Pennhurst: Haunted by Its Past, Unsure of Its Future

By Michael Alan Goldberg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 59 | Posted Oct. 12, 2010

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Photo by Michael Alan Goldberg

We visited three summers ago, drawn by the history, the rumors, the talk of the unsettling things we’d find here. Clutching our cameras, we trudged up the narrow crumbling road, past a faded “No Trespassing” sign buried by overgrown brush. The thick woods on either side of the road encroached upon the broken asphalt. No sign of animals, no sound of birds. Just eerie silence.

Some two-dozen buildings—large, sinister, two-and three-story brick structures, most of them engulfed by branches and vines so that we could only make out the top floors and roofs—loomed ahead. Their innards were breathtaking and bone-chilling. Rusty wheelchairs and leg braces strewn about dimly lit rooms filled with rubble and cobwebs. A child’s doll sitting in a pool of water. Rows and rows of ancient metal bed frames and cots and cribs. Torn clothes and personal belongings and broken toys everywhere. Long, terrifying corridors that dissolved into black. Ribbons of paint in various shades of blue, yellow and green peeling from walls dappled with dark brown water stains and graffiti.

Aesthetically, it was a photographer’s dream. But it was more like a nightmare. The scenes before us were frozen in and ravaged by time, slowly morphing into something surreal. When it comes to places like this, there’s usually mystery involved. Who lived here? Where did they go? But there’s no mystery as to what happened here. This was Pennhurst.

Originally established as the “Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic,” the Pennhurst State School and Hospital—nestled in a wooded area of Spring City, about 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia—opened its doors in 1908. It was designed to house and provide custodial care to people with developmental disabilities: Intellectual disabilities (formerly termed “mental retardation”), cerebral palsy, epilepsy, what has come to be known as autism, and so on. It was a place where the disabled could be hidden away from a world that feared them.

From the start, Pennhurst was doomed to fail. Residents poured in from all over the region, and by 1910 administrators were already complaining about extreme overcrowding and severe underfunding from the state. By most accounts, Pennhurst was staffed, for the most part, by decent, compassionate people who did their best under difficult circumstances to care for the residents. But the lack of space and resources led to staff cuts, poor training and, eventually, rampant neglect and abuse. In 1968, WCAU-TV reporter Bill Baldini’s searing expose “Suffer the Little Children” brought the inhumane treatment happening at Pennhurst into shocked living rooms across Philadelphia.

Conditions improved in wake of the expose, but in 1977 a federal judge in the landmark Halderman v. Pennhurst case—a class-action lawsuit filed in 1974 on behalf of former resident Terri Lee Halderman, which alleged years of abuse in sickening detail—ruled that Pennhurst had inflicted cruel and unusual punishment on residents and further violated their constitutional rights. Pennhurst was ordered closed; following several appeals the state finally agreed in 1985 to shut down the institution once its residents could be moved to group homes or other smaller facilities. In 1987, the doors were locked and Pennhurst was left to rot.

In the two decades after Pennhurst was abandoned, the thousands of residents who finally escaped Pennhurst were replaced by countless thousands more every year trying to sneak onto the property: Urban explorers interested in documenting this creepy, otherworldly place in photos, words and video; Ghost hunters, who have long claimed of hearing anguished screams or whispers of “Get out” inside the buildings and tunnels below; Vandals; Looters; Scrappers; Curious locals; Trespassers risked arrest, but unless the cops caught you destroying the place, or with booze or drugs, you were usually given a warning and told to leave.

But this fall, tens of thousands of people are streaming onto the property every weekend quite legally. They’re plunking down $25 ($50 for a VIP pass) to get their Halloween scares at “Pennhurst Asylum,” a brand-new haunted house set inside the site’s former Administration Building. The haunt was created by Richard Chakejian—a local real-estate developer who has owned the Pennhurst property since purchasing it from the state in 2008—and his business partner, Randy Bates. And the show has stirred up a controversy surrounding this 110-acre parcel of land and buildings not seen since the days of “Suffer the Little Children.”

Critics say the Pennhurst Asylum exploits the most tragic elements of Pennhurst’s history for profit. That it mocks people with disabilities. That it desecrates a property they consider hallowed ground—site of a precedent-setting legal victory that put into motion the re-integration of the developmentally disabled into society. Worst of all, they contend, the haunted house undermines the long, hard-fought and continuing struggle of the disabled community to escape being looked at as “others,” “freaks,” or something less-than-human.

To his supporters, Chakejian is a hero. He’s taken an eyesore property and is simply doing something, anything, with it. His haunted house is generating extra business for shops and restaurants in Spring City, and has created more than 150 jobs—paramount concerns for this recession-scarred town. And he’s providing good, family fun during Halloween season. Whatever awful things went on at Pennhurst, they say, happened a long time ago.

This is a story of a town divided, of old wounds being opened by a new enterprise. But also at stake is the future of Pennhurst, for which there are many competing visions.

It’s two weeks before the Sept. 24 opening of the Pennhurst Asylum, and representatives of several disability-rights groups—along with about 200 protesters—have gathered for a news conference and rally to denounce the haunted house. Tom Earle, CEO of Liberty Resources, likens the idea of having a haunted attraction at Pennhurst to throwing a party at Dachau. “People died there. Women were raped. There’s people buried throughout the property at this facility. So it’s a travesty.”

Frank Orr, a Pennhurst resident from 1965 until 1976, approaches the podium in his wheelchair. He doesn’t say much, but what he does say elicits huge applause: “A lot of bad stuff happened there. Don’t do this stupid thing.”

“From everything I’ve ever learned about concentration camps and things of that nature—you know, people lying there naked and just so deprived—a lot of it was the same at Pennhurst,” Linda Dezenski, COO of Liberty Resources, says later. “What happened there was so horrific to many of us that the idea that you would even utilize that setting for any kind of family entertainment, it’s just … it’s unbelievable.”

Jean Searle also speaks at the rally. A 48-year-old activist who spent most of her first 22 years living in an institution due to an intellectual disability, Searle is also co-president of the Pennhurst Memorial & Preservation Alliance (PM&PA), a broad network of disability advocates and activists, preservationists, legal and medical professionals, and historians that seek to transform Pennhurst into a “site of conscience.” Searle says that the conflict with Chakejian started earlier this year when she and other members of the PM&PA looked at the “History” section of the Asylum’s website and determined that he and Bates were planning to make a buck off Pennhurst’s disturbing past.

Reads the website, in part: “It has a history; a history riddled with accusations of torture, abuse, and neglect. A history of mental patients chained to the walls in dark tunnels, children left for years in cribs, sexual abuse by the staff and even murder … we have really strived to mix fact with fiction, folklore with fear, to come up with some of our unique room designs.”

And then, says Searle, she saw a posting on the Asylum’s official Facebook page that read, “If you want to be a scary psyco [sic] at this new haunted house, contact us!!!!” She was furious. So were disability-advocacy groups like the Arc of Pennsylvania, Easter Seals and the Public Interest Law Center. “I think what’s most offensive is referring to people who are disabled as ‘scary psychos,’” Searle says. “We’re normal just like everybody else and they should treat us like that, not as off-the-wall wackos.”

Aside from the horribly chewed-up condition of the road—which is doing a number on my car as I drive through Pennhurst to meet with Chakejian and Bates—a lot has changed since that last visit to the property. Trucks from Penn Organic, the recycling and mulching operation run on four of Pennhurst’s acres by Chakejian’s younger brother, Gene, rumble regularly through the grounds. Most of the brush has been cleared away. And where once there was only silence, there’s plenty of noise and activity at the Administration Building, where dozens of workers put the finishing touches on the haunted house for its grand opening in three days.

Chakejian (first under the name Pennhurst Associates, and later under a separate entity called Pennhurst Acquisitions) first put in a bid to acquire Pennhurst in 1998, and after a decade of negotiations with the state, he closed on the property in early 2008 for $2 million. Chakejian’s original plans for the property included a continuing care facility or a housing development, but by the time he finally took ownership, the real-estate market had crashed. “Let’s put it this way,” he says. “If I had purchased it in 2005, I would have held an auction for [residential builders] Toll, Cutler, all the usual suspects. It was a different time then. So we were faced with challenges: What do we do with the property, and how do we make it safe and secure and try to discourage would-be intruders?”

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 59 of 59
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1. Linda Haag said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 08:05AM

“Let's build an amusement park at Krakow, charge admission and advertise 'if you want to be a starving scary Jew', come and pay your $25 to be thrilled. Unlike many concentration camp survivors, Pennhurst survivors are still alive and able to relive their story. My one friend is now 84 years old, left Pennhurst in 1974 and will not discuss his experiences there. It is far too painful and unspeakable. It is 2010 and apparently it is still acceptable to laugh at and further stigmatize the disabled as scary and dangerous. Think. Feel. Respect. Haven't we allowed far too much exploitation to occur?”

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2. eyevolve said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 12:29PM

“They could always level the properties and build a WallMart. Lord knows we need more of them.

The positive far outweighs the negative. Please don't think Eastern tate is the perfect role model. They too have acting prisoners escaping and reeking havoc. But that not a sensitive issue now is it? Never mind how the prisoners were treated (at ESP), much like a concentration camp.

Both haunts do well as to fit their surroundings without pushing the limits. If either of these places were on a boat, I would expect to see pirates.

Those whom forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 02:34PM

“haha. nevermind the bitter commentator above. he auditioned for terror behind the walls and was rejected.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 03:46PM

“I like the idea and look forward to going to Pennhurst. But then again I am an urban explorer/ghost hunter and live for this kind of stuff. I'm sorry for all the people who were hurt and abused there but what else would you do with the property?? Turn it into a housing development? Well let me tell you this, that would be one haunted neighborhood.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 05:09PM

“I have a splendid idea. Why not hire the people the same people that set up hangout rooms in Pennhurst (one was in Devon and another was in Tinicum) where they had sex, got drunk and did drugs to work at the 'Pennhurst Asylum'? Yanno... they very same people that used to tag and destroy the buildings for fun. Oh wait, Randy Bates already did... wait a second, isn't this haunted house supposed to 'save/preserve' Pennhurst? If so, then why the hell is Randy Bates hiring vandals to hang out at Pennhurst and scare people?”

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6. Anonymous said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 05:15PM

“P.S. I call shenanigans on the accusation that the so-called 'urban explorers' fueled this controversy. Bates is more than happy to pay one of them to work in at the attraction. How else do you think one of his actors got a hold of a dress that originally belonged to a former Pennhurst resident and was left in an abandoned building? So much for not impersonating former residents.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 10:18PM

“The difference between ESP and Pennhurst. You did a crime, you spent the time at ESP. At Pennhurst innocent people were subjected to inhuman conditions. Their only crime was, possibly "not being quite as smart as they should have been.
Shame on all the People involved with the haunt at Pennhurst. You should know better. Unfortunately the teenages that come through the haunt have no clue about the past history of the institution.”

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8. Anonymous said... on Oct 14, 2010 at 12:44AM

“This is all about greed and money plain and simple. The sad part is that they are lying to the community and tricking them into thinking the money is going back into there.

How many employees are locals? How many people go out to an "attraction" like this and eat at midnight and where would they do it in Spring City or the neighboring communities?

Other than the local fire police making $10.00 / hr. (more than the actors by the way....) and some extra income for WAWA the rest goes to King Richard and Master Bates.

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9. Anonymous said... on Oct 14, 2010 at 09:36AM

“Randy, if it weren't for the legitimate Urban Explorers, you wouldn't have half the crowd you do up there. Your so-called cult following is ours. We are the ones who explore, document and discuss these properties - you simply made a profit off it at our expense. Those drug and sex-addicted thugs who claim to be Urban Explorers use the title as mask for their excuses and then work at your establishment. Why are you speaking poorly of your employees? the actual Urban Explorers are not working at your establishment and do not wish to pay money to see it. they are opposing it, as well as members of the community, etc. You really think that petition which gained over 1,000 signatures are all comprised of Urban Explorers? We are a minority.

You think we're spreading misinformation about your establishment then you retaliate by spreading misinformation about us. Our work speaks for itself, yours does not.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Oct 14, 2010 at 11:40AM

“Chakejian and security team have arrest authority? I don't think so - read PA law... They don't even have the authority to detain someone or they risk being sued themselves... Citizens Arrests are only legal in Pennsylvania for a FELONY and it's pretty specific regarding how that can be done, see some recent PA Supreme Court Cases. Last time I checked, trespassing isn't a felony.... If Chakejian and his people are practicing this they deserve to be sued for false imprisonment by anyone "held" by them until the police showed. If you were one of them, contact a lawyer, as a defendant they'll have plenty of money to be had after this haunted house season.”

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11. Illegally Detained at Pennhurst said... on Oct 14, 2010 at 11:48AM

“Really? I was illegally detained by a bunch of overweight teenage dudes in black SECURITY T- User Guidelines Shirts there last fall. I was simply walking around the property and 2 trucks drove up on me from different directions and then a few other punks in t-shirts walked up. They told me I had to wait there until the police showed and they made me sit down and surrounded me and wouldn't let me leave while they called the police and waited for them to arrive. I tried to leave and they said if I pulled anything they'd run me down in their truck. It didn't feel right.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Oct 14, 2010 at 01:07PM

“It didn't feel right because it's not right. You realize they aren't even security guards? They had no training or certification nor did they work for a legitimate security company. They were hired by Richard and were under the order of George Monroe. They can spout off whatever intimidating jargon they wish to use but you do not have to listen - simply excuse yourself off their property.”

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13. Anonymous said... on Oct 14, 2010 at 04:28PM

“Security was headed up by George Monroe - the steroid taking, income tax evading thug wannabe by direction of Richard C & Randy B. It's a well known fact that George illegally detained many people for simply walking down the road next to Pennhurst. I should know, I use to work security for them. George is one of the most arrogent meatheads I've ever met. Richard and Randy would be doing themselves a favor by cutting all ties with him. He gives the operation a bad name.”

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14. Anonymous said... on Oct 14, 2010 at 05:17PM

“If you think George Monroe was a bad dude??? FYI- HE has now decided to severe his ties and leave Chakejian and Bates!!! So, if he is that bad, how bad are the remaining partners???
It's also interesting to note, the roads surrounding Pennhurst belong to the VA, so if you were detained on Veterans Drive...it's NOT their road. Ilegal detention?I smell class action lawsuit.”

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15. Anonymous said... on Oct 14, 2010 at 08:21PM

“I am unsure if George Monroe *willingly* severed ties and I am pretty sure that George Monroe was not a partner.

This article is ironic. First, Bates & Co. blame the preservationists for the controversy, now they are blaming the 'urban explorers' & El Peecho Productions.

When will they accept that some things are just in poor taste and asking for trouble? As much as the individuals involved with the haunted house are protected under the first amendment, they would be under great scrutiny if they decided to put on a minstrel show or KKK demonstration, as well.

The beautiful thing about the first amendment is that both the individuals involved with the haunted house AND people denouncing the haunt are protected under the first amendment.”

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16. Anonymous said... on Oct 14, 2010 at 08:36PM

“Why is it that the people speaking out against the haunt are the ones that knew about Pennhurst years before it became a commercial attraction, meanwhile 'supporters' knew nothing about Pennhurst until they were hired last month?
Many people protesting this attraction and spreading 'misinformation' are the scientists that studied Pennhurst for decades and attorneys that represented (and still represent) the Pennhurst Class. Silly intellectuals, facts are for kids! Many people protesting it that are active in the disability community, once resided in institutions, and/or have a family member with a disability. Silly eyewitnesses, sensation and perception is for kids! Then you have the angry residents that had their rights and privacy violated. Silly residents, rights & privacy are for kids! Clearly, those min wage haunt actors know more than all of those groups combined! (shhh.. nevermind that many didn't know what Pennhurst was until a month or two ago)”

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17. Jobs Creation Myth said... on Oct 14, 2010 at 10:48PM

“Seasonal or temporary jobs such as this don't count as "real" jobs as far as unemployment numbers and such. These "jobs" created are for the better part of what less than 20 days? They're not helping the community - what a joke. I'd also question how they're helping the community with taxes if they're paying people under the table like I saw one of their "actors" given some cash at the end of one of the nights recently... Seems according to the articles these guys are good at disguising the truth.”

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18. Anonymous said... on Oct 14, 2010 at 11:39PM

“How is the community benefiting when much of the makeup staff and acting staff is bussed in from Philly?

How about when Wawa's business starts to suffer after haunted house customers park there to go through the haunt and Wawa customers have to wait until cars get towed before they can park and enter Wawa?

Does *anybody* working at this haunted house actually live within a 30 minute radius of Pennhurst?

100 minimum wage jobs that last for 6 weeks with a good proportion of the staff residing in different counties. Wow. This attraction really saved the community.

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19. Anonymous said... on Oct 15, 2010 at 08:24AM

“They claim in order to preserve the buildings, they need funding and the funding is going to come from ticket sales. Well, to an average person that sounds superb, but these people are non-entitled frauds. Since when have they ever wanted to preserve the buildings? They bought the property with the intention to demolish everything; we saw the site plan as we cried, "no! no!" Now they care about the buildings? They couldn't afford demolition so this is their next option.

These are the type of people that should own Pennhurst and oversee any historical operation, museum, tours, etc. at www.preservepennhurst.com”

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20. Anonymous said... on Oct 15, 2010 at 09:09AM

“Why do you all feel the need to make low blows and insult and people and things instead of actually talking about this?

Is that all you guys can do to try to oppose this haunted house? Is talk about how shitty a person is because he did this or they did that? About how security is an asshole?

Pardon me but what does Security have anything to do with issue REALLY at hand? And really you got detained? You got detained because you were trespassing? Wait....you mean YOU did something illegal and are mad because you got caught?

Oh wait, you guys just want to be sour and butt hurt about things. You all act so internet tough but would you really say anything in real life? Are you HONESTLY doing anything in real life to make a difference on these things you feel so strongly about?

BTW There is a police officer who patrols the grounds, so yes, you can in fact get a fine from security.

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21. Anonymous said... on Oct 15, 2010 at 10:46AM

“There are multiple issues at hand, such as illegally detaining people on property before the haunted house opened. Two wrongs don't make a right (security cannot detain or fine you - the police can).

They did not attain the proper permits required and this property is not zoned for a commercial operation - it is zoned light residential.

The buildings have been designated as historic. Whoever thought it was a good idea to cut holes into walls and perform some heavy renovations didn't consider the historical value of the building.

People will oppose things for reasons you may not understand. The ignorant thing to do is assume they are just butt-hurt internet tough people who don't go out and do or say anything. Is there something wrong with speaking out on a news article that allows commenting? Is the news article also internet tough because it's digital? At least it isn't ignorant and sees things from different angles.”

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22. pk said... on Oct 18, 2010 at 08:18AM

“Well at least if he is making money off the haunted house, then he has some incentive to not raze the buildings and build a mini mall. I would love more than anything if a non-profit organization would take over the place and convert it to a stabilized ruin. They should use Eastern State Penitientiary as a model and open areas to the public as funds are gradually rasied to make the buildings safe. ESP is run by a loving and dedicated staff -- With all of the intruige surrounding Pennhurst, I am sure it would not be difficult to find similar people to volunteer their time to preserve history.”

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23. Anonymous said... on Oct 18, 2010 at 07:52PM

“As profitable as the haunt may be, not everybody is interested in going to Pennhurst 'to see ghosts'. Plenty of people don't believe in ghosts, some feel it is disrespectful, others think it is new-age nonsense. Many universities and high schools schedule mandatory field trips to Eastern State, but they certainly wouldn't ever schedule a mandatory field trip to a haunted house or ghost tour. Aside from having a museum, Eastern State hosts many events for the community (re-enactment of the storming of the Bastille, ice sculpting, live piano/string performances, photography contests, artistic installations, movie screenings). There are so many alternatives for Pennhurst that the community and other communities would benefit from for more than just financial reasons.”

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24. Anonymous said... on Oct 18, 2010 at 07:52PM

“As profitable as the haunt may be, not everybody is interested in going to Pennhurst 'to see ghosts'. Plenty of people don't believe in ghosts, some feel it is disrespectful, others think it is new-age nonsense. Many universities and high schools schedule mandatory field trips to Eastern State, but they certainly wouldn't ever schedule a mandatory field trip to a haunted house or ghost tour. Aside from having a museum, Eastern State hosts many events for the community (re-enactment of the storming of the Bastille, ice sculpting, live piano/string performances, photography contests, artistic installations, movie screenings). There are so many alternatives for Pennhurst that the community and other communities would benefit from for more than just financial reasons.”

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25. Anonymous said... on Oct 19, 2010 at 02:56PM

“why cant you all just mind your own business? someone bought the property and saw a way to make money, whats the big deal? who cares what they do with the money, its their money and their buildings, and their property! why get so angry at people who are trying to make money legitmately? take your stupid protests and go somewhere else. should the owners should find a way to completely renovate the whole complex and turn back into a facility that helps the mentally challenged?(something like devereaux) i am sure the community would really go nuts if that happened!
then watch all the complaining neighbors find some other excuse. its not about who makes how much money, or how much staff is getting paid, or where the actors come from or how much of a jerk the owner may or may not be, rather, it is about spoiled neighbors that have lived in the area since the place shut down, and want to moan and complain about anything and everything to try and stop a little bit of inconvenience.”

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26. Anonymous said... on Oct 19, 2010 at 02:57PM

“why cant you all just mind your own business? someone bought the property and saw a way to make money, whats the big deal? who cares what they do with the money, its their money and their buildings, and their property! why get so angry at people who are trying to make money legitmately? take your stupid protests and go somewhere else. should the owners should find a way to completely renovate the whole complex and turn back into a facility that helps the mentally challenged?(something like devereaux) i am sure the community would really go nuts if that happened!
then watch all the complaining neighbors find some other excuse. its not about who makes how much money, or how much staff is getting paid, or where the actors come from or how much of a jerk the owner may or may not be, rather, it is about spoiled neighbors that have lived in the area since the place shut down, and want to moan and complain about anything and everything to try and stop a little bit of inconvenience.”

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27. Anonymous said... on Oct 19, 2010 at 03:18PM

“i can guarantee you that if there was money in the whole thing for the "protesters", there wouldnt be any complaints. what if the owners gave all of the neighbors $1,000 each? u think that would be enough to cover their inconveniences? as far as im concerned, the neighbors should all be thrilled that there is activity at pennhurst. activity keeps vandals out of the area. instead of complaining about how this haunt makes fun of the mentally challenged, why dont you go and spend some time helping the mentally challenged? there are plenty of oppurtunities to volunteer your time to assist the mentally and physically challenged. check out the special olympics! you all act so innocent, yet you all know that if u had the property, and u had a good chance of making alot of money off of it, u would do the same thing! kwitcherbitchin!”

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28. Anonymous said... on Oct 24, 2010 at 05:59PM

“i visited pennhurst this weekend, and i was completely amazed at what i was”

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29. Anonymous said... on Oct 26, 2010 at 02:24AM

“Chakejian has every legal right to flail his fist; but when it hits my nose, it's an issue. This is MY neighborhood, zoned low-density residential, and bringing 4,000 people into it on a Saturday night is an affront to my right as a property owner. YOU try enjoying your weekend when school buses are still driving through the neighborhood at 2:00AM . Would YOU like to be stopped by an "event staff" because you're trying to turn onto your road to get home? I have no issue with Chakejian making money, but not at MY expense. And whoever believes that this is raising money to restore the buildings... well there's a bridge in Brooklyn that's for sale.”

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30. Anonymous said... on Oct 31, 2010 at 11:45PM

“exactly what i was talking about! u prove people wrong then they find another excuse "would you like to be stopped by an event staff". if the event staff guy wasnt at the end of your rd. you would probably complain saying that there should be event staff at the end of your rd! its because of people like you that complain about everything that we lose more and more freedoms everyday. who ever would have thought that in some townships you would need a "permit" to cut a tree down, or to put a small sidewalk in, or evenput up a fence. move to iraq and then you can talk about enjoying your weekend. u used to live near an abandoned property, did u think it would stay that way forever? i hope that the place gets turned into a huge shopping center 365 days a year! then u can really cry!”

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31. Anonymous said... on Nov 1, 2010 at 10:26AM

“u all should move 2 iraq cuz dis is AMERICAH n randy should do what he wants. kquitbitchinbitches. so wut if were mokcing retards? nobody cares bout retards. wear were the preservationists when penhurst was crumbling for years? i doubt the preservationists were helping the retards that lived at penhurst. i doubt the preservation ppl were the same ppl that helped the retards move out of penhurst asylum and went to court to help the retards. mind yer business
god bless AMERICA. AMEN.”

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32. Anonymous said... on Nov 6, 2010 at 12:00AM

“The Pennhurst property is not zoned commercial. It's zoned residential. Residential property is where people actually own or rent homes and live. A Commercial property is where developers build businesses. Pennhurst Asylum is a business. Get the difference?

Did you actually use the word "retards"?”

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33. really? wow. said... on Nov 11, 2010 at 10:31PM

“Wow. For someone who seems to like putting "retards" down, how about you try to educate yourself a little and learn how to spell? At least you have the capacity to do so.Until you can learn how to spell "this" and show some respect for those who have suffered more than you can imagine, stop trying to make intellectual arguments you cant win. There are people out there who care for "retards" Plenty of them. I am one and so are the 80 some staff I work with at a group home for "retards" I only hope that if you ever have a child....god willing...it doesnt have MR. its people like you who no doubt caused and inflicted the abuse on those poor souls just for a paycheck. "does anyone care about retards?" seriously? wow. Go get an education. Tourists dont go to concentration camps to see latex masks and feel a thrill. They go to feel what real tragedy is...and RESPECT IT. end of story.”

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34. Anonymous said... on Aug 10, 2011 at 11:43PM

“Life is about learning of the mistakes made. Everyone learned a lesson here, and that is why the government shut it down. It is just life that causes humans to be curious and the curiousity brings spectators. If the community honored this property so much they should have gotten together to purchase it. They didn't and now the owner can do what he wants to with it.”

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35. Anonymous said... on Oct 12, 2011 at 04:03AM

“Conundrum is the first word that comes to mind after reading this. A man bought the property. The property comes with a past that was obviously horrific for those living there, and I am sure for many who worked there. Who can say what the best solution is. Let this historic place rot, become a haven for vandals, squatters etc.? Try to make some money? This would obviously require re-zoning and perhaps millions to bring it up to code, even to give sympathetic tours of a history not to be repeated. I do realize there are still many places like this with sub-standard care, abuse and other forms of violence...so, should this place be used in the fight to help pave a better way? I have personally walked the grounds of concentration camps. There was no sense of disrespect, only reminders of tragedy. Yet, still, there is this man who paid for the property. If he is using it to make money when it is not zoned commercial it is up to local legislation to solve this issue. Again, conundrum.”

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36. Christopher rettig said... on Nov 3, 2011 at 12:04AM

“i have read lots of documentaries and seen a lot of video footage about pennhurst past. I've also been a spectator to the haunted attraction this past 2011 season. I have in my earlier years in life worked in haunted attractions. I understand people's fear and misunderstanding of what is being done with the property, but that's exactly what it is that has residents worried. Fear and misunderstanding. I can tell you that everything there was run very professional and would be a concern to local residents if it weren't run by anyone else than randy bates. He has the experience and expertise to do this in a maner that is safe as possible. Yes I understand the claims of the property being zoned for residential , but this is only six to eight weeks a year. Let me put it this way should your own property be re- zoned to commercial just because you had a few big yardsales and half the community decided you had goods they wanted and all decided to show up each time you had a yard sale?”

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37. Anonymous said... on Dec 21, 2011 at 12:54PM

“How sick in the head do you have to be to do these horrible things to people? I would think people would have some kind of common sence.”

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38. Angela Olivieri said... on Apr 17, 2012 at 11:00AM

“from the stupidity of the runner i have decided to use this in my research paper for school. Also, when you do that to young minds, they dont know better about this place. You should at least make a meuseum of one of the buildings and a memorial of another. If I go threw Pennsilvania on my way to Washington DC, Im going here so I can put up a sign that says this building was shut down because of what the atraction makes fun of, why dont they shut this place down again. People like my brother were put in pennhurst, my brother has autism.He would be stripped down strapped to a bed for his "safety", and neglected, left to die and rot.
I'm only 12 and I know alot about this topic. I want to become a phyciatric nurse, someone that works with the mentally retarded everyday, I will have to go to college for about 8 years, about the age that some people were put in Pennhurst because they were poor, had autism, were mentally retarded, or because their mom and dad were.”

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39. Tony Rebel said... on May 24, 2012 at 01:45PM

“I Think its wrong to have a Haunted House attraction at such a historic and horrifying place it almost seems like they are making fun of those woh had such a tragic past there!!! Disturbing a persons Resting Place!!!”

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40. Jill said... on Jul 13, 2012 at 05:13PM

“It is sick, and sadistic people who want jobs like this. No normal person would work, or do nothing about the tortures that happened behind these walls. This place should be a memorial to those who died, and suffered here. Not a place to make money which reflects on the people who are doing this your an awful cruel mentally, and spiritually unstable people yourselves. Have some respect for the people who suffered here. The fact that police patrol these areas also leads me to believe they want to keep hiding what happened here. The government is just upset that they got caught torturing people that can't defend themselves. It is only a matter of time before our enemies tear this country apart. Their control is just an illusion it is already known what will happen in the future.”

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41. Anonymous said... on Sep 13, 2012 at 08:47PM

“I would love to see Pennhurst "rest"
2 days ago been there and spoke with this "dude" that was trying to scare us to go away and at the same time trying to see us the upcoming events. Not cool. (and yes, we did snoop around for a good 2 hours and nobody stopped us. We didn't break into any building and just looked around in silence)
This place should be some sort of memorial like ESP not a bloody haunted attraction.
I would honestly pay good money to just be left alone and be able to walk around, snap some pics and feel the pain and suffering that was left behind.”

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42. Anonymous said... on Oct 8, 2012 at 07:19PM

“They aren't making fun of people with mental retardation or any of the disabilities everybody is used to today. when they say scary psychos they mean like people who have killed 3 people and are literally insane. I'm sorry, but if you've killed people or raped people, then you are insane, not disabled, and deserve to be made fun of.”

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43. Anonymous said... on Oct 21, 2012 at 09:00PM

“I was completely disappointed after paying $78 for the VIP. I came to Pennhurst not having knowledge that I was at a school for the mentally disabled. After going through the museum I felt so sick to my stomach... after I realized the truth about what happened at this place. I couldn't believe that someone would try to capitalize on the history of such a horrific site. Randy Bates already has a successful haunted attraction, so to do this is greedy and unethical. He should really think about what he has to gain from this business venture, millions, yes...but also a moral issue that only he and God will settle someday. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This attraction is a bad, overpriced excuse for a haunted attraction. I couldn't wait to go to see it, but I think just like I found out the majority of or pennhurst visitors will decide not to come back. It is just wrong on so many levels. There are plenty of other haunts to visit in PA. that are cheaper and way more fun!”

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44. Anonymous said... on Oct 21, 2012 at 09:10PM

“Honestly, the actors in Pennhurst touch you way too much. It was really uncomfortable how much they touch you in almost every room. I had actors putting their hands down the back of my hoodie touching my skin, touching my face, pulling my hair, grabbing my legs hard. It was not fun. I've been to other haunts that the actors actually scare you by not touching you at all. I was only scared because of how gross it was to get touched by all of them. Take my word for it not worth the drive, money or uncomfortable feeling you will be left with.”

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45. Anonymous said... on Oct 27, 2012 at 10:42PM

“Hey Randy, why not just make a haunted house on Ground Zero. A very terrible thing happened there where many individuals were killed. There you go, another money making scheme for you.”

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46. Anonymous said... on Oct 28, 2012 at 01:18AM

“Whoever; would place a haunted house attraction in a place where so many people were abused and neglected for most of their lives and even died here under inhumane circumstances, is sub-human. Obvioulsy it's purely motivated by greed and without an ounce of sensitivity or compassion. The horrendous things that occurred here over the course of it's history is all imprinted within this space. These were human beings, not sideshow oddities! Shame on whoever would make a mockery of the suffering and death that occurred here.”

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47. Anonymous from Texas said... on Oct 28, 2012 at 10:44AM

“I think that the zoning should certainly be addressed, and also the issue of respect to both the patients that once were in this horrendous place and the local community. Why is it open for Halloween season only? A true historical site should be open year round so people who want to come to pay respect and pray for the souls that suffered here can do so. If the owners are truly reverent about the suffering of so many of Gods creatures and want to give back to the community or show any respect for the suffering, they would open it for educational purposes as well as putting a portion of the proceeds into that venue. For me, the fact that it is only open for Halloween, tells me it is only used for personal gain. Imagine how much more respect and cooperation from the community they could gain by opening the gates to the public a few days a week through the year for those not " thrill seeking".”

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48. LouAnn said... on Oct 28, 2012 at 02:18PM

“My heart is broken for all the children that were there. Something is drawing me to Pennhurst I would love to go there and talk to all the lost souls that are still there. They need to know that they are loved and it is time to let go and go to the light.”

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49. Anonymous said... on Oct 31, 2012 at 01:39PM

“Saw. That on travalchannal. Would take. My sister hough that haunted. House.”

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50. stan mertes said... on Oct 31, 2012 at 01:47PM

“Are. They going to do it next year. And. What's. The cost. For. Tickets. For that. Haunted. House”

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51. Anonymous said... on Dec 2, 2012 at 12:47PM

“All I see is a town who profits froms others misfortunes. They all knew what was going on then, it was ok as long as there was jobs and money. They are again turning a blind eye for money and jobs. I agree lets make haunted houses out of concentration camps, there are idiots that will come and enjoy themselves..and the towns can profit from the jobs and business...”

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52. Anonymous said... on Dec 2, 2012 at 08:55PM

“This is utterly dispicable. I volunteer with the mentally and physcal handicap at dances and trips. My sister has Down's Syndrome. I was sick to my stomach when I found out what happened here and now I understand why my mother used to say she doesn't want her daughter in an institution. They have come a long way from this. They have homes for these children that have two staff members and four people living there. It is good to see that we have learned from this.”

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53. Anonymous said... on Dec 2, 2012 at 08:57PM

“This is dispicable.”

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54. Yelenie27 said... on Jan 6, 2013 at 08:12PM

“Personally, I believe that if there are people exploring the souls of the past then they should take responsibility and try to let the souls rest in peace. Move them on and let them go.”

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55. Alex Maenner said... on Sep 11, 2013 at 04:14PM

“Regardless of what everybody is saying about how bad the haunted house is and how its disrespectful to the former patients and employees. I think that the haunted house was and still is a great idea. It gives the public an opportunity to see what this place really was and what it is now. It wasn't supposed to be such a horrible place, It was supposed to be a place where people who had mental disabilities and epilepsy (which I actually have) could go for help. It was the Government;s fault for allowing this to happen. They knew what was going on and there;s even suspicion that eugenics took place here. Though there is no solid proof of that. Also, if Richard Chakejian had never purchased the property all of the buildings would have been knocked down and neighborhoods would have been build in their place. Losing all history of what took place. What he is doing is not letting people forget what happened there. Email me back if you have a problem with anything i am saying.”

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56. me said... on Oct 4, 2013 at 08:52PM

“Some of you are saying why would you create a haunted attraction in a place where people were tortured, abused, sexually assaulted and even murdered. Haunted attraction!! It's not going to be built at a place representing happiness, unicorns, and fairies. The attraction seems to use exactly what happened at Pennhurst as the event. Not some Jason is coming to get you, or other bullshit. It's all things that have happened. It's sad, a lot of people are bitching. but I'm sure most of you would even give a shit if it was still an abandoned building. What gives people the right to make a attraction but if it were a movie that was being made.. Oh it's ok?! Get off your high horse.”

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57. Jason Robert said... on Nov 26, 2013 at 04:12PM

“I have to say, I am epileptic and had I been born in the 40's or 50's I'd probably been placed in an institute much like pennhurst. I do not agree at all that the haunt exploits people with MR or other physical/mental dissabilities. As any attendee of the haunt will tell you, the actors are portraying monsters, killers, "Psycos", much like what we see in the movies. Should we start bashing hollywood for doing the same? I just think: Maybe if they didnt use the name "Pennhurst asylum" it might lessen some of the contrevosy behind the operation. As one prev. comment stated, "they are using the pennhurst buildings, not trying to depict the asylum as it was while in operation." If this was true, why not use some generic name like "Psycho Asylum" and just sever the connection to the pennhurst name altogher. Something to consider.”

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58. Jennifer ohio said... on Aug 1, 2014 at 12:53PM

“People "UNITED" do something!!!This is the "most" horrific, evil place to still be standing. Yes, we should bash Hollywood for exploding this evil place. Why doesn't someone demolish, burn and purify this human created evil place and let peace try to occupy this land. People needt to put a memorial there to start healing instead of entertaining the fact that the land there can be used for further income. The state of PA SHAME to humanity in 2014 "I hope government officials, Hollywood stars, paying visitors, local residents would stand up. I am so sickened that this place is still standing. Disgusting. I would get a group together and petition this place to be demolished, down to the dirt it stands on. Where Hitler committed suicide, demolished. The man Castro who held captive 3 girls in Ohio, house demolished within days. Greed $$$$ is what is keeping this place standing. Really an attraction for this. Healing and peace to all will only begin for this suffering place. BURN/DEMOLISH”

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59. Anonymous said... on Aug 11, 2014 at 03:17PM

“The fright factory in Philadelphia has an insane asylum haunt as one of their main attractions - so does the place in festerville PA and mulica hill NJ - the point is insane asylums are normal haunted attraction in America before the Pennhurst one.....to say that these attractions put down disabled people - fine - but make sure to protest them all not just one. They aren't doing anything other than using a famous site to increase popularity - why wouldn't anyone do that who is a smart business person. The place would have caught fire by now if someone didn't put some money into it. Abandon warehouses burn down all the time in Kennsington from drug users and homeless people - thats what would have happened sooner or later.”

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