Abandoned Mental Asylum in Spring City, PA

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The following photos were taken at the Pennhurst State School and Hospital, originally known as
the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. The hospital was
built in 1908.  

The patients at Pennhurst were mostly young, but the age of the residents ranged from infants to
people over 70 years old.  They were generally separated by IQ level, which was categorized into
three main groups:  Morons (59-69), Imbeciles (20-49) and Idiots (below 20).  These medical
terms were antiquated before they became popular in common slang, and were replaced with the
terms:  Mild, Moderate, Severe, and Profound mental retardation.  The lowest functioning patients
were mostly bed-ridden in cribs, unable to move much or feed themselves.

The amount of care needed for the patients to attempt any kind of rehabilitation was a formidable
task.  Daily physical tasks such as changing diapers, showers, and assistance with walking were
needed, as well as educational programs.  The overcrowded atmosphere and lack of trained staff
made these types of activities take a back seat.  The role of the hospital shifted quickly from
treatment as a goal to custodial care.  In 1946, there were only seven physicians serving over
2,000 patients with no room for the 1,000 still on the waiting list for admission.

The situation at Pennhurst continued to get worse.

In 1968, WCAU 10 news reporter Bill Baldini documented the crowded conditions at Pennhurst in a
five-night exposé that shocked and angered the public. Baldini blamed society’s indifference, not
the staff and administrators, for allowing such conditions to persist and urged viewers to take the
initiative by contacting their state legislators to demand change. Their grassroots efforts worked.
The state allocated $21 million for the deteriorating facility, resulting in the construction of a new
building. The rest of the money was redirected to pay for community programs.

By the early 70s, changes were taking place not only in the care and treatment of the residents but
in the public consciousness as well. When a class-action lawsuit brought against Pennhurst and the
State of Pennsylvania in 1974 thrust the institution into the national spotlight, it sparked a
movement to end the forced institutionalization of those with developmental disabilities. Rocked by
years of bad publicity, Pennhurst closed its doors in 1987.

Several paranormal groups have explored Pennhurst, including the guys from the show
Adventures.  The common consensus is that Pennhurst is very haunted.


I arrived at Pennhurst to do a shoot with some other photographers as part of a workshop.  
Pennhurst is now privately owned, and access is granted to a couple of the buildings for a fee.  
There are about two dozen buildings—large, sinister, two-and three-story brick structures, most of
them engulfed by branches and vines. Their innards are bone-chilling. There are rusty wheelchairs
and beds in dimly lit rooms filled with rubble and cobwebs. There was a child’s doll sitting in the
corner of a dark, eerie basement.  There are long, terrifying corridors that dissolve into black.  As I
walked the hallways and peered into rooms, I couldn’t help but think about, and feel sorrow for, the
patients who resided there and contemplate the conditions in which they lived.  It was a very
interesting experience.

I learned a lesson - always bring your wide angle lens in addition to your normal zoom lens.  I
decided at the last minute to only take my 28-75 because I was trying to lighten my load.  Some
shots that I wanted to get I simply couldn't because the rooms were small.

The photos of the doll, chair and chalkboard, bathroom sinks, and red doors were done with light
painting, as the places where they were located were completely dark.  


Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.  (Click on the large image when it opens to display it in a
smaller size.)  You can also view a
pdf slideshow.  (It takes a minute to load.)

House close to the property: