doctrine.

Shortly after its closure, the Department of Military Affairs acquired the upper campus and reopened it as the Southeastern Veteran’s Center.

In 2001, the state began acknowledging its duties to maintain historic property in relation to Pennhurst, and the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance was formed to advocate for certain uses of the property.

As of 2010, the administration building has been renovated and repurposed as the Pennhurst Asylum Haunted House – despite controversy from locals and those previously affiliated with the asylum, the attraction has been successful.

Hauntings and Other Phenomena

Pennhurst Asylum

The official research team for Pennhurst Asylum is the Shore Paranormal Research Society, a team of trained specialists whose purpose is to discover truth behind claims of paranormal activity. According to Jim Ansbach, the SPRS’s founder and case manager, Pennhurst Asylum is a hotspot for the paranormal.

They have conducted numerous large-scale investigations of the property, taking photos, video, and audio recordings in multiple undeveloped buildings, reporting numerous sightings, mainly in the Quaker Building.

In the Quaker building, numerous shadowy figures appear to manifest and dissipate at will; these include what appears to be a young girl with long dark hair and a large, hunched figure with dangling arms. Items have been seen moving while no one is near them, even going so far as to be propelled across the basement at times.

Investigators have reported physical interactions with spirits such as shoving and scratching; these assaults would leave physical marks that could be seen even after leaving the property. There were also multiple electromagnetic frequency spikes recorded while in the building, despite there being no power currently supplied to it.

One of the most well-documented occurrences at Pennhurst is Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), which is recordings of voices that could not be heard at the time of recording. Voices can be heard saying things like “go away” “we’re upset” and, disturbingly, “I’ll kill you”. Screaming and crying can also be heard without the help of recordings. It appears that, despite the patients being gone, the sounds of Pennhurst Asylum remain.

The Pennhurst Paranormal Association plans to open the former hospital for more ghost hunts in the future – with other popular institutions such as the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia and the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Kentucky as business models, Timothy Smith expects Pennhurst Asylum to be an incredibly profitable property.

A Haunted Legacy

Pennhurst Asylum has been a lot of things over the years – hospital, prison, veteran’s center, memorial, and now, a haunted house attraction. But no matter who inhabits those cursed walls, the ghosts remain. And their stories will be told .

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History@Work

Who should tell the story the pennhurst haunted asylum and the pennhurst museum in public history.

07 June 2022 – Diana M. Katovitch

advocacy , historic preservation , disability history

A three-story brick building at night. The front of the building is illuminated with colored lights.

The Pennhurst Haunted Asylum on the Pennhurst property, Spring City, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Rogues Hollow Productions

The Pennhurst Haunted Asylum and the Pennhurst Museum, operated by Pennhurst LLC in collaboration with the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance (PMPA) , exist side-by-side on the grounds of the shuttered Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Spring City, Pennsylvania. The sites might seem to have opposite goals: one to frighten and entertain, the other to educate about past wrongs. Over the last decade, however, the haunted attraction and the Pennhurst Museum have become aligned in unexpected ways. New questions are being posed: who should tell the story of Pennhurst, and how should they tell it?

When the Pennhurst State School and Hospital closed in 1987, its buildings and grounds were abandoned. In 2008, a private development group known as Pennhurst LLC purchased the site and planned to use part of it to create the Pennhurst Asylum Haunted House. The clash between preservation and education advocates, on one side, and Pennhurst LLC, on the other, was the original reason for the formation of the PMPA. Despite legal efforts by the PMPA to prevent its opening , the haunted attraction opened in 2010 and began grossing $2 million per year.

The first version of the haunted asylum was as bad as anticipated. A fictional Dr. Chakajian and his minions were shown experimenting on asylum inmates. In a minor nod to the history of Pennhurst, patrons were able to view artifacts retrieved from the property (notably a dentist’s chair and electroshock therapy machine). Yet, historical fact and shock fiction were poorly separated, and visitors were left to wonder which was which.

PMPA members were not the only people to protest the misrepresentation and disrespect of Pennhurst’s history in the haunted attraction. Disability studies historian Sarah Handley-Cousins reflected on the continuing fascination of such sites: “I like a ghost story as much as anyone, but the patients who lived at … Pennhurst weren’t spooky spirits–they were human beings with complex lives.”  

In 2017, the ownership of Pennhurst, LLC changed. The new owner and general manager have personal connections to the disability community. Aware of the unintended consequences of a conflated story, they changed features of the attraction and empowered a group of disabled performers with creative control. This new haunted attraction deserves a second look.

A young white woman with long hair wearing old clothes crawls along the floor of a dark building. Her wrists and elbows are twisted as she moves.

Pennhurst Memorial Fellow Autumn Werner, performing her role in the Pennhurst Haunted Asylum attraction. Photo credit: Rogues Hollow Productions

More than half of the performers (called haunters) identify as disabled; a few even have personal histories of institutionalization. This new haunted asylum turns the original plot on its head–the haunters each assume a fictional identity and the inmates conspire to take over the asylum from the professionals. The fictional doctors, nurses, and the visitors become the new inmates. Nathan Stenberg, a doctoral candidate in theatre and performance historiography, board member of PMPA, and a disabled scholar himself, has spent many hours of fieldwork at the Pennhurst site and the asylum attraction. In his words, the asylum attraction “does not simply commodify atrocity, but offers a space where dis/abled people use performance as both self-expression and knowledge-making in a site once designed for their segregation and slow death.” Several of the haunters work giving historical tours of the campus when they are not performing in the attraction.

In addition, the new management now partners with the PMPA to preserve Pennhurst’s past. The Pennhurst Museum was moved from the attraction space into a separate building. In 2020, PMPA established the Pennhurst Memorial Fellowship and several intern positions to continue the historical work on site. Autumn Werner, a psychology major at Westchester University was the first Pennhurst Memorial Fellow; she is a person with a disability and performs in the attraction as a haunter. In a personal email, she explained her involvement this way: “To me, being on the site and performing and building a community as we have has given the disabled population here the power back. We have reclaimed the space and seek to perform, educate, and welcome others into it.”

Werner oversees and organizes the collection of artifacts, often rescuing them from buildings that are collapsing around them. She also staffs overnight paranormal tours of the Mayflower building (which houses the museum), the grounds, and the underground tunnels. She approaches her work with a deep sense of respect and protectiveness of the residents’ stories. “Oftentimes, paranormal investigators may seek to invade sacred spaces, like the Pennhurst cemetery. Our staff will not share the location of the cemetery unless we are certain that the guest has nothing but respect in mind,” Werner wrote. “The (Pennhurst) site itself is a sacred one.”

A three-story brick building at dusk.

The Mayflower building is the current site of the growing Pennhurst Museum. Mayflower was once a residential building on the property. Photo credit: Autumn Werner

When they learn about the haunted asylum tour, many people– both disabled and non-disabled–protest that it is disrespectful, especially on the site of a shuttered institution. But the disabled haunters have made a well-reasoned choice to work as performers and tour guides at this former institution. Some people will disagree with their choices. But wholesale condemnation of the attraction may result in refusing to engage with the actual choices and experiences of disabled people. The late disability advocate David Hingsburger said, “We take choice away from people with disabilities all the time…They (disabled people) have a right to the choices that you’ve approved. We don’t want people with disabilities to make choices that run counter to our philosophy….”

One haunter had this to say: “We preserve the property and we’re doing our best to educate people about what happened here… I don’t want them to just walk through here and just think it’s something scary.”   Disabled employees of the LLC have given one answer to the complicated question of how best to tell the story of Pennhurst.

The author would like to thank Nathan R. Stenberg for use of information and quotations from his book chapter: “Honoring a House of Horrors: Community, Commemoration, and the Specter of Institutionalization at the Pennhurst Asylum” in Sites of Conscience and the Unfinished Project of Deinstitutionalization: Place, Memory and Social Justice , edited by Linda Steele and Elisabeth Punzi. Vancouver:University of British Columbia Press, forthcoming.

~ Diana “Dee” Katovitch is a PMPA advisory board member. She has authored two books on intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is a doctoral candidate at Syracuse University, studying disability in higher education.

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haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

According to East Vincent Township’s website, Pennhurst Development LLC is planning to demolish all of Pennhurst’s old buildings and flood the land with parking spaces and Warehouses/Data Centers which means nothing will be left to remember the many individuals who’s lives were spent in agony there.

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

My name is Leigh Garrison. I am a 44 year old Delaware hospital RN BSN heading back for my masters. I was watching Portals to Hell with Jack Osborne and Katrina, It taught me soooo much! I am from Delaware, with Phili just an hour and half away. I want to go, learn, and even move into psychology. I want to help others with disabilities continue to improve. Thank you for this article. I will continue to study. Thank you. Leigh Garrison

Oh I so hope not demolished. It needs to be left for people to continence to learn the unjustified of the disabalbled population. Amen! And I rarely go to church…… but Amen! Continue scaring, teaching, educating. Scaringets people there, must generate money,and encourages conversations of disabled, how to treat diisabed,and treat everyone with great love and respect. If people kids, have a great scare, laugh, have fun,they will want to talk about what it was like to live there. Educate themselves. Grat idea! Thanks to all who go and do!

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

They appear to be taking ticket orders for this fall season, but the potential for demolition is on the table. In fact, it doesn’t appear that other options are at this time.

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

I hope not to demolish this history of what has happened to those people at the time with disabilities. We need to know the history keep those buildings up for those who had to experience life and for the spirits that are there. Also if you have the museum and bringing money in then it just don’t make sense why to stop having tours and helping our disabled people to teach and continue to learn for everyone!!!!

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

Would you turn Buchenwald or Auschwitz into a for profit “fun house” or give Halloween Haunt events? This is the most vile, disrespectful and degenerate thing I have ever heard of! This is not the way to shed light on the misery and abuse of very vulnerable and defenseless people who suffered at the hands of the state!

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

Lisa either didn’t bother to read the article so she could ride in on her high horse, or conveniently ignored the David Hingsburger quote right in the article:

“We take choice away from people with disabilities all the time…They (disabled people) have a right to the choices that *you’ve* approved. We don’t want people with disabilities to make choices that run counter to *our* philosophy….”

So once again, an able-bodied know-it-all has decided to condemn the work disabled folx are doing because it doesn’t fit in with *their* ableist notions of how Pennhurst should be “correctly” honored and remembered. Tell us Lisa, are you ACTUALLY a member of the disabled community? And if you are, why is it so hard to accept that other disabled folx will have differing views and opinions? You try to compare it to concentration camps of N*zi Germany, while again, conveniently forgetting that many of those sites – including Auschwitz, are already operating as tourist hotspots where thousands of people from all over the world visit on a daily basis! They’re not “haunt attractions” but they still rely on tourist money to keep those historical sites up and running. Does that not get your dander up as being “inhumane”, “disrespectful” yadda yadda yadda because they are essentially profiting off real human atrocities? And if you want to try to argue that these historical sites serve as “teachable moments” for self-proclaimed History Buffs… the Pennhurst Haunt is doing the same thing by the insistence of the disabled scareactors that work there as haunt employees and members of their historical preservation society.

So again, what exactly is the difference between what Pennhurst is doing and what Auschwitz does besides the fact that *you* personally agree with one and not the other because you believe one is “respectful” while the other isn’t? (All while casually being ableist by taking away the autonomy of disabled folx to make their own decisions because you don’t like that they don’t agree with you.)

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Pennhurst: A timeline of the true horror behind the infamous haunted house site

About 10,600 people lived in Pennhusrt over its 79 years of operations, with half dying there, before the grounds became a haunted house.

Broken windows at the historic Pennhurst State School make for a scary entrance to the Pennhurst Asylum haunted house attraction in Spring City, Pa. on Friday, October 21, 2022.

The Pennhurst State School and Hospital was a scary place well before it was turned into a Halloween haunted house.

» READ MORE: Pennhurst Asylum haunted house draws criticism every Halloween. A group of disabled actors running the show say there is more to the story.

Here is a look at the institution’s history by the numbers.

1908: Pennhurst opened its doors as a facility to house people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who were deemed unfit for society. It was intended to house no more than 500 residents, but it was overcrowded from the start. By 1957, the institution had more than 3,500 residents with just 600 staff, from groundskeepers to aides. Throughout its 79 years of operation, about 10,600 people lived there. About half died in the institution, many due to the poor living conditions, according to James Conroy, a medical sociologist who studied Pennhurst.

1968: WCAU (Channel 10) aired a five-part documentary called Suffer the Little Children that exposed the conditions at Pennhurst to the public. Reporter Bill Baldini found that the largest zoos in the United States spent more per day to feed their animals than Pennsylvania spent on the people at Pennhurst.

1972: Pottstown’s The Mercury newspaper called Pennhurst “the shame of Pennsylvania,” describing “1,700 human beings stored away in crumbling warehouses, the urine stench of decades soaked so deeply into the walls and floors that it can never be washed out.”

1970s: Three major lawsuits filed throughout the 1970s led to Pennhurst’s eventual closure.

1977: A federal district judge ordered Pennhurst to make arrangements for all residents to move to care in the community.

1982: The Department of Justice indicted nine present and former aides for assaulting and abusing patients. At the time, Pennhurst had 640 patients who on average had been there for more than 35 years.

1985 : The Pennhurst Longitudinal Study , ordered as part of the lawsuit to close Pennhurst, was released. The researchers followed 1,154 people who lived at Pennhurst and found that none became homeless or incarcerated. They tended to live at least six years longer, and 14% became more independent. Almost all said that they were better off outside of Pennhurst. Despite a reported 19% increase in services, the cost to taxpayers went down by 15% compared to funding Pennhurst.

1987: The last patient left Pennhurst.

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

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Pennhurst Asylum: The Shame of Pennsylvania

This state-funded school and hospital center was at the heart of the human rights movement that revolutionized this country’s approach to healthcare for the mentally and physically handicapped. This facility was one of the most striking examples of the maltreatment that was characteristic of such institutions––at one point, papers labeled it “The Shame of the Pennsylvania”. And the legacy of all this suffering might just be the lingering spirits that are said to still wander its abandoned wards today.

The History and Horror of Pennhurst Asylum

By Matt Lake, Rusty Tagliareni  and Mark Moran

Back in the mid 1960s, fledgling TV reporter Bill Baldini ran a five-episode exposé of Pennhurst State School and Hospital on Philadelphia’s TV10 (now an NBC affiliate). It painted a picture of neglect and abuse in the Chester County institution that was hard for the regular viewers to stomach. On the flickering monochrome televisions of the time came images of full-grown hands and feet bound by straps to adult-sized crib beds. Inmates of the institution were shown rocking, pacing, and twitching. Many were severely disabled either mentally or physically, but others were quite lucid and coherent—but withdrawn into themselves because of over-stimulation of the senses in the loud and sometimes frightening place, and a lack of much-needed mental stimulation. The five-minute news segments were entitled “Suffer the Little Children.” When one patient was asked by the interviewer what he would like most in the world, if he could have anything he wanted, the sad and withdrawn reply was simply, “To get out of Pennhurst.”

Home state Hauntings

Pennhurst first opened its doors in November of 1908, and due to pressure to accept not only the mentally and physically handicapped, but also immigrants, criminals and orphans who could not be housed elsewhere, it was overcrowded within only a few years. In 1913, the Commission for the Care of the Feeble-Minded was appointed, and boldly stated that those with disabilities were “unfit for citizenship” and furthermore, “posed a menace to the peace.”  Patients at Pennhurst were grouped into several general categories. Under the classification of mental prowess, one was listed as either an “imbecile” or “insane”. Physically, the patient could be declared either “epileptic” or “healthy”.

Like many similar facilities of the era, Pennhurst was functioned almost completely independently from the rest of society. It operated its own power plant, policed its own grounds and produced its own food. Any additional needs were supplied by a railway line that connected the campus to the outside world. The facility could operate without any interaction with the surrounding community, and that was the way the community preferred it.

By the mid-1960s, Pennhurst had been open for fifty years. It housed 2,791 people, most of them children, which was about 900 more than the administration thought the buildings could comfortably accommodate. But as a state school, they had to take what they were given. Only 200 of the residents were in any kind of art, education, or recreation programs that would help to improve their condition, though many of the patients were high-functioning enough to improve with the right care. The administrators interviewed in this program recognized that they were falling short of their ideal treatment, but with a crumbling building, a budget shortfall of four million dollars, and only 9 medical doctors and 11 teachers (none of them with special education training), their hands were tied.

Probably the most chilling scene in the 30 minutes of documentary footage in the TV10 report showed one of the hospital’s physicians describing how he dealt with a particularly vicious bully who had brutalized one of his other inmates. He described how he had asked one of his colleagues which injection he could use to cause the most discomfort to a patient without permanently injuring him. Then he proceeded to administer that injection to the bully.

From that point on, it was inevitable that the hospital would close down, but it took two decades of legal actions, federal judgments made and overturned, and growing financial crises for the place to be shuttered. By the 1980’s, overcrowding, lack of funds, inadequate staffing and decades of abuse and neglect accusations caught up with the operation, and in 1987 Pennhurst closed its doors. Its death was not without positive impact, though. The martyrdom of its long suffering patients helped put into motion changes to medical practice across the country and to society as a whole.

Despite the ultimate outcome, many former residents and staff members maintain that Pennhurst served some of its inmates very well. Some high-functioning patients received the treatment and therapies they needed to prepare themselves for living in the outside world. And some patients were so mentally handicapped that they injured themselves at the slightest provocation. One patient would charge into the walls headfirst. Such patients probably needed to be restrained for their own protection.

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

Timothy Smith, the son of the facility’s owner, who took the time to speak with Weird NJ, expressed a desire to restore the better portion of the property, with the eventual goal of creating a museum and historical tour open to the public. We’d like to think that in such a way, the place could finally serve some good purpose, educating the public in the errors of previous generations and commemorating all the lives that were spent here.

Paranormal Pennhurst

Naturally, as with any such institution with a sorted history of human suffering, violence and death, Pennhurst is not without its share of ghostly tales. Pennhurst is allegedly so haunted, in fact, that its paranormal presences have spawned a spectral cottage industry––ghost hunting on the grounds of the old asylum. In addition to overseeing the restoration projects at Pennhurst and operating the Pennhurst Asylum haunted attraction during the Halloween season, Timothy Smith is also President and CEO of the Pennhurst Paranormal Association. Using the enticing tagline, “They lived here, died here and are still here,” the organization plans to open up the former hospital to the public for ghost hunts on the campus. With other former institutions-turned-tourist-attractions such as Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia and Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky as a business models, Timothy believes that the public’s curiosity about Pennhurst’s spooks make it a potentially very profitable paranormal property. The television show “Ghost Adventures” has already filmed an episode of their Travel Channel program here.

During Weird NJ’s tour of Pennhurst we were joined by members of the Shore Paranormal Research Society (S.P.R.S.) who have become the official  paranormal investigators for the former institution. The S.P.R.S. is an Ocean County, NJ based team of trained individuals whose sole purpose is to find the truth behind claims of paranormal activity. According to Jim Ansbach, the group’s founder and case manager, Pennhurst is rife with such activity. The group has conducted several large-scale investigations of the old asylum’s many buildings, and documented a variety of evidence of paranormal activity––including photos, videos, recordings of voice phenomena and personal encounters with spirits. Among the recordings are the sounds of disembodies voices uttering things like  “go away”, “I’ll kill you”, “we’re upset”, and “why’d you come here?” An unknown male states, “I’m scared” while an invisible female asks, “why won’t you leave?”

Here are just some of the group’s other findings:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Weird-Ghosts.jpg

Limerick Building:   The apparition of a woman in a old style nurse’s uniform was observed by a fire fighter, police officer and a marine.  Multiple EVP’s.

Devon Building: Unknown sounds and multiple EVP’s.

Mayflower Building: Shadow people seen multiple times. EVP’s captured. Investigators have been touched in this building.

Tinicum Building: Multiple EVP’s. Investigator had their legs touched.

Philadelphia Building: Loud sounds and voices heard coming from the building. Investigators surrounded the building and entered it via the tunnel system. No one was in the building nor could they have fled without being observed.

Administration Building: Multiple voices heard at various times and EVP’s caught of what appears to be a toilet flushing. This building has no running water or bathroom fixtures.

Hershey Building : Investigator heard a female child’s voice on the third floor.

For a full report of all the S.P.R.S.’s investigations and gathered evidence visit their web site at: ShoreParanormal.com

Those interested in participating in a Pennhurst ghost hunt can find more information by visiting the web site PennhurstParanormal.com

The Children Did Suffer

Lots of medical professionals I work with did a stint at Pennhurst early in their careers. It was a boarding school as well as a hospital, though the more low-functioning residents were incapable of speaking, let alone learning anything, and many of the high-functioning residents never learned to read. Most of the people there weren’t insane, just mentally retarded, autistic or suffering other serious physical impairments. Some residents apparently just had learning disabilities or hyperactivity and emotional problems that made them seem more impaired. They would end up on high-functioning wards

Photo by Rusty Tagliareni

The Pennhurst Family Album

When I went to Pennhurst at night, it scared me halfway to death. When the wind blows across the buildings, it sounds like someone walking. There were dead animals there, and what looked like blood on some of the equipment. Once is enough. I’m never going back. But there was this one room that was really interesting. It was strewn with papers and photographs, carpeted with them, wall-to-wall. I didn’t read the papers, but the black-and-white photographs looked like something from a family album. –Anonymous

For more on this story and all the other strange sites that the Quaker State has to offer, check out our book Weird Pennsylvania .

Pennhurst Video by Antiquity Echoes .

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

The preceding article is an excerpt from Weird NJ magazine, “Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets ,” which is available on newsstands throughout the state and on the web at www.WeirdNJ.com .  All contents ©Weird NJ and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

Visit our  SHOP  for all of your Weird NJ needs:   Magazines ,  Books , Posters ,  Shirts ,  Patches , Stickers, Magnets, Air Fresheners . Show the world your Jersey pride some of our Jersey-centric goodies!

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A Living Nightmare: The History of Pennhurst Asylum

Shuttered in 1987, the souls of those who lived there still haunt its halls.

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The Pennhurst State School and Asylum, originally called the Eastern Pennsylvania Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic, was authorized for construction in 1903. It was conceived as a state-funded and operated facility, to house any individual deemed “feeble-minded,” and thus unable to function in normal society. This included physically and mentally disabled persons; individuals with “abnormalities,” physical or psychological; and mute, deaf, and blind people. It also included those with “offensive habits” and “imperfect speech.” When admitted, patients were classified physically as either imbecile or insane; classified mentally as healthy or epileptic; and classified dentally as having teeth either good, poor, or treated.

Related: 6 Haunted Asylums You Can Actually Visit

As time went on, the institution would be pressured to also house and hold immigrants, criminals, and orphans. It became the solution for ridding society of all “undesirables.” In fact, the institution’s campus functioned as a self-contained city, with residents completing all the tasks necessary to run their small society.

pennhurst asylum

Pennhurst in 1934.

It was a collective fear of the other that created the need for a place like Pennhurst. In 1913, legislature created a Commission for the Care of the Feeble-Minded, which declared that disabled individuals were both “unfit” for citizenship and a “menace to the peace.” It called for such people to be taken into custodial care by the government. This served to keep disabled people away from the general population—for everyone’s “safety”—as well as to keep them from reproducing.

Related: Corridor of Horrors: The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

Even more disturbing than the fact that such a facility existed is that it existed for so long . By the 1960s, Pennhurst was home to about 2,791 people—almost 900 more than maximum capacity. In 1968, a young reporter did a short TV series on Pennhurst, which was the first that most people had even heard of the institution. Many were appalled by the images they saw on their TV sets, including individuals chained to adult-sized cribs and children in cages.

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pennhurst asylum

  • Photo Credit: Fred Dunn / Flickr (CC)

Allegations of abuse surfaced in the following years. It wasn’t until 1987, however, that the facility finally closed. The closure came about after Pennhurst lost a large legal dispute filed by a former resident, who reported intense physical, emotional, and psychological abuses suffered at the hands of her nurses and caregivers. Apparently, those in positions of power were not only hurting the patients and residents themselves, but also arranging for patients to bully and assault each other.

Related: Bedlam: the Horrors of London’s Most Notorious Insane Asylum

If there’s a silver lining to Pennhurst, it’s that the horrors suffered there led to sweeping reforms. Its dark legacy changed the way the American legal system, as well as society, treats those with special needs.

pennhurst asylum

Of course, today, the asylum is shrouded in ghost tales and reports of paranormal activity. As of 2010, one building was partially reopened as the Pennhurst Asylum Haunted House. Some visitors claim to hear voices, shrieks, and murmurs of pain from former residents and inmates of the facility. The hauntings are terrifying for multiple reasons. Aside from the typical fear of the paranormal, the ghosts of Pennhurst serve as a collective reminder of just how cruel society can be towards its own members.

Feature photo: Thomas / Flickr (CC)

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This Overnight Ghost Hunt In Pennsylvania Is The Creepiest Thing You'll Ever Do

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Beth Price-Williams

A professional writer for more than two decades, Beth has lived in nearly a dozen states – from Missouri and Virginia to Connecticut and Vermont – and Toronto, Canada. In addition to traveling extensively in the U.S. and the U.K., she has a BA in Journalism from Point Park University (PA), a MA in Holocaust & Genocide Studies from Stockton University (NJ), and a Master of Professional Writing from Chatham University (PA). A writer and editor for Only In Your State since 2016, Beth grew up in and currently lives outside of Pittsburgh and when she’s not writing or hanging out with her bunnies, budgies, and chinchilla, she and her daughter are out chasing waterfalls.

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With Halloween barreling toward us at the end of the month, many of us are actively seeking out haunted attractions. Haunted houses and trails can be a ton of fun. But, for a real haunted experience, where you just may experience the paranormal firsthand, embark on this overnight ghost hunt in Pennsylvania.

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Do you dare embark on this overnight ghost hunt in Pennsylvania? Learn more about Pennhurst Asylum’s horrifying history here .

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Pennhurst Asylum

Photo of Pennhurst Asylum - Spring City, PA, US. Driving in

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Adam L.

“ The Pennhurst Asylum, Dungeon of Lost Souls and the Tunnel of Terror are all "MUST DO" attractions. ” in 42 reviews

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250 Service Rd

Spring City, PA 19475

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The mazes are all inside but the lines are outside.

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It is $10 off for any combo or VIP. You are allowed up to 6 family members. You must purchase your tickets at the door and show your ID at the time of purchase.

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247 reviews

Photo of Aeji K.

One of the best haunted attractions I've been to in a while! I was genuinely scared and their effects were outstanding. The parking was organized and there were many employees available to help you with any questions. Some notes: 1. Wear sneakers -- there are long lines outside on grass and lots of walking through the haunted areas. 2. Porta potties located throughout the attraction. Bring hand sanitizer. 3. They have smoke throughout the entire area -- inside and outside. If you have asthma, bring your inhaler just in case. 4. Lines are long so think of ways to entertain yourselves during the wait. The earlier you get there, the less you'll wait in the lines. There were entertainers throughout the lines but they were infrequent. 5. There was a snack stand right before the first attraction that sold pretzels, hot dogs, candy, and drinks. There is also the pumpkin patch at the end of the route that has carnival vibe food areas with funnel cake, corn dogs, fries, slushies, candy, etc. 6. The first haunted house has many exits if the place is too scary. Because of this, the first one wasn't as scary. On the other hand, the other 2 attractions did not have exits if it is too scary. 7. There's a VIP line and it looked worth it after standing in lines all night.

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

Thanks to my sister from another Mr inviting me to join her for an outstanding spookily fantastic scream-arific evening. And by the by, those #grilledcheese offered at the end of the whole adventure? These sammiches are located in the food court with the merch before the exit, these were the bombdiggity. You MUST have these mouthwatering delectably and lovingly constructed sandwiches. You will not regret it. After the belly workout from the jump scares and throat wrenching calisthenics, you will be hungry. You have burned calories. You've earned that carb load. You NEED that carb load. Go. Get it. Order it with the tomato or plain. Or what'evs. Just treat yourself. And re-clog those arteries that Pennhurst Asylum has graciously piled their moist guts and hearts out for us to enjoy and clear out the plaque that was originally residing in the bod tubes you will be thankful are not laying (?) all over the asylum. Please do go out to Pennhurst Asylum, get the VIP on the special event night and....run!!!! Run for the fear and joy of it.

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

See all photos from Natasha P. for Pennhurst Asylum

Photo of Ju L.

It's been years since I went to a haunted house, and Pennhurst Asylum did not disappoint. The last haunted house I went to was Eastern State Penitentiary, and they've got nothing on Pennhurst Asylum. The ticket admission included 3 haunted houses that you walk through. I was blown away by each one. The actors, props, decorations, and animatronics are on a whole other level. I definitely got startled and scared a bunch of times. It was fun and scary and sooooooo COOL. While walking through the 3 haunted houses and being scared, I was still able to appreciate the hard work and efforts that went into making the entire place look so scary and amazing at the same time. I also appreciated the sections within each haunted house (the well-lit stairwells where there's normally a security guard stationed), where you can take a break from being scared, be reminded that this is all not real, and get yourself together before moving on to the next room. Pennhurst Asylum is like a theme park for scares. As our group of 4 exited the last haunted house, we stopped by the gift shop. We chatted with the gift shop owners. The girl who we chatted with said her experience would vary every time she goes into the Pennhurst Asylum's haunted houses. It depends on how the actors want to interact with you. The company is always finding ways to add to the guest's experience. For example, they've added an animatronics section to the grounds this year. Our group of 4 had such a great time. Even though it is a trek to drive out to Spring City, I would love to come back next year and walk through the haunted houses again and see what other new installations Pennhurst Asylum will have.

Photo of Roberto R.

Spooky great time definitely will come back only thing I didn't like was the crazy line but after you get in it's pretty dope the actors are not lazy and they did well went on 10/29 arrived 8ish got in around 10ish parking was no issue but had to walk would be better if you go in group otherwise good experience 7/10 food was aight reg fair food bring and your good

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

This was an awesome experience - not just for the overnight haunted tours, but to learn about the history of the facility. The grounds are MASSIVE!!! If you're into the paranormal and history, this tour is a must! Although, I had minimal paranormal experiences it still was an enjoyable experience and I'd love to visit again! Hopefully the next time, it's less people because some people were just loud!

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

See all photos from Melisa D. for Pennhurst Asylum

Photo of Joe T.

This place was way better a few years ago. It's become too commercial and lots of expensive props. So much better when it was about the scary area and the asylum. Even the walk into the place is a nightmare now. Not spooky at all. Save your money. They are way better attractions.

Photo of Etienne D.

So let me tell you about this situation right here! This shit is anything but eventful! You will literally be in line for over 2hrs just waiting to go into 1 attraction! It seems to be no limit on tickets in terms of the amount of people I feel like there should be a sold out limit! I have never been to a haunted house before and this was one of many experiences that I would never ever try again! I refuse to stand in line and have to deal with this! You got people acting stupid as shit running when stuff comes up to you like you don't know it's coming then you have people being close as shit for no reason as if they don't know what personal space is! To say the least I WILL NOT BE RETURNING TO THIS SHIT!

Photo of Rylie Y.

0 stars if I could. Tickets for the haunted tour were for 7 PM, we spent 45 minutes parking, and have been waiting in line for our first attraction for close to two hours and still have yet to make it to the entrance. Be prepared to spend all night here ... pennhurst reimburse me for my Halloween costume for the party I missed challenge‼

Long ass line

Long ass line

Photo of Claudette M.

Pt. 2 We even got to go down in the tunnels and our guide did an extended REM pod session and got some great responses down there. She felt good about our group and so took us around to the hospital which was destroyed during a storm. We got to see what was left and it was creepy. The infirmary was our stop there and I got a crazy video with like hundreds of orbs flying at me. I don't know if it was dust but I did take video in other buildings and got nothing like that. The gift shop was very cool. I got a long-sleeved Pennhurst tee and they had up all the pictures on the back wall from the brochure which showed how Pennhurst was advertised as a luxury treatment facility to families of the disabled and unwanted who were sadly left there. The staff were always doing their best to show us how the road to hell is truly paved with good intentions. I love the fact that the new owners are trying so hard to educate visitors and keep the history of Pennhurst alive. As I said, I will definitely visit again. And I hope Makayla is my tour guide! During the overnight tour, which runs from 7 PM - 3 AM, you will get to explore Devon, Mayflower, Quaker, the Infirmary and one of the tunnels...but sadly I can't remember the name. You will get to explore and use your own or Pennhurst's ghost-hunting equipment on your own. And you get a good amount of time in each space. This tour is definitely worth the price, and the staff are professional and sensitive to the nature of the atrocities which took place here. Visit Pennhurst. It is humbling and the spirits there are, mostly, playful and friendly. It is important we never forget these dark spots on our history to keep them from being repeated.

Wow, what a great birthday present to myself. Drove down from Ontario to do the overnight paranormal tour and decided to make a vacation out of it and visit Philly too. Philly was just a ball of stress...no parking and so much traffic. Pennhurst was the highlight and most enjoyable part of my trip. I really want to go back. The rich history of this place and paranormal energy begs more than one visit. I should have written this review earlier because I cannot for the life of me remember my tour guide's name, and that is a shame because she was phenomenal. I only heard it once, when they told me I would be in her group. There was a lovely person who joined us named Makayla. She was training to be a tour guide and is absolutely the kindest person I have ever met...ever. I have RA and she stuck with me the entire night. Makayla was the biggest empath I've ever met. She would give me space to explore and investigate, but I very much preferred to have her with me. I mean, this girl! I struggled to make it to 3 AM and we walked all around the campus. When I felt the most pain in my back and knees and thought I couldn't make it, she came over and asked, "Are you okay?" I'm not kidding when I say I've never had anyone in my life so concerned about my well-being. It was uncanny...and I have to say leant to the atmosphere...the amazing way she knew when I was feeling my worst. I couldn't have gone the entire night without her. She helped me up when we were sitting on the floor, or anyplace low, where I had a hard time. So many times, she helped me up. When I thought I couldn't continue (like climbing the stairs in the last building...the most important building...Mayflower) she literally cheered me on, saying "I know you can do it!" "You've got this." Taking a tour when you have a disability with someone like this makes it an extra special experience. I know those who lived at Pennhurst with their own difficulties see Makayla and smile down on her. She told me she was going to stay with her boyfriend across the river that night. I told her if he doesn't marry her, he's a fool. You won't find special people like her very often, and I thank her so much for adding to the experience and her wonderful compassion and kind heart. She did also ghost hunt with me and made it much more fun just by accompanying me. My other guide had short brown hair and she wore glasses. She was wonderful as well. She was so knowledgeable and tried so hard to get responses with the REM pod and spirit boxes. When you drive in to arrive at the campus, you definitely drive into the woods. I heard Destination Fear comment on how this felt deep in the woods and isolated. This is definitely true and makes the apprehension build. Once you are settled and assigned a wristband, there is a historical tour of the grounds. We all learned so much about how the people who were dumped here were treated. I probably would have been left there by my parents if I had my illness when I was little. In front of the administration building we learned that Stephen Hawking would have failed the IQ tests at Pennhurst as one of the first marks of 'intelligence' is if someone can hold a pencil. These were the 'medical' terms to describe the residents depending on IQ: Idiot, Moron, Imbecile. I'm not kidding. The tour guides were so respectful of the history and made us feel the pain these poor people must have felt when they were abandoned by their families at Pennhurst. We learned in Quaker, there were two staff members assigned to 75-100 people who could not go to the bathroom unattended or feed themselves. I can't imagine how helpless it felt on both sides. To not be able to provide adequate care must have felt devastating and so defeating, and to not be cared for must have crushed those delicate souls. Learning about this dark history is so necessary so that it is, hopefully, NEVER repeated. After the history portion, we began the paranormal investigations. This was so cool. I went on my first one in NOLA in Feb, but this was above and beyond anything I've experienced. The staff had REM pods, EMF detectors, spirit boxes, dowsing rods. I brought my own flashlight (you will need one of these when doing this tour) and a digital recorder. Makayla was with me in Devon when I investigated and we both agreed that we felt a dark presence in there. I got an EVP with a moan and then some crazy whispering. I also got a picture of a dark mist hovering over a chair which I did not see with my naked eye (posted below). The downside to this was that there was a LARGE number of people in each group. You would want to investigate in a certain room, but people were already there. Or you would be recording and only pick up other people investigating, but it was still a great experience. When Makayla and I got our EVP, there was no one else around on that floor. To be continued...

Photo of Dejah D.

Wack!!!! I expected so much more from this place as I ride past a billboard ad for it every 5 mins it seems, and people I know personally have raved about their experiences here. Unfortunately I don't feel the same way... the lines sucked!! Please do yourself a favor and get the VIP tickets if you decide to come here, you'll save yourself a lot of time and will get out of the cold faster. The actors were boring and weren't scary at all. When going here I expected to feel like I was in a mental hospital and I didn't feel that way not once. Should've been actors outside scaring us, should've been actors on the roof acting like they were about to jump... like I wanted the most out of this experience and I can't say I received anything close to that. Very disappointed and won't be back! The hot chocolate was good though...

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haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

Visit These 5 Haunted Spots in Pennsylvania—if You Dare

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

Altoona’s Mishler Theater is haunted enough to have garnered the attention of the guys behind the reality TV show Ghost Hunters, who visited the theater in 2004. Isaac Charles Mishler built the theater in the early 1900s, spending his life involved with it until he died in 1944. He’s buried nearby, but many believe his spirit visits the theater often. There are numerous reports of sightings of ghostly figures, spotlights on the stage turned on inexplicably, and the aroma of Mishler’s cigar smoke in the air. 

Civil War Ghosts reports that a young girl named Madeleine Letsche frequently spoke to a man who wore all sorts of hats when she accompanied her mother who worked at the theater. The man would tell her about the history of the building, but there was no living man at the theater who fit her description. It’s generally believed that Mishler’s ghost was reminiscing with the girl.

The beautiful, old theater is still in operation, putting on plays, musicals, concerts, and other events. 

Ax Murder Hollow, Millcreek Township

The story varies depending on who is telling it, but it goes something like this: About 70 years ago, a husband killed his wife—whom he believed to be unfaithful—and their children with an ax. There’s no proof it happened, police have no record of the murder according to Go Erie , but it doesn’t stop the locals from reporting that they see a ghostly farmer at night or that their car engines stall out at the same time there are eerie sounds coming from the woods of the Weis Library area of Millcreek Township.

Some call the man Billy the Butcher. Birds won’t chirp on the side of the road where the farmhouse supposedly was, others point out. There was 30-minute movie produced in 2003 based on the reported paranormal activity, aptly titled “Ax Murder Hollow.” Whether the original grizzly killings happened or not, the urban legend lives on and people purposely go into the woods, hoping to catch a glimpse of a ghostly ax murderer and perhaps the family he murdered. 

Cresson State Sanatorium, Cresson

Built in the 1910s, the sanatorium reportedly housed over 40,000 tuberculosis victims, many of whom died of the disease. Their dead bodies would be carried through tunnels to the morgue and burned in an incinerator or placed in unmarked graves. Decades later the property became a prison, housing violent criminals. Several of the existing structures are sites of frequent paranormal activity, believed to be the souls of those who died painful deaths there, particularly the Maple Building that housed children with TB, the morgue, the death tunnels, and an old chapel. 

The current property owners use a portion of the land to build hydroponic equipment and grow hydroponic produce and hemp as well as develop sustainable energy projects. But, to offset some of the costs, a portion of the former prison grounds is now the Imaginarium Sanitarium , a massive haunted attraction where you can feel the fear, if you buy tickets. 

Washington Square, Philadelphia

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

By day, you’ll find families picnicking in Washington Square in the Old City section of Philadelphia. By night, you may cross paths with the ghosts of those who were given unceremonious burials in the field. 

From 1704 to 1794, the square was a potter’s field for those considered unworthy of Christian burial. According to Ghost City Tours , a Quaker woman named Leah is one of the ghosts many people believe they encounter. Buried there because she committed suicide, Leah now roams the square with her lantern, watching over others. Some of the other specters are thought to be Revolutionary War soldiers—a Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier memorial honors those in the mass graves—and victims of the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic.

Anyone can visit Washington Square on their own, day or night, or take a guided ghost tour at night. Wander beyond Washington Square, and there are several other haunted spots in Old City including Elfreth’s Alley and Independence Hall.

READ MORE: 7 Things to Do With a Friend Visiting Pennsylvania for the First Time

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Pennhurst Asylum Ghost Hunt

$149 per person.

Pennhurst Asylum is one of the most haunted locations in Pennsylvania.

Our events at the best known and most horrifying asylum in the country are not for the faint of heart.

Pennhurst is one of the most highly sought locations in history due to its horrifying past and frightening reports of paranormal activity!

The paranormal activity at Pennhurst Asylum includes footsteps, faint whispers, being pushed and touched, cries, shadow figures, and much more!

Pennhurst Asylum will drive you to the very brink of fear! Join us for a night among the dead at this legendary location…If you dare!

Minimum Age of 16, with an Adult

Pennhurst Asylum Ghost Hunt | Haunted | Paranormal

Event Start Time: 7:00pm

Event Finish Time: 4:00am

Your ghost hunt at Pennhurst Asylum includes the following:

History Tour.

Exclusive Access to the most haunted areas.

Access to:  The Infirmary (NEW AREA), The Devon Building, The Mayflower and the Tunnels.

Ghost Hunting Vigils.

Structured Vigils.

Ghost Hunt with experienced Ghost Hunting Team.

Use of our equipment which includes, trigger objects and EMF Meters.

Private time to explore this location and to undertake your very own private vigils.

Unlimited refreshments available throughout the night including: Coffee, Coca Cola, Diet Coke, and Bottled Water.

Location History

Sitting ominously in decay is Northeastern Pennsylvania is an absolutely terrifying collection of buildings that speak to a torturous past. That horrific past of Pennhurst Asylum led to the terrifying paranormal activity that has been widely experienced and documented for years.

Pennhurst Asylum was founded in 1908 as the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic serving the mentally and physically disabled of Southeastern Pennsylvania until it closed its doors in December of 1987.  While the building was active, overcrowding and questionable practices to the modern eye has earned this institution, and many like it, a foreboding reputation that haunts the hearts of humanity.

It is important to remember that the “leading minds” of the progressive era, influenced by the enlightenment, were the ones who helped purport the belief that those born with disabilities should be segregated from society as a whole and effectively sterilized in order to prevent the spread of “defective genes.”  Institutions, like Pennhurst, were thought to be a more humane approach than the previously occupied poorhouses and farms.

The original design accounted for the segregation of residents by both gender and disability with a system of tunnels and walkways that allowed for the transportation of residents unseen.  After admitting “Patient Number 1” in November of 1908, overcrowding swiftly became a problem.  The institution was designed for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and were pressured to admit residents who were considered “undesirables” in society.  Steeped in the flawed intellectualism of the Eugenics movement, the desire to cull the gene pool led to pressure to admit immigrants, orphans, criminals and more.

As the population grew there were several additions to the institution including a female campus and hospital.  Despite the expansions and annexes, the population continued to climb and reached a peak of 3,500 individuals in the early 1960’s.  With as many residents as a large town, it’s no wonder that Pennhurst began to grab the attention of the Media.

In 1968, Bill Baldini, a local CBS Correspondent, exposed the conditions of Pennhurst to the general public in a five-part television news report.  Although it was not the first medium to criticize Pennhurst (numerous newspaper articles, legislative inquiries and investigations had focused on the Institution prior to this point) this particular television report called eyes down upon Pennhurst and called into question as to why nothing had been done to rectify the complaints and exposures of the past.

A landmark case was first filed in 1974, Halderman v. Pennhurst by the mother of a Pennhurst resident.  Some of the complaints lobbied against the institution are as follows:

  • No psychologists are on duty at Pennhurst at night or over the weekend.
  • Physical and Chemical restraints are used as control measures. The physical restraints include: seclusion rooms, binding patients’ hands and feet, binding patients to chairs and beds.
  • Seclusion rooms have been used to punish aggressive behavior. One eighteen-year-old individual spent six consecutive days in seclusion in 1974 for assaulting a Down’s Syndrome resident.
  • Physical restraints are also used due to staff shortages. An extreme example is a female resident who, during the month of June 1976, was in a physical restraint for 651 hours 5 minutes; for the month of August, 1976, was in physical restraints for 720 hours; during September, 1976, was in physical restraints for 674 hours 20 minutes; and during the month of October, 1976, was in physical restraints for 647 hours 5 minutes. This resident was so extremely self-destructive she totally blinded herself.
  • There is often excrement and urine on ward floors, and the living areas do not meet minimal professional standards for cleanliness. Outbreaks of pinworms and infectious disease are common.
  • Injuries to residents by other residents, and through self-abuse, are common. For example, on January 8, 1975, one individual bit off three-quarters of the earlobe and part of the outer ear of another resident while the second resident was asleep. About this same period, one resident pushed a second to the floor, resulting in the death of the second resident.
  • In 1976, one resident was raped by a staff person; one resident was badly bruised when a staff person hit him with a set of keys; another resident was thrown several feet across a room by a staff person; and one resident was hit by a staff person with a shackle belt.
  • Many of the residents have suffered physical deterioration and intellectual and behavioral regression during their residency at Pennhurst.
  • Terri Lee Halderman’s medical records contain a listing of over forty reported injuries.
  • Parent’s observed twenty-five residents walking the ward naked, others were only partially dressed.

Apart from this trial heard by the Supreme Court, in 1983 nine employees were indicted on charges ranging from slapping and beating patients to arranging for patients to assault one another.  After the Halderman v. Pennhurst case was heard, the institution shut down in 1987.

The buildings still standing at Pennhurst Aslym are now used for paranormal research and to host a haunted attraction.

The Paranormal

You asked for it. We heard you. Now it’s back!

Ghost Hunts USA have returned with one of the most notorious locations in United States History

The incredibly haunted Pennhurst Asylum is BACK!

And we’re bringing you all on the ride!

Formerly known as Eastern State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic, Pennhurst Asylum has been featured on paranormal programs such as the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, History Channel’s Haunted History and Destination America’s America’s Most Haunted Asylum , where the Ghost Hunts USA Team worked to uncover some of the many secrets that this location still holds.

While Pennhurst Asylum was in full operation, over 10,000 patients called it home.  Many are still lurking the corridors screaming of the injustices that were forced upon them.  Overcrowding and understaffing resulted in patients being restrained for days upon end, patient’s dying at one another’s hands and by the hands of those who were entrusted with their care.

Children with physical and mental disabilities were abandoned. Meager funding left patients trapped in metal cribs and horrid conditions. Cruel punishments were enacted upon the patients – if one patient bit another, the second offense resulted in every tooth being extracted.  With all the mistreatment of residents, no wonder there is a cloud of darkness and despair still hovering over Pennhurst.

On the third floor there is a spirit that likes to test the testosterone levels of men. Lunging towards and attempting to strangle the more aggressive males; many have left the area screaming in fear.

The paranormal activity at Pennhurst Asylum includes footsteps, faint whispers, being pushed and touched, cries, shadow figures, and much more! Pennhurst Asylum will drive you to the very brink of fear! Join us for a night among the dead at this legendary location…If you dare!

Pennhurst Asylum Ghost Hunt  Spring City, Pennsylvania  Friday August 19th 2022

Pennhurst Asylum Ghost Hunt Spring City, Pennsylvania Friday August 19th 2022

Pennhurst Asylum Ghost Hunt  Spring City, Pennsylvania  Saturday August 20th 2022

Pennhurst Asylum Ghost Hunt Spring City, Pennsylvania Saturday August 20th 2022

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10 Most Haunted Insane Asylums in America

Are you interested in discovering the most haunted insane asylums in America?

You’ve come to the right place.

Keep reading, if you dare…

Do you dare visit any of these mental asylums? Photo credit: flickr/jingerelle

Updated 2/9/2020 – In today’s world, mental disorders are openly recognized, discussed and researched.

Advocacy for the proper education and funding for said research is something Americans now strive for with pride.

But this wasn’t always the case.

Table of Contents

  • 1.1.1 10) Pennhurst Asylum – Spring City, PA
  • 1.1.2 9) The Ridges (formerly Athens Lunatic Asylum) – Athens, OH
  • 1.1.3 8) Ranchos Los Amigos – Downey, CA
  • 1.1.4 7) Rolling Hills Asylum – East Bethany, NY
  • 1.1.5 6) Danvers Lunatic Asylum – Danvers, MA
  • 1.1.6 5) Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum – Weston, WV
  • 1.1.7 4) Waverly Hills Sanatorium – Louisville, KY
  • 1.1.8 3) Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane – Buffalo, NY
  • 1.1.9 2) Byberry Mental Hospital – Philadelphia, PA
  • 1.1.10 1) Essex County Hospital Center – Cedar Grove, NJ
  • 1.2 Conclusion

Sinister History: Haunted Asylums in America

A part of America’s dark history pertains to how we dealt with citizens with mental illnesses, and nine times out of ten it wasn’t pleasant.

Things aren’t perfect today by any stretch, there’s still a lot of work to do, but we’ve made progress.

The primary purpose of insane asylums was to house people that were considered a disgrace to their families.

A lot of times this meant Americans who were mentally impaired.

Americans who were unusual in appearance or violent in demeanor typically got sent to these barbaric facilities as well.

How inhabitants were treated varied greatly from asylum to asylum, but most operated in the confines of harsh regulations, crude punishment, and horrible medical procedures.

Most patients often died because of malnutrition, neglect or medical experiments gone wrong.

These people led sad and lonely lives and often faced brutal deaths.

And for that reason, their souls continue to live on and haunt these facilities all across our nation.

Below is a closer, and scary, look into this country’s haunted asylums.

America’s 10 Most Haunted Asylums (And Their True Horror Stories)

10) pennhurst asylum – spring city, pa.

Photo credit: flickr/photommo

In 1908 a facility was built in Spring City, PA as a means to educate the mentally and physically disabled.

Originally named the Pennhurst Home for the Feeble Minded and Epileptic, the facility was shortly renamed the Pennhurst State School.

Over the years, Pennhurst developed a nasty reputation.

Many claimed that medical and personnel staff was inhumane in their treatment of patients, and that cruel practices were routine here.

Over time, reports of paranormal encounters began to circulate regarding the abandoned Pennhurst.

It became a frequent site for paranormal investigators to go through to collect evidence.

Disembodied voices, shadow apparitions, and objects that mysteriously move on their own have all been reported multiple times.

This growing reputation sparked a new future for Pennhurst, and today it is open to the public as a haunted house attraction.

Thrill seekers who attend Pennhurst are often seen screaming and fleeing the building, certain that the entities they encountered were no longer living.

There is a frequent turnover of staff members, as many are unable to overcome the eerie experiences they have at the facility.

Several former employees have come forward to report their experiences.

One young man said the underground tunnels of the asylum are severely haunted.

When down there, he could hear the sound of wheelchairs squeaking all around him.

Another employee refused to work in the surgery room after hearing a woman’s screams in her ear.

She claims that as soon as the screaming began, she felt a horrible pressure in her skull, above her eye.

She’s certain that this screaming spirit had been lobotomized in that room.

One brave employee continues to work at the asylum, despite having the scariest encounter yet.

One night, after the end of their shift, the man ran into a female wearing bloody makeup all over her face.

He had a conversation with her about the tour that night.

When he pointed the girl out to his boss, his boss was not able to see her.

9) The Ridges (formerly Athens Lunatic Asylum) – Athens, OH

Photo credit: flickr/katherinecaprio

The Ridges, also known as the Athens Lunatic Asylum, was thought up shortly after The Civil War.

The facility officially opened on January 9, 1874.

This facility became a hub for inhumane medical practices, including lobotomies, electroshock and the abuse of psychotropic drugs.

However, these harsh treatments were not discovered until much later, when hospital records were publicized.

The hospital was closed down in 1993, and the original buildings were given to Ohio State University.

Many Ohio State students have reported seeing shadowy figures lurk around the buildings at night.

When asked for a description, several students have said that these figures seem to walk without direction or purpose.

They move with a strange gait, and never seem aware of their surroundings.

One student has recorded these encounters on her paranormal blog.

Using an EVP recorder , the girl claims that she made successful contact with one of the spirits that haunt the facility.

She wanted to verify the findings so she had a chat with a psychic and asked the medium to channel the spirit.

The result was darker than she first imagined: The spirit communicated to her that he was once a patient at the Athens Lunatic Asylum.

Diagnosed with violent episodes of epilepsy, the spirit spent many painful years enduring extensive electroshock therapy.

When asked if the entity had had any family, the spirit told the girl via the medium that he had fallen in love with another patient at the asylum.

She was a female, by the name of Annie, who was sent to Athens because she suffered hallucinations.

Annie returned the man’s affections, until five years after her admittance, when she was lobotomized.

The man jumped off the roof of the building the following day.

A few other students have encountered a spirit much more malevolent in nature.

Many no longer visit the shower facilities alone at night because an entity likes to torment them any chance it gets.

Visitors have reported the spirit likes to show up standing behind them whenever they look in a mirror.

The spirit is not visible when each student turns around, but will quickly reappear again, watching and grinning maliciously at them in the mirror.

8) Ranchos Los Amigos – Downey, CA

Photo credit: flickr/donbrr

The Rancho Los Amigos (“Friends Ranch”) opened up in 1888.

The facility was built in two distinct quarters, known as North and South Campus.

Occasionally, the abandoned South Campus is utilized for training by the US Army and Marines.

In 2006, a group of Marines discovered a collection of mummified legs, arms and brain tissue in a freezer at the facility.

South Campus has become a hotspot for paranormal encounters ever since.

Locals who have sneaked into the abandoned facility have reported hearing footsteps which seem to follow them when they walk.

Locals have said that several people who continue to reside at North Campus continuously complain to staff that they can hear the sounds of spirits crying from the abandoned buildings.

Rumor has it that patients often tell staff that when they look out of their bedroom windows at night, they can see caskets scattered all across the field.

A small group of paranormal enthusiasts report that at certain times of night they have seen full bodied apparitions walk outside South Campus.

They make no noise with their feet, but if you dare to step close enough, you can hear them muttering nonsense under their breath.

A few nearby residents have encountered a male spirit that calls himself Bill.

When using a spirit box, Bill is known for saying the names of those present.

He seems to have a fondness for women, as if any of the living visitors are female, he will touch each of their hands.

One female eyewitness claims that Bill followed her home one night.

She woke up around 3 AM to find a shadowy figure sitting in a chair across from her bed.

When she acknowledged the entity, she felt a cold pair of hands touch her from the crown of her head, down to her toes.

Bill stayed at her house for several days, until the woman requested a local priest come to cleanse her home.

7) Rolling Hills Asylum – East Bethany, NY

Photo credit: flickr/jingerelle

The Rolling Hills Asylum, formerly known as the Genesee County Poorhouse, opened to the public on January 1, 1827.

Along with the mentally unstable, the Genesee County Poorhouse welcomed blind, lame and disabled residents, poor people, drunkards and vagrants.

Residents without external family were buried on the site; however these graves went unmarked for decades.

To this day, the cemetery registry has never been found.

The facility remained open until 1974.

Today, the Rolling Hills Asylum is open to the public.

Guided tours and private ghost hunts are available for purchase on the Asylum’s website.

Dozens of paranormal investigation groups have visited Rolling Hills, intent on capturing EVP, EMF, and video evidence of lingering spirits and entities.

Several groups have evidence of disembodied voices and EVP recordings of children and nurses, attempting to communicate with the living.

Many are directing orders to investigators, demanding them to leave the facility or the room they are in.

Many have witnessed a misty apparition traveling in and out of the Nurses Station.

Orbs are also very common.

Furthermore, there have been several reports of visitors experiencing a strange cob-web like substance on their faces.

Many paranormal investigators believe this substance to be ectoplasm—psychical evidence of a spirit that continues to live at a location.

One local who went on a tour of Rolling Hills came forward to share her experience.

She claims she encountered a dead boy where the inhabitants used to eat.

Every time she would ask a question, she could hear the boy softly giggle in her ear.

When she asked the boy how he died, she felt her throat start to close up.

Suddenly, she couldn’t breathe at all.

As she choked for air, she heard the boy whisper, “I’ll show you.”

The woman quickly ran from the room.

It wasn’t until she had made it out of the asylum that she could breathe properly again.

She considers going back to the facility, but she says she will never again visit that portion of the asylum again.

6) Danvers Lunatic Asylum – Danvers, MA

Photo credit: flickr/bristolmyers

The Danvers Lunatic Asylum opened in 1878.

Located in rural Massachusetts, Danvers has gained notoriety due to the fact that many believe this Asylum was the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy.

A neurologist by the name of Walter Freeman discovered that violent behavior could be quickly eradicated if a long needle was pushed through the eye and into the frontal portion of a patient’s brain.

Doctors and staff at Danvers were ecstatic when Dr. Freeman arrived to lobotomize patients.

These inhumane practices continued for decades.

Danvers was shut down in 1992.

For years, the buildings sat ignored, until reports of paranormal sounds and apparitions sparked a renewed interest in the building.

Locals claim it is now quite common to see lobotomized victims wandering aimlessly about the place.

Those who walk near the building can sometimes see entities, pounding on the windows on the second story, screaming from the pain they endured when they were alive.

Many who sneak into the facility claim they get unbearable headaches that last the duration of their visit.

One man claims that after he encountered a lobotomized spirit in the living quarters, he went temporarily blind in his right eye for a month.

Many entities at Danvers cannot speak, so they use physical touch to communicate.

Witnesses have experienced hair pulling, tugs on their clothes, even scratches down their backs.

One local, who came forward anonymously, said that the infirmary is where a majority of the encounters occur.

Moans and cries from bedridden patients occur here, and get exponentially louder the longer one stays in the room.

Many nearby residents have heard of these encounters and dare to venture everywhere in the asylum apart from that ghastly room.

A few teenagers claimed to have brought a Ouija board to the site, but every time they start to ask questions, the planchette is thrown across the room by an unseen force.

5) Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum – Weston, WV

Photo credit: flickr/Janet Shaffer

Trans-Allegheny opened its doors to the public in 1864, and is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in the United States.

Due to the fact that the facility was overcrowded, sanitary conditions at Trans-Allegheny were extremely poor.

The buildings began to deteriorate, and as the necessary funding for restorations was unavailable, the Asylum was forced to close its doors in 1994.

Today, the facility is kept alive by way of public and private ghost tours.

Several teams have recorded the sounds of doors slamming through the building’s many hallways.

Disembodied whispers can be heard from the victims who were once forced to live without private rooms.

One local team has been to Trans-Allegheny on several occasions and has heard spirits call out their names by way of a spirit box.

Another paranormal investigation crew out of North Carolina has video evidence of a full bodied apparition, standing in what was once used as the female living quarters.

The apparition appears to be the spirit of a little girl.

The group asked her several questions, but was unable to discern a response on their EVP devices.

Shortly before the girl disappeared, however, a female member of the group felt a violent slap on her right hand.

While the rest of the NC group has returned to Trans-Allegheny, the female member who experienced this frightening encounter refuses to enter the building ever again.

Another paranormal investigation group claims to have encountered the same little girl, standing by the Nurses Station, holding a ragged teddy bear.

The batteries died on their cameras shortly before the entity appeared.

She stared at the group for a few moments, until she opened her mouth and let out a blood curdling scream.

The group was so frightened; they dropped all of their gear and ran from the asylum.

They had two hours left of their scheduled private tour, but none of them wanted to enter the building again.

4) Waverly Hills Sanatorium – Louisville, KY

Photo via orangesmile.com

On July 26, 1910, the Waverly Hills Sanatorium was opened as a safe haven for patients with tuberculosis.

In 1961, an antibiotic was discovered that treats tuberculosis.

This cure resulted in Waverly’s subsequent abandonment.

While the buildings remained intact, Waverly Hills was passed from owner to owner over the years.

However, in 2001 Waverly was purchased by paranormal investigators Charles and Tina Mattingly.

The Waverly Hills Historical Society now hosts various types of paranormal tours of Waverly every year.

Several people who have been on these tours have claimed to have encountered spirits of former tuberculosis patients.

They claim that if the group is quiet enough, ragged breathing can be heard as you pass by the tuberculosis ward.

One paranormal enthusiast successfully managed to capture a clear EVP recording.

A distinctly male voice can be heard breathing heavily for a few minutes before begging for help, and claiming that “it hurts too much to endure.”

In the morgue, a few tour groups have seen scalpels and other small, medical instruments mysteriously disappear and reappear.

One woman claims she heard the distinct sound of a small saw in this room, as if a doctor were opening the skull of a dead patient, over and over again.

Overall, the living quarters seem to harbor the most paranormal activity.

Running footsteps can be heard with the naked ear, running to and fro down the hall.

Many people experience a lot of activity on the third door from the right in the living quarters to the west.

The spirit of an elderly man can be heard, calling out for help over and over again, to no avail.

One unfortunate tour group got simultaneously ill after passing by this particular doorframe.

No matter which room you are in at Waverly, random cold spots are an everyday occurrence.

The spirits who linger at this asylum refuse to be forgotten.

3) Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane – Buffalo, NY

The Buffalo State Asylum, also referred to as the Buffalo State Hospital, was officially opened to the public in 1880.

During the 1960s, new buildings were created to improve patient care.

Several of the original outcroppings of Buffalo Asylum were demolished to make room for these new buildings.

The hospital was renamed the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, and the primarily building built in 1872 was completely abandoned.

The asylum has now become a place where local teenagers dare each other to sneak into.

Several claim that the facility is haunted by spirits, predominately female.

They report that shrieking and crying can be heard echoing off the walls, but the exact location is never certain.

One spirit in particular, named Alice by locals, is particularly vicious.

Several witnesses claim to have heard her yell at trespassers that she will hurt them all.

Within moments of encountering “Alice” a few witnesses have stated that they feel sick to their stomach, and often lose their last meal because of her.

A few residents have used a spirit box to communicate with Alice.

They claim that the words “fear”, “death”, and “run”, came up over and over again.

The group asked Alice what it was that they should run from.

The word “him!” was shouted through the spirit box a moment later.

Ecstatic about these results, the group failed to notice a misty apparition at the other end of the hall.

When someone finally noticed and pointed out the strange entity, a loud demonic sounding growl emanated from the apparition.

A couple people from the group quickly fled the scene, but the man holding the spirit box and two others remained.

He asked the entity who he was.

The apparition let out another terrifying growl but did not seem to reply.

After the group left the asylum and examined their evidence, they stumbled upon a frightening EVP recording.

A woman of the group was so frightened by the growling apparition; she had forgotten she was holding an EVP device at the time.

When her companion asked the entity who he was, the spirit answered by way of EVP.

He only said one word…”Beezlebub.”

2) Byberry Mental Hospital – Philadelphia, PA

Photo credit: flickr/por3laind0ll

Often compared to Nazi Concentration Camps, Byberry (or Philadelphia State Hospital) has a tragic history that most people simply do not know about.

The buildings were very much overcrowded and patients began to live in hallways.

Reports of abuse began, and visitors of the facility witnessed masses of naked patients huddling in the halls, surrounded by their own feces.

The facility gained national attention in 1945, when a gentleman by the name of Charlie Lord took photographs within the hospital, exposing how vile living conditions were.

The hospital officially closed its doors in June of 1990, when the facility failed a state health inspection for the second time in a row.

For several years, Byberry sat abandoned.

The facility became a place for satanic groups to come and conduct rituals.

Locals say that Police patrolled the area, and often found the carcasses of animals sacrificed, deep in the bowels of the facility.

Several urban explorers have been brave enough to speak about their personal experiences at Byberry.

Many believe that among asylum hauntings, the entities that continue to live at Byberry are among the most violent and angry.

Many have been physically attacked while exploring the site, photographing scratches on their arms and torsos.

One explorer claims he encountered a very strong spirit in the tunnels.

He was walking when he heard a harsh chuckle in his left ear.

His flashlight died moments later, leaving the tunnel pitch black.

Suddenly the smell of rotting flesh surrounded him in the dark.

As he coughed and gagged at the stench, he felt two hands shove him violently from behind.

The man was rammed into the tunnel wall and rendered unconscious.

When his fellow urban explorers found him the following morning, they were shocked to see that his uniform had long tears all over it.

Deep gashes were discovered all over the man’s body.

The man received hundreds of stitches, and was briefly hospitalized for his head wound.

1) Essex County Hospital Center – Cedar Grove, NJ

Photo credit: tumblr/celerysticks4life

In 1896, the Essex County Hospital Center was built.

Originally, the facility was designated as a general hospital.

It ran with much success until tragedy hit in the winter of 1917.

The hospital’s boilers broke down and twenty four patients froze to death in their beds.

Despite this occurrence, the hospital remained open.

During the mid-1920s, the general hospital, which is sometimes referred to as Overbrook, transitioned to being a permanent facility for the mentally disabled.

The mental facility remained open until its sudden and mysterious closing in the winter of 2007.

Some local residents believe that the hospital was closed due to the excessive number of paranormal experiences that have occurred.

Several are convinced that this facility is haunted — by the twenty four patients that froze to death, in particular.

Former employees of the hospital have come forward to discuss their experiences now that the facility is closed.

Many have claimed that several sections of the hospital would remain permanently cold, no matter the season.

Staff members did not like to be at the nurse’s station alone, because they would often feel cold fingers graze the back of their necks as they worked.

One doctor that used to work at the hospital has come forward with a downright frightening account.

He said he was on the second floor of the building, finishing up some reports when he heard a strange murmuring on the other side of the desk of where he sat.

When he stood and looked over the counter, he saw a full bodied apparition of a girl, crawling with her arms on the floor below.

As terrified as he was, the doctor continued to stare at the entity in horror.

He realized that the girl’s legs were severely broken and bent upwards toward the ceiling.

When the doctor yelped in fear, the broken girl turned to face him.

Her mouth was curved up in a sinister grin.

Her nose appeared to be severely broken.

But the worse part of her face was her eyes.

Instead of having ordinary pupils and irises, the girl had black, empty sockets.

The doctor submitted his resignation the following morning.

It’s small wonder that mental asylums remain primary locations for paranormal experiences and encounters with the dead.

Our history is littered with decades, even centuries, of medieval medical experimentation and inhumane treatment of patients.

Souls that endure untimely or violent deaths often linger in the world, seeking revenge or fearing the unknown beyond.

In asylums all across our nation, the mentally and physically disabled were treated like walking diseases instead of human beings.

It’s imperative to understand and respect these tragic and angry souls, especially if one wishes to meet them on their own turf.

You never know when your next investigation could be your last.

haunted insane asylum in pennsylvania

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Located at Bridge St & Church St, Spring City, PA 19475

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America’s Most Haunted Asylums & Hospitals

Whilst there are all sorts of haunted houses, hotels, schools, and castles throughout America, none are quite as terrifying as haunted insane asylums and hospitals.

With horrifying histories packed full of abuse, torture, sickness, and death, it’s no wonder that these ten haunted asylums are some of the scariest locations in the world.

If you want to witness a ghost hunt at some of the nations’ most haunted locations then we have started offering overnight ghost hunts !

10. Old Tooele Hospital, Utah

Old Tooele Hospital, Utah

In 1897, Old Tooele Hospital started out as a family house. In 1913 it was transformed into what was known as the Country Poor House, where the elderly and those who had special needs were taken care of. By 1953, the building had changed once again into the Old Tooele Hospital which featured improved accommodation for patients, the added benefit of individual bathrooms and a dedicated morgue. Before it was closed down in 2001, the hospital made its name by being the filming spot for Stephen King’s The Stand.

Over the years, Old Tooele Hospital has been the site of a multitude of hauntings and various reports of paranormal activity. An Alzheimer patient known as Wes is said to haunt the hospital, with his favorite site being the room he was admitted to when he was alive. Many other ghostly characters have been sighted in the hospital, including a young child and Samuel F. Lee himself – the man who originally built the house for him and his family in 1897.

One of the most chilling reports at Old Tooele Hospital is the sound of a child’s voice uttering the words “Daddy, shot, sorry”. This is creepy enough on its own but gets even more alarming when you find out that the Utah Ghost Organisation claims these words come from the ghost of a child who was accidentally shot by his father!

9. Alton Mental Health Hospital, Illinois

Alton Mental Health Hospital, Illinois

Alton Mental Health Hospital is the only facility in this list which remains a functioning hospital to this day. Built in the early 1900s, this hospital is known for the harsh mistreatment of its patients, many of whom were subject to electrode shock therapy, lobotomies, and cold water treatments – all of which were standard everyday practice at this hospital.

Many people today – including staff, patients, and visitors – have reported hearing unusual noises, from doors randomly slamming shut to undecipherable whisperings. One of the creepiest reports comes from a nurse who was on duty and heard someone ask, “Who’s that?” She turned around to respond and discovered that there was no one there and no one had been in the building at the time. Later that day the exact same thing happened in the same place to a second nurse.

Since this facility is still a hospital today, tours are strictly forbidden, but people who have taken photos on site whilst visiting patients have reportedly caught images of orbs with the pained face of a human male on the front.

8. Danvers State Lunatic Asylum, Massachusetts

Danvers State Lunatic Asylum, Massachusetts

Often referred to today as “the Witches’ Castle on the Hill”, Danvers State Lunatic Asylum was built in 1878 on a site which was originally in Salem Village – the first actual location of the Salem Witch Trials in 1962. When it started out, Danvers was renowned for its modern treatments and superb patient care, but it wasn’t long before the asylum fell victim to lack of funding, overstaffing and over-population which caused it to deteriorate into something more akin to a concentration camp.

Between 1940 and 1950, the facility housed more than 2,000 patients in a building which was designed to house 600. Patients became haggard and ghostly, often left in complete isolation for days on end. Things were so bad that dead patients would go unnoticed for days, if not weeks. In 1992, Danvers State Lunatic Asylum was closed down, demolished and renovated into the set of apartments it is today.

Despite this haunted insane asylum being torn down and reconstructed as a different property, bizarre activity, and paranormal sightings still abound. Residents and visitors have recorded full body apparitions, flickering lights, the sound of unexplained footsteps and doors opening and closing on their own.

7. ByBerry Mental Hospital, Pennsylvania

ByBerry Mental Hospital, Pennsylvania

No.7 on our list of haunted mental asylums is ByBerry Mental Hospital. ByBerry Mental Hospital first opened its doors to the public in 1907, when it started off as a working farm for the mentally ill before it became a fully-fledged mental hospital in the 1920s. As more and more people were admitted to the hospital, ByBerry’s population significantly expanded which led to severe patient neglect and unbelievable levels of abuse.

Lack of funds left the hospital in a state of disrepair, with patients being forced to survive with no clothing, insufficient food and sewage-filled hallways for bedrooms. Padded cells, solitary confinement, regular beatings, electric shock treatments, restraining devices, and lobotomies were the norm. In 1990, state authorities closed down ByBerry Mental Hospital after a thorough investigation revealed inhumane living conditions, yet its dark past continues on to this day.

A myriad of horror stories surrounds this facility. After it closed, ByBerry Mental Hospital became inundated with vagrants, gangs, thieves, satanic cults and former visitors seeking shelter. One mentally-deranged and the brutally violent patient is said to reside in the miles of catacombs beneath the building, where he lies in wait with a large knife, eager to slit the throats of curious explorers unlucky enough to cross his path.

As well as this chilling legend, the hospital has also been the spot of several paranormal sounds and sightings, including human-like growling and physical scratches appearing on visitors bodies.

6. Rolling Hills Asylum, New York

Rolling Hills Asylum, New York

No.6 on our whirlwind tour of haunted mental institutions is Rolling Hills. Rolling Hills Asylum began life as the Genesee County Poor Farm in 1827 – a dumping ground for the outcasts of society. Here orphans and widows lived alongside the severely mentally handicapped and criminals – all of whom were known as inmates. There are more than 1,700 documented deaths, with hundreds more unclaimed bodies believed to be buried on site. In the 1950s, the poor farm was developed into the Old Country Home & Infirmary before it was transformed into a set of shops and later an antique mall.

What are the reports in this real haunted asylum? One of the strangest occurrences took place in 2007 when the Rolling Hills Case Manager, Suzie Yencer, was working on a public ghost hunt. The group was sat in a circle in the basement and as Suzie began to speak, a glow stick – the only form of light in the room – began to sway back-and-forth, a rocking horse started to move to-and-fro and several people saw a hand suddenly appear and reach for a ball.

The second-floor corridor on the east wing is commonly referred to as Shadow Hallway, due to the staggeringly high number of shadow figure sightings which walk through walls and crawl across the floor. A seven-foot-tall patient with gigantism is also commonly spotted in his room, where he spent most of his life alone.

5. Athens Lunatic Asylum, Ohio

Athens Lunatic Asylum, Ohio

Coming in at no.5 on our journey through the top old haunted insane asylums is The Athens Lunatic Asylum in Ohio. The Asylum opened at the beginning of 1874, specializing in the treatment of mentally and criminally insane patients who were admitted by the court or their own families. The facility originally started out as a calm and pleasant place where patients could relax and get better, but before long it became an overcrowded institution which relied on the cruel practices of electroshock therapies, ice water baths, and ice pick lobotomies.

The story of Margaret Schilling takes place in December 1978 and is just as chilling then as it is today. On this winter day, Margaret – a patient at Athens Lunatic Asylum – was playing hide and seek with the nurses who got distracted and forgot about her. In January 1979, her body was discovered by a maintenance worker. Today an imprint of her body, clothes, and hair are still clearly visible on the floor, even after decades of cleaning.

Patients who died without any family have buried anonymously at the asylum’s burial site which is reported to be haunted today. Instead of names, these gravestones display numbers, a practice which has resulted in a mass of unknown and unrecorded graves. Those who have been brave enough to explore the cemetery have reported a huge number of ghost sightings and unexplained screaming in the dead of night.

4. Essex Mountain Sanatorium, Essex County

Essex Mountain Sanatorium, Essex County

And the next location on our tour of America’s haunted abandoned mental hospitals is the Essex Mountain Sanatorium. The sanatorium began as the Newark City Home in 1873, a facility which was designed to serve as an orphanage, as well as to reform the local badly behaved children. After a devastating fire, the reconstruction of two new buildings and the decline in the number of girls sent to the facility, the dedicated female building was transformed into Essex Mountain Sanatorium in 1906 to care for tuberculosis patients.

Over the years, the hospital grew considerably to cater for the ever-increasing number of patients, until it was no longer in use by the 1970s. The vacant wards were used to take care of the overflow of mental patients from the nearby asylum before the sanatorium finally closed its doors in 1977.

Since it closed, many people have chosen to step foot on the grounds and explore the sanatorium for themselves. Some of the most common experiences include hearing footsteps running along the halls, seeing wheelchairs moving on their own, witnessing ghost-like faces appear at the windows, feeling a presence following you and – possibly the most terrifying of them all – hearing eerie voices shouting, “Get out!”

3. Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, West Virginia

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, West Virginia

Constructed between 1858 and 1881, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is up there with the scariest asylums in the world. It’s also the second largest in the world, originally designed to house up to 250 patients before it reached its peak in the 1950s when more than 2,400 people were crammed into the facility.

As the result of bizarre experimental treatments and severe neglect, thousands of people died here over the years. The physical deterioration of the building coupled with changes in the treatment of mental illness resulted in the closure of the asylum in 1994.

The reasons for being committed to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum were almost never-ending and included trivial things, such as falling from a horse or laziness to ridiculous matters, such as “imaginary female trouble” or desertion by husband up to serious cases, including murders and PSTD. This broad spectrum resulted in all sorts of mismatched patients being cooped up together, all with disastrous consequences.

Two decades since the asylum closed, the staff who work there claim that ghosts continue to roam the halls. The manager states that she once saw 40 doors suddenly slam shut simultaneously, whilst other visitors have witnessed a ghost boy stood in the corner of a room.

As well as sightings, whispers of forgotten patients have also been reported, on top of unusual smells, the sound of squeaking gurneys and screams coming from the electroshock room.

Without a doubt it’s one of the most haunted places in West Virginia .

2. Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Kentucky

Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Kentucky

Waverly Hills Sanatorium comes in at no.2. It started out as Waverly School in the late 1800s and evolved into a hospital in 1908, designed to safely accommodate between 40 and 50 tuberculosis patients. As the disease developed into an epidemic, the hospital was expanded to support at least 400 patients and was considered to be one of the best facilities at the time. In 1961, the hospital was closed down, following the discovery of a tuberculosis-curing antibiotic.

Today, Waverly Hills Sanatorium is known by many as “the most spiritually active place in the world”, with paranormal reports every single day. The terrifying reports surround the story of a nurse who hanged herself by a light bulb wire when she discovered she had become pregnant out of wedlock by the owner of the sanatorium. Many unusual sightings have also been spotted in the area known as the Death Tunnel, where dead bodies were disposed of away from the eyes of the living.

Various paranormal TV shows have spent time recording at Waverly Hills Sanatorium, including the cast of Most Haunted – one of whom had scratches inflicted upon their body during their visit.

1. Pennhurst Asylum, Pennsylvania

Image of the haunted Pennhurst Asylum in Pennsylvania

And lastly, the most haunted asylum on our list, Pennhurst Asylum in Pennsylvania. With a history riddled with strong accusations of neglect, abuse and torture combined with tales of mental patients being chained to the walls, children kept for years in cribs and even murders, it’s not surprising that Pennhurst Asylum is one of the scariest places in existence. The building was opened in 1908 as a state school for the physically and mentally disabled and covered 120 acres, housing more than 10,000 patients at any given time.

The facility was often accused of dehumanization and was reported to provide no help for the mentally challenged before finally being shut down in 1986, following several allegations of abuse by residents. When Pennhurst was closed, the buildings were abandoned as they were with patients’ belongings strewn about and medical equipment left to rot.

There are plenty haunted asylum stories emanating from this foreboding building. Several reputable ghost hunter groups have visited Pennhurst Asylum, where they documented spooky audio recordings, sudden changes in temperature and the unexplained movement of objects throughout the grounds. Spine-chilling recordings of voices exclaiming: “Go away!”, “I’ll kill you!” and “Why won’t you leave?” seem tame when compared to other reports which include various objects being hurled across the room, visitors being physically pushed and multiple EVPs.

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COMMENTS

  1. This Creepy Asylum in Pennsylvania Is Still Standing

    Pennhurst is vacant much of the year, but during the Halloween season becomes a popular haunted attraction. This seems somewhat exploitive of the institution's controversial past— a past that should be remembered with respect. The video below includes footage from the NBC documentary about Pennhurst.

  2. This Abandoned Asylum In Pennsylvania Is Haunted

    Pennsylvania Haunted This Abandoned Pennsylvania Asylum Is Thought To Be One Of The Most Haunted Places On Earth By Beth Price-Williams | Updated on September 19, 2023 (Originally published January 30, 2023) Most people fall into one of two categories: you either believe in the paranormal, or you don't. There's usually no gray area.

  3. History of Pennsylvannia's Most Haunted Place: Pennhurst Asylum

    Learn about the history and hauntings of Pennhurst Asylum, one of the most haunted places in Pennsylvania and the United States. The facility was built to house mentally or physically disabled patients, but faced many allegations of abuse and neglect. It was closed in 1983 and converted into a haunted attraction.

  4. The 13 Most Haunted Places in Pennsylvania

    Considered by many an avid ghost hunter, Hill View Manor in New Castle Pennsylvania, is without a doubt, one of the most haunted buildings they've ever had the pleasure of investigating. A location that has played host to many paranormal TV shows, such as Ghost Hunters, Ghost Lab, and Ghost Adventures.

  5. Who Should Tell the Story? The Pennhurst Haunted Asylum and the

    The Pennhurst Haunted Asylum and the Pennhurst Museum, operated by Pennhurst LLC in collaboration with the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance (PMPA), exist side-by-side on the grounds of the shuttered Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Spring City, Pennsylvania.The sites might seem to have opposite goals: one to frighten and entertain, the other to educate about past wrongs.

  6. Inside Byberry Mental Hospital, Philadelphia's House Of Horrors

    The U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania found that Byberry was infringing on Kirsch's human rights, and demanded his release from the hospital. "I hope that the state has not injured this poor young man to the point where it is now irreparable," said his attorney, Stephen Gold.

  7. Pennhurst Asylum history before becoming a haunted house

    Published Oct. 25, 2022, 1:12 p.m. ET The Pennhurst State School and Hospital was a scary place well before it was turned into a Halloween haunted house. » READ MORE: Pennhurst Asylum haunted house draws criticism every Halloween. A group of disabled actors running the show say there is more to the story.

  8. Pennhurst Asylum: The Shame of Pennsylvania

    Stories Pennhurst Asylum: The Shame of Pennsylvania Mark and Mark February 7, 2013 1 This state-funded school and hospital center was at the heart of the human rights movement that revolutionized this country's approach to healthcare for the mentally and physically handicapped.

  9. Buy Tickets for Pennhurst Haunted Asylum

    The Legendary Pennhurst Asylum is open in September and October. Buy Tickets today before its too late!

  10. Pennhurst Asylum Haunted Houses

    4 HAUNTED ATTRACTIONS THAT WILL PUSH YOU TO THE LIMITS OF YOUR SANITY! WATCH THE OFFICIAL PENNHURST TRAILER Pennhurst Asylum Haunted Attractions feature 3 Terrifying haunted houses at the legendary Pennhurst Asylum In Pennsylvania!

  11. Pennhurst Asylum Present Paracon & Oddities Expo

    MAY 18 & 19, 2024! Join us at the famous former Pennhurst State School campus for a 2 day Paranormal Enthusiast & Oddities Expo event featuring vendors, psychics, special Guests, historical tours, & Paranormal Investigations. Meet in person special guests like Ghost Hunters, Destination Fear, Mountain Monsters, Kindred Spirits and more!

  12. A Living Nightmare: The History of Pennhurst Asylum

    Shuttered in 1987, the souls of those who lived there still haunt its halls. By Elisabeth Tilstra | Published Oct 4, 2016 The Pennhurst State School and Asylum, originally called the Eastern Pennsylvania Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic, was authorized for construction in 1903.

  13. Pennsylvania's Most Haunted Hospitals and Asylums

    Farnsworth House Inn Gettysburg, PA Views: 3,440 Photos: 3 Rating: 5 / 5 Exp.: 1 The original part of this house was built in 1810. It was a house of shelter for the Confederate sharpshooters. At the time of the three-day conflict a civilian - a little girl - died during battle after she was accidentally shot.

  14. Pennhurst Asylum: This Overnight Ghost Hunt In Pennsylvania Is The

    Haunted houses and trails can be a ton of fun. But, for a real haunted experience, where you just may experience the paranormal firsthand, embark on this overnight ghost hunt in Pennsylvania. Pennhurst Asylum's doors have been shuttered since 1987. Yet, the souls of countless patients are said to remain. Facebook/Pennhurst Asylum

  15. Pennhurst Asylum

    Pennhurst Asylum. Pennhurst Asylum was once known as the Pennhurst State School, or the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic — a name that truly shows its age. It was built to house people with physical and mental disabilities in Southeastern Pennsylvania. After 79 years of pure controversy, it finally ...

  16. Haunted House in Philadelphia Pennsylvania Pennhurst Asylum

    All this happened behind the walls of Pennhurst State School, Spring City, Pennsylvania. Pennhurst was constructed and opened in 1908 as a state school for the mentally and physically disabled. Pennhurst's property was vast, covering 120 acres. Created to house over 10,000 patients at a point in time, Pennhurst was one of the largest ...

  17. PENNHURST ASYLUM

    247 reviews and 214 photos of Pennhurst Asylum "I thought it was lots of fun--I had initially paid for the $20 ticket but after waiting for about an hour and a half, I chose to upgrade to the VIP ticket for another 20 bucks when a staff member walked by asking. The actors were great in their parts and the set decorations were really cool. I jumped a few times and my date was scared to death.

  18. Visit These 5 Haunted Spots in Pennsylvania—if You Dare

    Pennhurst Asylum, Spring City. Pennhurst is an abandoned insane asylum. Originally known as the State Institution for Epileptics and Feeble Minded, it was founded in 1908 and remained in operation until 1987. For decades it was overcrowded and its residents suffered cruel and inhumane treatment. It wasn't until the late 1960s when Bill ...

  19. Paranormal Investigations/Tours

    In that case, we offer paranormal site rentals. Our private events are a $1200 minimum for up to ten people. Event runs from 7pm to 3am, gates open at 6:30. This event is available Sunday through Thursday. We may be able to make arrangements Friday or Saturday however, please call 855-HAUNT-00 for pricing.

  20. Pennhurst Asylum Ghost Hunt

    The paranormal activity at Pennhurst Asylum includes footsteps, faint whispers, being pushed and touched, cries, shadow figures, and much more! Pennhurst Asylum will drive you to the very brink of fear! Join us for a night among the dead at this legendary location…If you dare! Minimum Age of 16, with an Adult. Event Start Time: 7:00pm. Event ...

  21. 10 Most Haunted Insane Asylums in America

    Learn about the history and horror stories of 10 haunted insane asylums in America, including Pennhurst Asylum in Spring City, PA. Find out how these facilities were built, treated and abandoned, and what paranormal encounters visitors have reported.

  22. Open Dates for Pennhurst Asylum

    The legendary Pennhurst haunted asylum is open on select dates in September and October. Plan your stay at Pennhurst Asylum today!!

  23. The Most Haunted Asylums & Hospitals in America

    Often referred to today as "the Witches' Castle on the Hill", Danvers State Lunatic Asylum was built in 1878 on a site which was originally in Salem Village - the first actual location of the Salem Witch Trials in 1962.