Pennhurst Asylum is one of the most terrifying places in the United States. For Halloween 2019, A&E’s World’s Biggest Ghost Hunt filmed a special there that the network says is the longest ghost hunt in television history.
For two weeks, five ghost hunters locked themselves in this abandoned hospital where there have been local reports circulating for years about the ghostly activity on the 110-acre property. The spooky reports include everything from strange noises to physical attacks.
So in preparation for this mammoth ghost hunt, here’s everything you need to know about Pennhurst Asylum.
1. It was a mental institution for almost 80 years
Located in Spring City, Pennsylvania, Pennhurst opened in the fall of 1908. It was originally called the Eastern State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. The massive campus, which originally spanned 1400 acres, was divided into a custodial/asylum area and an educational/industrial area that included facilities for mattress making, shoe repair, farming, laundry, baking, painting and working in a store.
The red brick buildings were connected by a steam piping system and parallel fire-proof tunnels that had walkways for transporting residents from building to building. At the peak of its operation, the facility had enough room for 3350 residents.
2. The conditions were abhorrent
In 1968, Pennhurst was the subject of a local news report by Bill Baldini called “Suffer The Little Children: A Peek into the History of Eugenics and Child Abuse by the State – Pennsylvania Pennhurst.” The five-part expose revealed the hospital’s inhumane conditions, showing young children and mentally disabled residents being kept in cages and tied to their beds.
In one segment, a doctor describes how he dealt with a violent patient by asking one of his colleagues what drug he could give the patient that would be the most painful without causing permanent injury.
3. It spawned a landmark court case
In 1979, a class-action lawsuit was brought against the hospital for its “inhumane and dangerous” conditions, which eventually led to its closure, though that took eight years of court battles.
But the bottom line was that the Pennsylvania district court ruled that “conditions at Pennhurst are not only dangerous, with residents often physically abused or drugged by staff members, but also inadequate for the habilitation of the retarded. Indeed, the court found that the physical, intellectual, and emotional skills of some residents have deteriorated at Pennhurst.” The court ordered the hospital to be closed.
Pennhurst appealed the ruling and the case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled that the case was not a federal one. Eventually, the ruling stood in Pennsylvania state court and the hospital was closed. But that Supreme Court ruling placed a much tighter restriction on federal courts over the states.
The court cases also led to a 1983 indictment of nine employees for assaulting patients. The indictments are believed to be the first federal criminal civil rights prosecutions brought against employees of mental institutions for patient abuse.
4. The hauntings are numerous
The Shore Paranormal Research Society, a New Jersey-based paranormal research team, told WeirdNJ.com about the various supernatural occurrences they have documented over the years.
The spooky events include recordings of voices saying things like “go away,” “I’ll kill you,” “Why’d you come here” and “I’m scared.” They have also documented shadows appearing and disappearing at will, apparitions that look like children or hunched-over presences, apparitions of a nurse, objects moving by themselves and the investigators being physically touched by unseen presences.
5. It is now a haunted attraction
For people where spooky paranormal encounters aren’t quite scary enough, parts of Pennhurst are now a haunted attraction. Visitors can choose between four different locations on campus: Pennhurst Asylum, The Morgue, Containment and Mayflower After Dark. The organization also offers tours and paranormal investigations, including one where visitors stay overnight at the abandoned hospital.
Prices range from $18 for a single attraction experience to $125 for the overnight paranormal investigation. Reviews on Facebook call it “absolutely insane” and “the best Halloween attraction that we’ve ever been to.”
World’s Biggest Ghost Hunt: Pennhurst Asylum airs Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on A&E.