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Pennhurst Asylum

Pennhurst Asylum/Photo courtesy of Flickr

Carly O’Neill
Staff Writer 

History of Pennhurst State School and Hospital:

In 1903, the Pennsylvania Legislature authorized the creation of the Eastern State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. The legislation stated that the buildings would be categorized into two groups, one for the educational and industrial department, and one for the custodial or asylum department. The institution was required to accommodate no fewer than five hundred inmates or patients. On November 23, 1908, the hospital admitted their 1st patient, and over the course of four years of operation, Pennhurst was already overcrowded and under pressure to admit more inmates consisting of immigrants, orphans, and criminals. Residents were classified into mental categories of imbecile or insane, into physical categories of epileptic or healthy, when admitted. In 1913, the legislature appointed a Commission for the Care of the Feeble-Minded. In other words this commission suggested that the disabled were a danger to themselves and society, characterized them as a “potential criminal”. In 1968, conditions at Pennhurst were exposed in a five-part television news report anchored by local NBC10 correspondent Bill Baldini, called Suffer The Little Children. This serious revealed the mistreatment and abuse of the patients in this facility. At one point the newspapers even referred to Pennhurst as “The Shame of the Pennsylvania”.

By the mid-1960s, after 50 years of operation, Pennhurst now housed 2,791 people. This number exceeded about 900 more than the administration thought the buildings could adequately accommodate. The staff was made up of only 9 medical doctors and 11 teachers, none of which had any special education training. In 1977 U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Broderick ruled that the conditions at Pennhurst State School violated patients’ constitutional rights. By the 1980’s, the amount of overcrowding, lack of funds, poor staffing and decades of maltreatment and neglect caught up with the operation, and in 1987 Pennhurst was officially shut down. Its 460 patients were discharged or transferred to other facilities in a process known as deinstitutionalization that lasted several years.

International Education Week

 

Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital:

Following the termination of the State School, Terri Lee Halderman who had been a resident of Pennhurst, once released had filed suit in the federal district court. Prior to the suit, Halderman visited her family who found her with unexplained bruises. Halderman’s case brought attention to the facility and the courts later found that conditions at Pennhurst were unsanitary, inhumane and dangerous, violating the Fourteenth Amendment. Evidence pointed to Pennhurst using cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the Pennsylvania Mental Health and Retardation Act of 1966.

 

Today:

Now Pennhurst Asylum is known as one one of Pennsylvania’s most terrifying haunted attractions. They offer 4 attractions, each constructed uniquely to leave you screaming for more, including: Pennhurst Asylum, The Morgue, Containment, and Mayflower After Dark. They also offer ghost tours during the day for visitors interested in learning more about the history of the ghastly state asylum.