Scares, opportunity to reflect


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A Pennhurst building is seen, the current sight of historical tours and Halloween attractions.

Jocelyn Wright, Managing Editor

Is there a better way to celebrate Halloween than a haunted house? For horror lovers – probably not.
This year’s attractions at the famed Pennhurst Asylum included a “Stranger Things” themed room and new animatronics, in addition to the three main walkthroughs in the Asylum, Morgue, and Tunnels.

As always, it was truly frightful and absolutely a blast. As an avid horror lover, I may be biased, but the combination of a creepy building and talented scare actors is the perfect recipe for a night full of Halloween fun.

However, this year I started having second thoughts.

Pennhurst is a historic building, and it’s even included in the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. It’s also rumored to have ghosts or spirits that haunt the halls, implying that a large amount of people died there. With that in mind, is it morally or ethically right to stage a Halloween event that capitalizes on fear in an abandoned mental hospital?

Pennhurst State School and Hospital, originally known as the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic was an institution for mentally and physically disabled individuals of Southeastern Pennsylvania. After 79 years of controversy, it closed on December 9, 1987.

While the campus began as a hospital, it quickly became a center for eugenics and abuse of disabled individuals. Allegations of abuse led to the first lawsuit of its kind in the United States, a federal class action, Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital. The courts ruled in favor of Terri Halderman and closed the school after revealing the dirty, violent conditions patients lived in.

The property changed hands several times before being donated to the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance. Now as an at-risk historic Pennsylvania property, the campus runs Halloween haunted houses and building tours to support the upkeep of the property.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the haunted houses or tours themselves, as they raise funds for the property and educate the public on some of the failures of mid-1900s institutionalization. That being said, ignoring the painful history of the site and the people it hurt is blatantly disrespectful.

Many assume the campus housed criminals or murderers, but that is simply untrue. The majority of patients suffered from OCD, schizophrenia, and PTSD. These people were not monsters, they were people who needed help and were instead abused and isolated from the rest of the population.

I’m not saying that you should avoid visiting haunted or historical attractions, but it’s important to understand the history behind them first. Historic sites like Pennhurst are kept open to preserve history, both the good and the bad. We shouldn’t ignore the bad just for a thrill.

If you want to learn more about Pennhurst’s history or schedule a day-time tour, visit their website at And I would highly recommend stopping by to see the Haunted Attractions if horror is your thing.