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History of Pennhurst School and Hospital

Updated on July 27, 2012

Pennhurst Hall

Many people associate “Pennhurst” with the paranormal as it has appeared on several ghost hunting shows but there is so much history behind Pennhurst that has never been heard or barely written about. Pennhurst was originally named the Eastern Pennsylvania Institution for the Feeble Minded and the Epileptic, it was also considered a model for other institutions with its progressive solutions of dealing with the disabled by sterilization and keeping them separated from the general population.
It was said that some of the staff would volunteer their time to come in on weekends to help “clean the residents” as they could not use the bathrooms themselves and there was no money in the budget for the needed housekeeping services on the weekends so urine and feces could be found everywhere throughout the buildings and to this day the odor or urine lingers in the deserted hallways. The dehumanization of these people and the ultimate treatment that many did not receive should be a mark of shame on our country that could let people that they are supposed to be protecting be treated as less than an animal in the zoo.
Children were left in cribs, like small jail cells, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week some of these children were as old as six. Now you wonder why in the world were these six year old still kept in cribs? Well because there was not enough staff to teach them how to walk or not enough staff to lay out the mats that would be needed for them. What about the abuse suffered by almost every patient in this school? Many suffered unthinkable injuries, injuries that could never adequately be explained in most cases. Cigarette burns, black eyes, scratches, bruises and even broken bones, rampant reports of sexual abuse patient to patient and staff to patient.
Psychiatric services were only offered during the day Monday through Friday so if you had some sort of crisis overnight or on the weekend, you were out of luck. And what of the idea of using physical restraints on patients due to the lack of staffing or using chemicals on the patients to keep them calm and quiet. It was reported that when one family came to see their daughter they found her in a straight jacket strapped to a wheelchair and when a staff member was asked why they were informed it was so they knew where she was. You see the girl actually could walk unassisted, by the time her family realized the affect this arrangement was having on their daughter the damage was already done, she was scarred not only mentally, but physically and she could no longer walk on her own.
Perhaps it is not only the dead that linger at Pennhurst but the lost innocence of the multitude of children who were never really given a chance to be children. You can feel the sadness and despair that still evident in the air around Pennhurst and if you close your eyes and listen you can still hear the screams.


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