Spending A Night At The Haunted Pennhurst Asylum

Spending A Night At The Haunted Pennhurst Asylum_5d9b27390b4ee.jpeg

“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within… silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

-Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House.

Like Hill House, Pennhurst Asylum is anything but sane. The inspiration behind American Horror Story: Asylum and long-rumored to be haunted, Pennhurst now stands as a lone sentinel in memorial of the abuses and hardships endured upon its expansive, gloomy grounds. In its near eighty years of operation since it was first established in the heart of Delaware Valley, Pennhurst State School and Hospital housed thousands of patients. Though, for far too long, its hallowed halls held onto a dark secret; it had not just a skeleton in its closet, but a verifiable mass grave of skulls and bones. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Ripleys.com sent a correspondent on location to Pennhurst Asylum, with a crew of paranormal experts, to see if the rumors were true. But, before we find out whether or not our foolhardy adventurers were “scared of no ghosts,” let’s delve into the history of Pennhurst and discover how its past led it to its current state of ruin and disgrace.

The “Shame of Pennsylvania”

First opened in 1908 alongside the Schuylkill River in the wooded, farmland region outside of Philadelphia, the facility was originally known as the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. Hidden by a dense coat of forest in the blue-collar village of Spring City lay the desolate grounds of Pennhurst Asylum.

Set on a mostly deforested 1,400-acre lot, the sprawling campus exhibited 32, three-to-five-floor buildings in the plain, uniformly-angular style of Jacobean Revival architecture and, at one point, its own railroad. The outside is faced with red brick and terracotta, while the inside is comprised of drab plaster and concrete. The harsh, stoic aesthetic leaves an impression of entering 19th century London, as opposed to rural Pennsylvania. Many of the buildings are connected via elevated catwalks surrounding a grassy courtyard, which once played host to a traveling circus for the benefit of Pennhurst’s residents—as if the place wasn’t creepy enough. Under these catwalks are a series of winding tunnels that act as quick routes of egress between all major dormitories and facilities.

Photo by Johnny Gee

It was in this sanitarium the mentally and physically disabled—and otherwise socially verboten—were stored away, filthy and malnourished, segregated from and largely forgotten by society. There, the forgotten remained for sixty years until this real-life American horror story was unveiled to a horrified public.

“Many of these children have always been without the benefit of parental love or guidance… They have been abandoned and placed at the mercy of the state. In the case of Pennhurst, the state has failed to do its moral duty.”

-Bill Baldini, Suffer the Little Children.

Pennhurst Asylum made its debut on the world’s stage when Philadelphia’s NBC10 News aired an intense five-part investigative report conducted by Bill Baldini in 1968. Titled Suffer the Little Children, Baldini exposed the deplorable conditions within, presenting the “sights and sounds of Pennhurst… in their most brutal and constructive forms.”

Despite the best efforts of the many compassionate administrators, attendants, nurses, physicians, and teachers employed at Pennhurst, they were understaffed and stretched thin, making their role as caregivers impossible to fulfill. By the time of the groundbreaking news production, the facilities were in excess of forty percent over their 1,984 rent capacity, housing a total of 2,791 souls. Pennhurst faced not just a paucity of funds, but of compassion. This was particularly evidenced by the alarming series of abuses orchestrated by Dr. Fear.

The Dehumanizing Treatment of Dr. Fear

Pennhurst held a long history of misconduct. For instance, one seldom-used punishment saw the removal of a patient’s teeth if they were labeled a biter. However, no employee’s cruelty has been as well-documented as that of Dr. Jesse G. Fear.

“The ones that speak detest the inhumane conditions and hunger for the slightest sign of affection. However, some of them have become so callous to their plight, they’ve all but given up. They are alone; alone in a world that seems to lack all compassion.”

-Bill Baldini, Suffer the Little Children.

Two years after being narrowly acquitted for “dispensing a dangerous drug,” Dr. Fear showcased the human propensity toward corruption when he casually admitted to Bill Baldini his abominable methods of behavioral correction. Resident Head Physician of Pennhurst during the production of Suffer the Little Children, Dr. Fear nonchalantly detailed his disturbing practice of “downgrading.”

Photo by Johnny Gee

According to Dr. Fear, this punishment was construed to “offend [the] dignity” of patients with behavioral issues by placing patients with normal or marginally subnormal IQs in wards designated for the profoundly mentally challenged. Dr. Fear’s aim was for this to cause a sense of isolation and ridicule from the patient’s peers, humbling them into submission. Speaking to a child who was seen as a troublemaker and forced to endure these cruel exploits, Baldini learned that, aside from mental anguish, it also led to developmental regression.

Another device employed by Dr. Fear toward a misbehaving patient was administering “the most painful injection” available that “wouldn’t do any harm to the patient.” Callously indifferent to the torture, Dr. Fear finished recounting his methodology with a grin, “he really hit the ceiling over that.”

For this act, Dr. Fear faced a thirty-day unpaid suspension from Pennhurst. Any further repercussions or acts of abuse conducted by Dr. Fear have since been lost to time.

The Fall of Pennhurst

“Many others rot in silence in their stench-filled, overcrowded cottages. While some children are afforded the opportunity to go on a picnic and bask in the sun, others lie awake in their beds, shackled like prisoners, punished because they cannot control themselves and their illness.”

-Bill Baldini, Suffer the Little Children.

Photo by Johnny Gee

The fallout from Bill Baldini’s study was immense. Public outcry led to more than just the suspension of Dr. Fear—originally asking for four million dollars for desperately needed infrastructure improvements, additional staff, and amenities as simple as toilet paper. Subsequent studies led to the institute receiving a staggering sixteen million dollars.

This reform not only affected Pennhurst, but the entire system: the resulting studies conducted in the documentary’s wake led to not only the release of 130,000 institutionalized individuals in the United States alone, but heightened awareness and sensitivity to the plight of the mentally challenged.

While conditions improved enormously, a series of reported abuses and subsequent lawsuits found that the conditions at Pennhurst were “unsanitary, inhumane and dangerous,” resulting in the facility inevitably shutting its doors in 1987. Regardless of improvements, the way of life facilitated by the system was simply not the optimal way to achieve the best care possible of the individual wards kept there.

Photo by Johnny Gee

In a 34 year retrospective on Pennhurst’s unusual and absurd conditions, Bill Baldini proudly reminisced, “there are a lot of people alive today that are a lot happier now than they would have ever been if no one ever took a look at Pennhurst in 1968.”

Ripley’s Investigates the Remains of Pennhurst

It was the witching hour as Ripleys.com correspondent Kris Levin, an open-minded skeptic, joins true believers Flip Searles, daughter Jayme Rodriguez, graphic artist and videographer Shahin Shayegan, and photographer Johnny Gee, alongside hosts Ashley McIvor and Michele Zajac, to spend an evening together at Pennhurst Asylum.

Past the quaint village landscape revealing the area’s colonial roots, urban decay quickly turns over to ruin. Dense canopies of hanging vines thickly weave their way across eroding stone dwellings. Crumbling asphalt soon gives way to an unpaved dirt pathway as the road wound deeper and deeper into the rolling hills of the Pennsylvania wilderness. The moody rain clouds were nearly indistinguishable from the plumes of grey exhaust which billowed out of the nearby nuclear power plant, dominating the skyline above the sea of green treetops.

Photo by Johnny Gee

Ashley and Michele are part of a community that has since been built around the history held within its walls. The current owners of Pennhurst host a haunted house every Halloween season, a year-round museum, tours, and paranormal investigations; there also exists an independent preservation society dedicated to keeping the lessons learned from the asylum’s past alive.

It was raining outside as the effervescent Ashley showed the team around the grounds, much of which has long-since been reclaimed by nature. Rundown even in its heyday, today, many of the buildings are falling apart or outright condemned: faded red brick, broken windows, and collapsing rooftops as far as the eye can see. Several of the buildings have been outright demolished.

Photo by Johnny Gee

Walking past the now caved-in hospital, bricks inexplicably tumble, cascading in avalanche down the aged walls and landing in a heap at our feet. Startled, Ashley speculates that perhaps it is a good omen for what we would encounter later in the night. The crew had no idea how right she’d be.

Strolling down the age-battered catwalks that overlook the barren field now overgrown with weeds, Kris asks, “How many people died on the grounds over the years?” Ashley could not even hazard a guess: “People lived here,” she responds, leaving the logical implication that they died here, as well, to hang heavily in the air.

Beneath the catwalks, the labyrinthine, underground system of tunnels still remains. Like all things at Pennhurst, they are long abandoned, adorned with hanging wires and various debris. Multiple layers of graffiti are found in abundance covering the inner, paint-chipped walls of seemingly all Pennhurst buildings: repeated Eyes of Horus (the Egyptian symbol of arcane magical protection), the ubiquitous, floppy-nosed Kilroy Was Here doodle, and a litany of demons and pentagrams—though expected, the sheer volume of Satanic ritual imagery left the party stunned.

Photo by Johnny Gee

Taking a look around at the foreboding artwork and seeing a piece that reads Welcome to Hell, Shahin quips: “Talk about going to Hell, this is Hell.”

A local, Shahin, tells us that it was a rite of passage for the area’s high school students to break into Pennhurst, leaving behind broken windows, murals, and tags in their wake. Now, Pennhurst has round-the-clock security to protect its physical and spiritual integrity. But, for over twenty years, it was between operations and artistic vandals had nearly free rein until reopening as a haunted attraction in 2008.

Ashley ominously cautions us: “A lot of people like to break in and summon things that they don’t know what they’re summoning. So there’s always the chance that you’ll see some of these symbols on the walls. I’m not a fan of it, but a lot of kids are into the occult. People like to have their fun with paranormal things, but don’t necessarily know what they’re getting themselves into.”

“Look at all of the lost hope here. This is where dreams come to die.”

-Shahin Shayegan

Our tour guide halts at the Mayflower building: the most renowned haunt in the entire colony, a real-life Arkham Asylum. In a way, the outside could be described as hauntingly beautiful. Once inside, however, the derelict building felt monstrous and indescribably inhuman. Mayflower felt like it had just sprouted from the earth of its own accord—it was so devoid of the human touch in any fashion. Walking around knowing that people built, lived, and died there was both surreal and difficult to comprehend. This structure did not feel man-made.

The most highly functioning components of Pennhurst are, themselves, in disrepair. The floors are covered in the detritus of long-gone trespassers and patients alike. Looking in any direction leads to views of a window with a bullet hole, partially-filled mail receptacles abdicated of their occupier decades ago, old laundry bins sagging with moldy clothing, rotting books, splintered chairs, rusted wheelchairs, dilapidated toiletries, forgotten toys, and, of course, layers upon layers of dirty and graffiti. It was noticeably colder inside than out and, in several locations, the outside rain had discovered its own pathway in.

Photo by Johnny Gee

The Mayflower building itself consists of three stories and a basement. The basement was largely a recreational area—complete with plexiglass window views for nurses—but also housed maintenance, including the boiler room. The first floor contains a series of residential areas with recreational day rooms, dorms, and a nurse’s station. The second level is largely the same, but with an open space layout fitted with cubicle-like partitions and filled to the brim with stained mattresses—Ashley assures us it was merely rust and not blood, as we originally suspected. The third floor is host to a series of more private, closet-sized bedrooms that were previously reserved for staff and higher functioning patients.

Looking at the beds, Shahin ruminates, “imagine the amount of tears each of these mattresses soaked up.”

Ashley points to a front window of a recreational area, telling us that patients would cluster around here, hopefully looking out as they waited for a visitor that was never coming. A sad reality for many, if not most, here.

Photo by Johnny Gee

Ashley then warns us that, upon first entering the Mayflower building, she makes a habit of ingratiating herself with its inhabitants.

“I usually announce my presence and my non-malevolent intentions. And when I leave the building and property, I ask for none to follow me home and that they must stay at Pennhurst.”

So far, she told us, it has proven effective. Flip follows similar guidelines when it comes to investigations; his conversational approach to ghost hunting matches his affable personality: “Walking into a haunted location is like walking into someone’s house. You come in, you compliment them on how nice the place looks, and you talk to them like you’re a guest—which is what you are. You come in and shoot the breeze with them, they’re happy to chat with you.”

Prior to officially kicking off the investigation, we ask Ashley if she has had any supernatural experiences at Pennhurst. The one she most vividly recalls was an auditory experience: an old timey music box playing throughout Mayflower building that she couldn’t account for, but seemingly came from the third floor. Remember this, it comes up in a major way later on.

The Toolkit: Eerily Equipped Essentials

Flip and co. prefer the use of audio-recording devices when it comes to tracking phantoms, “because I am mainly into the audio aspect of it,” Flip tells us, holding up an electronic device. “This is a regular digital voice recorder. The ones I use don’t have noise cancellation on them, because I believe that the EVPs [electronic voice phenomenon] are in the noise. So you don’t want to cut that out.”

Also among the tools of his trade are the Ghost Box (also known as the Spirit Box) and the Echovox. Flip explains the Ghost Box: “Using sweeping radio waves, you’re giving spirits a different kind of medium to carry their voice—because you’re talking about people without vocal chords,” he reminds us. “That’s why a lot of EVPs come through as whispers. It scans four channels per second. What you’re looking for is responses coming through. Sometimes, you get a couple words together. Sometimes, you’ll get a full sentence. And, for that to happen, each station would have to be broadcasting a piece of that sentence in the same voice at the same time, which is highly unlikely.”

A mellow, thoughtful type that gives off the peaceful presence of a teddy bear, Johnny chimes in: “I’ve done Ghost Box sessions where it said every person’s name in the room. Statistically, what are the chances of that happening?”

Flip continues: “We’re also going to be using an app called Echovox tonight. It takes banks of sound from different audiobooks and shreds it up like confetti, so that it’s just pieces of words. You can choose anywhere between one and six sound banks at a time. The theory is that the spirit will take that and use those to form their own words.”

At a prior visit to Pennhurst, Johnny had a memorable experience with the Echovox in a now sealed-off building’s basement, nicknamed Candyland for the peeling murals on the walls of children-in-play: “We were getting different children’s songs, like Pop Goes the Weasel. It was pretty interesting because we heard kids singing along with the Echovox.”

“Walking through the building was disorienting. I forgot we were on the ground floor just now. There are so many long hallways and winding stairs. It’s easy to get turned around in this oppressive blanket of darkness.”

-Kris Levin

As with any eerie expedition, Flip also makes use of cameras: “A lot of people believe that spirits exist in a different field of light that we normally can’t see. We like to cover as much as we can, including infrared cameras to see in the dark. The next step up from infrared would be full spectrum, which has infrared at one end and ultraviolet at the other, along with all visible light.”

During a previous investigation, Flip had an interesting thought: “Someone had asked, ‘can you see us?’ And the voice on the Spirit Box came back and said, ‘yes.’ So I immediately followed up with, ‘how do you see us?’ And it said, ‘as ghosts.’”

Photo by Johnny Gee

Got goosebumps yet? If not, brace yourself for one of Jayme’s recollections: “One of the biggest things I get when we are together,” she says, addressing her father, “is your voice calling my name or my voice calling your name.”

Kris clarifies: “You’ve experienced spirits imitating the two of you?”

Upon confirmation, our correspondent expresses how creeped out he was: “That sounds predatorial. I don’t like it.”

Ashley adds: “It could also be demonic. There’s always a chance.”

Johnny weighs in: “Just like the real world, you pick up good people, you pick up bad people.”

Shahin shares: “Also, imagine how much negative energy has walked through here.” “And how much negative energy has been brought here,” Ashley laments. “People break in and do things, summon things. And it’s still here.”

“All the raw emotion that went through this place,” Flip observes, “it’s ingrained in the walls.”

“Yeah,” Shahin solemnly agrees, “energy doesn’t go away.”

First Contact: How Does It Feel To Be Touched By A Spirit?

We decided to up the ante, asking, what does it feel like to be touched by a spirit?

Flip relates: “Most people report that it’s like the feeling of going through a cobweb, but there’s no spiderweb there. It’s kind of a drag feeling going through you. It can also be like the lightest touch. Sometimes, you just feel a hand on your cheek. Sometimes, you’ll feel a little poke, like them trying to push you. Children will pull on your pant legs. If you’re wearing a jacket, you might feel a little tug.”

Johnny’s experiences are similar: “Sometimes, the spirit will go through you, which just feels like a cold breeze that won’t be around you; it’ll actually go through you. Sometimes, you’ll walk through a room and it feels so heavy, like you’re walking through jello.”

Flip agrees: “When a supernatural cold comes near, you’ll know it. Because all of a sudden, it’s ice cold next to you. Sometimes, you’ll feel a static charge in the air. The room just feels different. And that same room you can come back an hour later and it’s totally fine.”

An Evening With The King

As we head down into the basement, Flip tells us his interpretation of what it really means when things go bump in the night: “When you hear, ‘get out,’ it’s probably because you’re scaring them rather than anything territorial or malicious.”

Unfortunately, many believe that wasn’t the case so far as The King is concerned.

A menacing figure popular with the paranormal enthusiasts who frequent Pennhurst, Ashley tells us his tale: “The King was a maintenance worker here from the forties or fifties. This was his domain, the boiler room. He was not very well and he did not treat the patients well. Sometimes, you’ll smell cigar smoke down here. He is known to come across on EVPs, as a shadow figure, and he’ll even touch you. He is not a nice spirit. He does like the ladies. So hopefully tonight, when we come down here, he’ll show us some attention.”

All true-believers, the staff at Pennhurst are well-acquainted with The King, though they are uncertain if he is a poltergeist or demonic entity. Ashley confides: “Nothing’s ever escalated, knock on wood, past him just kind of messing with people. He’s come across with a creepy laugh, he told us his name, and even had full conversations on previous EVPs I’ve heard.”

A wisecracker, Flip interjects: “Maybe it’s Larry King, has anyone checked on him lately?”

Photo by Johnny Gee

The immediate impression upon descending to the basement was just not that it was dark, but entirely snuffed of life. Walking through the ambience provided by the echoing expanse was unfathomably eerie. Only the sound of distant drips of water broke up the otherwise palpable silence, which hung across the basement and weighed down the air like a wet blanket. We were now in The King’s court.

Cigarettes and cigars lay scattered across the wet cement floor as offerings toward the area’s inhabitant. Jayme explains: “They’re trigger objects. They see it and associate it with when they were alive.”

Seemingly immune to fear, Flip casually asked daunting questions such as, “Can you make a real loud noise inside the room?” to no avail.

Ashley then had the idea to coax his highness to come out and play: “The King likes the ladies. So Jayme and I are down here, we’re going to see if we can get something out of him. We also have a cigarette offering for him. We’re going to light it up to see if he comes out to have a smoke for us.”

As the others go upstairs, Shahin stays fifteen feet away to observe from a distance.

Despite the cavalier attitudes displayed by Flip and Jayme throughout the night, there exists an underlying concern of a father for his daughter as Flip leaves a walkie talkie nearby: “Even though Jayme’s got a bunch of years of doing this, I’m still her dad. So I still worry.”

When asked if he has ever had a bad experience trekking for spectres, with a humorless chuckle, Flip regales: “Yeah. I’ve been on investigations where women were pressed against the wall… I’ve seen people get bit. I’ve seen someone get scratched. I got sliced open at Bobby Mackey’s Music World in Kentucky. A lot of things can happen. Do I think it’s going to happen? No, it’s rare. But it’s better to err on the side of caution.”

Twenty minutes later, the trio excitedly share their encounter with The King. Ashley gleefully tells us that, within a few minutes of using the Ghost Box, the first thing they asked was the name of who they were responding to. “It responded, ‘King.’ We had a full conversation, the three of us with him.”

Feeling bold, Ashley attempted to egg The King on, only to be met with a few expletives: “He was hovering right behind me. I could feel it. I asked and he blatantly said, ‘I’m behind you.’”

Things started off well for Shahin and his majesty: “We started on the right foot because I offered him a cigarette and asked him if he wanted to smoke. He said yes. Fast forward ten minutes and he clearly did not want me present in that room. He would just repeatedly say, ‘Leave. Leave. Leave.’”

Ashley agrees: “It was constant.”

Jayme divulges: “There was the female voice we kept hearing, then The King would talk over her. We’d say, ‘Is he stopping you from talking?’ She was warning us. We heard the female voice say, ‘Run.’ She was trying to protect us, it seemed like.”

“She was trying,” Ashley recalls, “but he was not letting her.”

When asked what motivated them to leave the basement, Ashley tells us, “He threatened to choke us.”

Shahin continues: “Ashley asked one time, ‘What would happen if Shahin doesn’t leave?’ And he clearly said, ‘choke.’ I could feel the change in temperature immediately. It wasn’t just goosebumps. It’s almost like I was in a bubble. I was frozen.”

Ashley readily agrees: “It wasn’t like we were in a cold front. It was like we were in a capsule of ice.”

Jayme felt confident about their findings: “We got a lot of curse words, which with a Ghost Box is really good because you know they’re not cursing on the radio. So you know that word is coming from the spirit and not just a radio station.”

Flip’s earlier concerns proved to be prescient. Jayme claims that downstairs while leaving, “I felt something pressing on my throat. It was hard to breathe. We walked out of the basement and, immediately, it went away. He wanted to hurt us, dad.”

Tenaciously intrepid, Jayme takes it all in stride as part of the experience: “It was a really good session. As soon as the questions were out of our mouths, he was answering.”

Shahin summarizes, warning: “If you’re not a believer, go downstairs. Because The King will full-blown have a conversation with you.”

The “Most Profound Experience” in Ten Years of Ghost Hunting

Later that night, after exploring the cavernous, graffiti-filled tunnels with Michele—which caused a series of unexplainable technical malfunctions to our equipment—Jayme ventured with our Ripleys.com correspondent alone into the basement, back to the boiler room where they previously had luck interacting with The King. She describes this session as an opportunity to “talk to them.”

“It’s freezing down here,” Kris remarks, noticing a dramatic shift in temperature from when they had previously been down there.

Photo by Johnny Gee

Now 22-years-old, Jayme started ghost hunting at the age of twelve. Her father proudly brags that she turned thirteen at midnight in the bedroom of the notorious accused, axe-murderer Lizzie Borden. Inspired by the cable TV boom of ghost hunting programs in the mid-aughts, Jayme doesn’t recall ever experiencing any trepidation when it comes to facing the paranormal: “It’s no big deal,” she laughs. “I’ve been doing this since I was thirteen. It’s been ten years, so I’m pretty used to it at this point.”

Kris asks: “Say you feel something pull at your hair. Would that freak you out?”

She shrugs, “It’s happened before.” Jayme has a fearless sense of adventure, just like her father: “That’s what we’re here for! We’re here to experience it.”

“The worst part about the hallway, in my estimationaside from everythingis that it’s so long and narrow. There’s all of these open door frames, some with nothing attached to the hinges. It feels like something is going to reach out and grab you while you’re walking down it.”

-Kris Levin.

Despite their best efforts during the downstairs seance session, it appeared that The King had left the building. Feeling slightly dejected, when Jayme and Kris arrived upstairs, they did so amidst confusion and disarray. Immediately upon reemerging on the ground floor, Flip, Johnny, and Shahin frantically ask a perplexed Jayme and Kris if they had been playing music downstairs.

“What kind of music,” you ask?

The kind that sounds like a tune coming from an old-timey music box, just as Ashley had previously experienced. And as suddenly as it had appeared, it had stopped.

The entire group stood with bated breath. It was the heaviest silence produced that night.

And then, there it was. There was no mistake about it: that was a tune from a music box audibly playing. And it was coming from upstairs.

The group collectively made a mad dash up the wrought iron staircase, the wall’s inner-workings exposed through disintegrating chunks of brick. It was incredibly narrow and the grade of descent dangerously steep, but that no longer mattered. Running past cages and peeling paint throughout the walls, the graffiti reduced to a blur as the group chased after something tangible. The rules had turned upside down and, in that moment, the asylum had truly turned into a madhouse.

Photo by Johnny Gee

“Where is that coming from?” Jayme asks in bewilderment, as we follow the trail.

The further we went upstairs, the louder it became. The music was becoming loud enough to wake the dead as we weaved around tight corners and trampling over the rickety staircase. Continuing the rushed climb, the unexplained piano music built to a crescendo as we cleared the second floor, scrambling to chase its trail to the only possible source: the third and final floor.

As the crew approached the top floor, Shahin asks, “Did you guys leave the light on upstairs?”

Sure enough, there was inexplicably a light on upstairs that was out when we last investigated the area.

The mystery and the music’s volume both grew exponentially, resonating throughout the halls as we sped around the corner of the third and final landing. Just as we laid eyes upon the floor, unquestionably the music’s source—

“It’s gone!”

And just like that, the music that had just a moment prior been at its loudest was suddenly no more.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

-Jayme Rodriguez

Later, the crew heard the music again in the basement. Like the above floors, no audio source could be detected. Attempting to follow its source in the basement led to sudden stops and variations, as if something was attempting to lure the party into the building’s deepest, darkest depths.

Once again passing through where The King sits on his throne visibly spooked Shahin, who walks hurriedly through the area: “I’m quite alright with The King. I’ve had enough interaction with him for one night.”

“People who live in institutions receive wounds, daily.”

Report by Lou Chapman after spending 48 hours inside Pennhurst, 2/11/1980.

Driving away from Pennhurst down crumbling roads, past hanging vines snaking their way through rusted gates, broken down, colonial-era stone houses, and the puffs from the nuclear power plant, one cannot help but think back to what Ashley said when we first arrived: “It draws you in. It’s hard to explain unless you actually experience it for yourself. It’s such a beautiful campus. There’s just something about it that you want to be here.”

As we drove once more past its ivy-covered, russet facade, we were grateful. After all, at night’s end, we were ultimately able to take our leave, unlike the ghosts who walk the halls of Pennhurst, be they supernatural or merely echoes—memories of its horrific past. Whatever may walk the deserted halls of Pennhurst Asylum, once again, walks alone.


By Kris Levin, contributor for Ripleys.com

Kris Levin is a traveling storyteller, professional wrestling referee, and everybody’s favorite nephew. He can be seen internationally on IMPACT Wrestling as their most junior official, #KidRef, and on social media at @RefKrisLevin.