The horror of Pennhurst Asylum: Chilling secrets revealed of mentally-ill patients and children starved and left to die

From mental and physical abuse, mistreatment of the weakest amongs the society to extreme overcrowding, Pennhurst's Asylum was home to may tears and screams that went uncared for.


                            The horror of Pennhurst Asylum: Chilling secrets revealed of mentally-ill patients and  children starved and left to die
(Source : Getty Images)

Pennhurst asylum's gruesome past is like an excerpt off the pages of a horror story. From mental and physical abuse, mistreatment of the weakest among the society to extreme overcrowding, Pennhurst's asylum was home to many tears and screams that went uncared for. The chilling secrets that its crumbling walls bore witness to are still a matter of mystery with paranormal investigators flocking to it to decode its past residents' stories. 

Called the Pennhurst State School and Hospital, it was originally called the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. It was meant to be a safe haven for those who were mentally and physically disabled in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Located in Spring City, the institution was operational for 79 years, before stories of its cruelty finally caught up to it and it was shut down on December 9, 1987.

The place was constructed between 1903-1908 and just four years after they took in the first patient on November 23, 1908, Pennhurst was already overflowing with people. Meant to be for the disabled and mentally ill, orphans, immigrants and criminals were thrown into the institution as well. It was a fear of those that were different that led to a place like Pennhurst to be created. 

The most horrifying part of this asylum's story is the fact that "feeble-minded" people were considered a criminal threat. In 1913, a Commission for the Care of the Feeble-Minded was set up that boldly announced that those that were disabled should not be citizens in normal society because they posed a threat to the peace. By the 1960s, Pennhurst was home to about 2,791 people, which was almost a thousand more than their maximum capacity.

There were also children among those institutionalized, kept in metal cages and often lying in their own feces for days. Bill Baldini, who was the first to break the story of the appalling conditions that the patients were living in has said that it was so hard seeing what they saw that the crew almost wanted to leave - they were so "mortified". The story ran in 1968 and what he showed changed the history of the asylum. Naked, ill, skeletal looking patients and children from 6 months to 5 years of age were tied to beds. 

The patients here were divided into crude categories -  imbecile or insane, epileptic or healthy, and dental categories of good, bad and treated teeth. At first male and female patients were kept together initially but were later separated to avoid pregnancy.

And these patients suffered at the hands of the staff. High functioning patients were separated from the low functioning ones but were often put in wards with the lesser abled ones as punishments. Some patients were intentionally aggravated to turn violent. Their assaults would be arranged by the caretakers. They were beaten, some of them were wheelchair ridden. Some died there. 

In 1983, nine employees were indicted on various physical abuse and assault charges.  The institution was eventually shut down in 1987, two decades after its truth came out. 

A part of the asylum has been reopened as a paranormal tourist attraction and people say they have experienced unexplained chills, screams, voices asking for help and shadows.

A&E's 'World's Biggest Ghost Hunt' has a Pennhurst special airing on October 30.

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