This past summer, my husband and I won two tickets for a public ghost tour of Pennhurst State School and Hospital from the Pennhurst Paranormal Association. Timothy Smith runs Pennhurst Paranormal Association and maintains Pennhurst, conducting ghost tours and teaching visitors about the asylum’s tragic history. Tim and the staff of Pennhurst Paranormal Association are experienced, professional paranormal investigators. Everyone was kind and patient in answering both my questions and those of other tour members. The tour was focused on finding evidence of hauntings through the use of ghost hunting equipment, which they also showed us how to use. Pennhurst Paranormal Association hosts both public and private ghost tours of Pennhurst State School and Hospital.
The drive through the picturesque historical town soon ended, bringing George and me to a stop on a dark, country road next to a water tower. Thankfully, Tim sent one of his team to come and find us because we might have never found the place in time for the tour. Pennhurst Asylum was designed to be an isolated location, which undoubtedly helped in keeping the truth behind it a secret for many years. We had to drive down a winding path through the woods just to make it onto the campus, and it was already after dark.
I felt a shift in the atmosphere from the second I saw the dimly lit structures of the buildings looming above. I was thankful that there was a large touring group that night. After having done some preliminary research online, I was anxious about going. Before now, everything that I had done with ghosts had been low-key or happenstance. This was my first time being with a professional group of paranormal investigators that had ghost hunting equipment. We toured two buildings that night, Mayflower Hall and Devon Hall.
In the first building, we went into a kind of common hall where patients used to congregate. Paint was peeling off the walls and water pooled on the floor in some areas from recent rain. Members of the Pennhurst Paranormal Association told us background history about Pennhurst. The place was known for “womb to tomb care.” Many of the occupants spent their whole lives in Pennhurst, whether they needed to be there or not. Family members were encouraged to drop their children and relatives off and told not to look back as return visits might only upset the patient and disrupt the treatment.
Images of people being abandoned by their families, helpless to stop any ill treatment that might befall them filled me with unspeakable horror. I asked why these spirits were still here. Why hadn’t they moved on after so many years? Pennhurst was officially closed down in 1987. This prompted a discussion about hauntings and whether the spirits see the place as we do now.
Without proper funding, Pennhurst was understaffed, poorly managed, and incredibly overcrowded. This allowed for the medical staff to abuse their patients and for patients to accidentally harm themselves or each other. Severe punishments even included surgically removing the patient’s teeth so that they could not bite in defense. This was done without anesthetics. The mentally disabled were not seen as equals and it was easy for the staff to disregard them.
One story that was told to me was about a telephone lineman who was working on repairing the phone system when a patient came up to him and started swaying. After a few minutes, the patient began banging his head into the doorframe. The lineman hailed a nurse who was passing by for help, but she said that she didn’t have time to take care of the patient because she was so overwhelmed with work already. Meanwhile, the patient that she refused to help had blood pouring from the self-inflicted gash on his head.
We had been in the common room for a few minutes when I felt someone take my hand. Thinking it was my husband, I turned around to see that he was standing a few feet away from me. There was no one standing either next to or behind me. I jumped, pulling my hand back. When I brought this up to the tour guides, they said that people often reported being touched or having someone grab their hand in that room. They said that teenage boys used to be here in this section and that was their way of showing affection. We also got some cold spots in that room.
Next, they brought us to Emily’s room. Emily is the spirit of a sweet, thirteen-year-old girl who has the mental capabilities of a five-year-old. There were various dolls and stuffed animals on her bed. We communicated with her via an EMF (Electromagnetic Field) reader which spiked every time she got excited or came near us. She seemed to prefer females and enjoyed when the female tour guides and I took turns singing nursery rhymes to her.
While I was standing in that room, I suddenly saw a small, green orb. I followed it into the darkness down the hallway into another room, but it disappeared. I came back to Emily’s room. At that point, we said goodbye to Emily and went back outside to join other group members who were planning on visiting Devon Hall. Devon Hall is known for having great EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomena). Tim, the association’s leader, took us there.
At one point, I remarked that I kept hearing what I thought to be footsteps following behind us. Tim said that while that was possible, it was more likely that I was hearing the steady dripping of water down the wall. He was accustomed to hearing these noises, so he could debunk them. He even showed me where the water was coming from so that I could see for myself. While we had sufficient light to see by, this was mostly provided by flashlights that we carried along with us during the tour.
First, we went upstairs to inspect some bathrooms in Devon Hall where they had gotten great EVPs in the past. I sometimes get mental flashes of spirits when I enter rooms. It kind of reminds me of taking a picture because I only see the ghost for a second or two before they vanish. When we entered the bathroom, I saw an image of a little boy sitting in the bathtub. I grabbed George as he went to lean against it.
“Don’t sit there!” I hissed. He had no idea what I had seen until I told him later. I didn’t want him to upset the spirit.
Tim showed us how EVPs were made. He had a recorder that would only record when someone was speaking. He would ask a question, wait twenty seconds, and then ask the next question. Later, when he would play the recording back to the group, the ghostly voices would show up in between Tim’s questions. Since the recorder only records when someone is speaking, in theory, there should have been no gap between Tim’s questions during the playback.
The bathroom was a horrible place. Tim asked if the ghosts were repentant of what they had done during their lives, but they seemed to be proud of how they molested and raped young boys. They staked out claims on stalls and threatened to harm Tim if he entered them. Clutching my St. Michael pendant for protection, I envisioned a circle of white light around our group. Thankfully, I had managed to convince George to carry a protective talisman as well. The creepiest thing about this whole situation was that while I didn’t hear anything while I was standing there, Tim’s EVP recordings showed that there was someone in the bathroom with us. This someone was getting angrier at what they took as an intrusion of their territory.
We trudged down to the basement. At this point, I was looking at the cracked plaster and broken sinks and thinking to myself that I should have brought a face mask since I am super sensitive to dust. We entered another bathroom. Apparently, they are a great source for EVPs. We had a brief discussion about whether this was because the water is a good source of energy for spirits. Then we started another EVP session.
Tim made contact with another spirit who obliged us by reading the writing that was on people’s shirts to show that he was there. Then Tim asked if he would go and see if he could get Dr. Fear for us. That was actually the man’s name, although it would have been an appropriate nickname for him as well since he instilled fear in his patients. His soul apparently came here after his passing. I wondered how this was an appropriate punishment for his evil deeds since he seemed to be able to lord over the suffering souls that were still trapped here.
Moments after Tim called for Dr. Fear, I got a flash image of a spectacled man in a lab coat walking over to our group. In my vision, he came over and placed his hands on both a young woman’s and my husband’s shoulder as if he was peering over a group of medical interns. Just then George and the young woman complained of feeling a cold spot right where I had seen Dr. Fear appear.
Tim began asking Dr. Fear questions. Dr. Fear stated that while he remembered who Tim was, he didn’t really care about his presence one way or the other. One of the female tour guides asked if he was a real doctor. The ghost half chuckled into the EVP recorder. Of course, he was a real doctor. The way that he said it made it seem as if he thought she had asked a stupid question. She had been trying to insult him, but he had dismissed it.
One of the things we had discussed were the missing bodies of patients. Patients had died or gone missing and their bodies had never been accounted for. It was thought that they might have been buried somewhere on the campus in unmarked graves. Tim asked Dr. Fear what happened to the bodies.
“I burnt them,” crackled over the recorder, followed by low, eerie laughter.
I felt cold all over after that. Tim offered to keep taking us around the buildings. The next stop would have been back to the Mayflower building. There was the ghost of a nurse on one of the upper floors who was reported to administer ghostly shots to people. George and I decided to leave. We still had a three-hour drive back home and I felt emotionally and spiritually sapped after that encounter in the basement.
I was exhausted for days following this visit, even with my spiritual cleansings. Tim later told me that was one of their strongest EVP sessions. While I don’t consider myself a Medium per say, I do feel like spirits tend to manifest strongly when I’m around. This was easily the most terrifying ghostly encounter that I have ever had. There is nothing like being in a silent, near pitch dark room and having someone who you cannot see answer you.
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