Pennhurst State School and Hospital

Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Spring City, Pennsylvania opened in 1908 and didn’t close it’s doors until 1987. The sprawling complex of buildings created a campus spread over 100 acres. All buildings were connected by a network of underground tunnels.

Sadly for many years mental retardation was considered the same thing as mental illness. Today they are seen as clearly different conditions. Pennhurst was estimated to have had over 10,000 patients and Zak said half of them never left. Dreary industrial grave markers with names and dates were shown on the grounds.

A number of experts were called in to tell the story of Penhurst and footage from journalist Bill Baldini’s 1968 expose of the horrific conditions that prevailed there showed patients shackled to beds, young children confined to cribs and terrible overcrowding.  Dr. James Conroy, Co-President of the Pennhurst Memorial summed it up when he said, “Instead of treatment we gave them horror.”

Property Manager George Monroe told Zak that building contractor Steve Hacker and his son Clay had been on site with George one Sunday afternoon and all three saw a figure in the third floor window of the Rockwell Building. The figure moved the curtains in the window and then vanished. All three men investigated and confirmed that all doors were locked and the underground tunnel system sealed. They couldn’t find anyone else in the building. Zak and Nick took George and Clay up to the room they had seen the figure peering out of. It was a bit of a shock to both men to find out the curtains in the window in question were behind a sturdy wire mesh and could not be accessed from inside the room. Clay had a genuinely flustered reaction to this development and seemed to be groping for words.

Zak interviewed former Pennhurst patient Betty Potts who recounted some of her experiences there. She arrived at Pennhurst at age eight. In careful, halting words she described being tied to her bed and placed in solitary confinement for her screaming, tantrum laced behavior. Once in solitary she said she banged her head against the wall over and over. She explained this was her way of getting attention.

Patients got little helpful attention at Pennhurst. Dr. Conroy said in 1978 each Pennhurst patient averaged three minutes of psychiatric care per year.

Sexual abuse and financial corruption were rampant at Pennhurst. In Bill Baldini’s 1968 broadcast expose he said government funding of Pennhurst worked out to $5.90 per patient. However 80 percent of that amount was taken up by administrative costs so only seventy-five cents was left to actually care for each patient. Dr. Conroy talked about funding provided for toothbrush programs for patients that didn’t have any teeth.

The staff had a real problem with patients acting out by biting them.  Dr. Conroy said the first time a patient bit, behavior therapy was attempted to stop them from doing it again. After a second or third bite hundreds of patients were hauled into a dentists chair and had every tooth in their heads forcibly extracted. Zak found the chair and predictably sat in it.  However he found the residual energy was causing him discomfort in his lower back and didn’t stay in it for long.

Eyewitness Brianna Pietropaula had a fascinating story about seeing the ghost of a little girl in the Franklin Building. Brianna and her friends entered the operating room and sat on the floor in a circle. At one point she looked up and saw a the ghost of a little girl in a dress seated on the floor hugging her knees and staring at the group. Everyone in the circle felt rotten the rest of their time in the area. Brianna described it as feeling depressed and sore as if they had been thrown down flights of stairs. To me the ghost girl looked like she was in a near catatonic state, blank eyed and  in crushing despair.

Paranormal activity started for the Ghost Adventures team long before lockdown.  While touring the grounds with George Munroe, Zak and his team heard a loud clanging bang on the second floor of the Rockwell Building while standing outside. Zak and the guys climbed in a ground floor window and ran upstairs. A heavy metal desk had been picked up and thrown or pushed over in the hallway. Zak showed on camera the fresh marks the legs of the desk had made in the thick dust and grit on the floor when it moved. To me it sounded as if it had been thrown. Later in the episode the desk was described as having been pushed. Either way, it was a heavy object for a ghost to move.

Zak, Nick and Aaron started lockdown going in the front door of the administration building.  The team set up X cameras at eight locations in the Mayflower, Quaker, Hershey and Rockwell Buildings as well as a couple in the underground tunnel network. They all wore respirator masks due to the heavy asbestos still present in the facility. First thing, Nick face planted when he tripped over a desk chair in the hallway. He managed to cut his hand on glass among the debris on the floor.

From the beginning of lockdown Pennhurst felt stuffed with ghosts to me. It was like trying to breathe and peer through cotton wool. I have never felt such a density of ghosts before, not at Waverly, not at Trans-Allegheny.

The team took a power drill with them so they could remove the numerous boarded up doors and tunnel entrances. When they reached the Mayflower Building Zak felt he had walked into some sort of energy. When he said they were there to play with the patients he got a 2.7 EMF spike.

Nick then asked, “Do you like us being here?” and got an EVP reply saying, “Go away…” Like most EVP’s the voice was fairly scratchy but there was also a sense of deep weariness.

Zak and company entered a former common room still equipped with a stuffed chair and couch. I could see patients crowded all over the furniture and the ghost of a former male patient seated on the floor in the middle of the room. He was rocking back and forth as he clutched his knees. He seemed to disturb the other patients because despite the overcrowded room he had a circle of space around him.

Ghost Adventures got a couple good EVP’s in this room. The first was a little girls voice saying, “Hello…”. Right after her a male voice asked, “What are you doing?”

Zak tried for a bit more communication with the little girl. He felt a cold breeze and recorded a 10 degree temperature drop in a few moments. There was a tired old doll on the floor and Zak told the little ghost girl it was for her. This wasn’t picked up by his equipment, but I heard her say “I hate it!” followed by calling the doll stupid. It made me wonder how many times this ghost girl had been called stupid in life.

The crew entered the Franklin Building and headed for the third floor where Brianna had formerly seen a ghost girl. They recorded unexplained footsteps. A static camera was set up and they moved on. Twenty minutes after they left the area their equipment recorded an EVP saying, “Get out”. This seemed to be a common sentiment among Pennhurst ghosts.  

Also picked up at this location was the sound of a man breathing followed by some unexplained sounds and then a door slamming. There was nobody from the team on the floor at the time.

Zak did a bit of fiddling around with a green laser beam. The idea behind it was that they might see ghosts crossing the beam of light. Nothing happened. My first thought when he pulled it out was it probably just destroyed their night vision.

Heading to the tunnels Zak asked if somebody was down the hall from them.  A loud unexplained bang was the only recorded response. I heard a ghost reply that there were “many” of them present. When Zak asked who was there he heard ghostly footsteps following the team. Nick sensed something standing right in front of him. At this point EVP picked up a garbled female voice followed by a clear male voice saying, “…Sweet!…”

In Tunnel B the Ghost Adventures crew set up several night vision cameras and left them to their own devices. About 15 minutes later a thin, high female scream was heard. I got a lot more about what was going on with her than I wanted too. She was being raped when she screamed. That wasn’t anything new, it had happened before. The difference is she was taken by surprise that time because a man grabbed her from behind.

Revisiting the third floor of the Rockwell Building where the desk was pushed, Zak asked, “Did you push this desk over?” Nothing. He persisted, “I need to know if you are here” EVP caught a voice saying, “Help me…” Right after that Zak was startled when a rock was thrown into the wall next to him, splintered on impact and the shrapnel hit him in the arm.  An EVP caught at that moment sounded like a man hissing. I am not surprised. Whatever threw that desk or the rock was one strong, angry presence.

At one point Zak saw a white mist and felt someone touch his pocket. He attributed this to the little girl ghost who showed up throughout the episode. A static camera set up at the spot recorded the sound of someone trying to open a door about 30 minutes later when the crew had moved on to Quaker Hall.

Quaker Hall was identified by Dr. Conroy as likely the most active location as it was the building where the most difficult patients were held. Zak broke out a ghost box with video goggles that would show him the words from it’s computer database inside his goggles.

Zak started with a few questions that seemed to go unanswered but I heard responses. Zak asked the ghosts if they had been chained. I heard “yes”.  He then asked, “What do you like to do?” I heard back, “Spit!”.

While Zak, Nick and Aaron where in a communal bathroom he saw the word, “HIT” in his goggles. Shortly thereafter a coat rack was thrown at Zak hitting him in the chest hard enough to leave a red welt below his left nipple. The impact doubled him over. The coat rack nearly hit Nick in the head on it’s way to Zak.

Angrily Zak demanded, “Who did that?” The EVP response said, “…. the girl did it….”. No, she did not. Whatever thew the coat rack was male and a lot more powerful than the ghost girl they had been hunting all night.  

This was a crazy busy episode and Ghost Adventures got a lot of recorded activity, not to mention seemed to rock the world of Clay Hacker with further investigation of the window curtain incident.

Good work guys! GREAT start to the new season!



Lynne Olson can be contacted for private readings via email at:

(C) 2010 Lynne Olson. All rights reserved.

About Lynne Sutherland Olson

Professional Psychic Medium
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