The uproar over a PennHurst Haunted Attraction

by  on Aug.02, 2010, under Halloween, Haunted Houses

Since April I’ve been working on Pennhurst Haunted Asylum artwork, website, video etc for Randy Bates of Bates Motel fame.  I actually took an overnight trip to Spring City PA to snap some photos of Pennhurst and video. Upon seeing it first hand it was clear that after 20 some years of the property being ignored, most of the buildings were just crumbling.  In fact the hospital building had already started to collapse and was unsafe to go into.  2 or 3 of the wards had roofs that had collapsed as well making them very unsafe.  On top of the neglect there had been many vandals who had come and spray painted their names and thoughts all over the inside of the buildings and the tunnels under the complex.   It was pretty disgraceful to see it in this condition.

I met the people involved in reviving the Admin building while I was there and they had done a lot of work just clearing away the brush, pulling out all the debris from the building and making it safe to walk through.   We got to talking about the reaction that Randy has gotten since he announced the attraction.  Needless to say it hasn’t been very positive so far.   There have been the usual protests from mental health groups, which is to be expected.  But the most vocal have been people who think Randy is capitalizing on the suffering of mentally handicapped children which is who the patients were during Pennhurst years of operation.  It was closed down in the 1980’s after too many scandals of neglect and abuse.

After hearing about this I did some research to see what was being said.  The majority of the protesters seem to feel that Pennhurst should be preserved in some way yet shouldn’t be made into anything profitable.  Without there being a profit, what company or person would ever undertake the preservation of Pennhurst?  Having worked with The Ohio State Reformatory, better known as Shawshank Prison, I know that without their haunted attraction, that  the reformatory would have crumbled years ago.  Today the Reformatory is thriving, and being restored to it former operational glory!  Why?  because the haunted house they put on each year generates the funds they need to keep the place in good condition.  They have fostered the stories of ghosts and  hauntings into paid ghost hunts on a bi weekly basis and without these spooky uses the place would have been condemned a decade ago.

Yet we’re seeing all this resistance to what could be a long term haunted attraction that could actually preserve Pennhurst and even restore, not to mention bring awareness to what happened there to many more people than any preservation or internet group ever could!  You can argue that Pennhurst and the Reformatory are very different and that Pennhurst had much more suffering.  Sure you could, but the lessons of Pennhurst are something that shouldn’t be forgotten.  If the buildings are left to decay and crumble under their own weight then who will remember what happened there in 30 years?  A haunted attraction might be the best thing to happen to Pennhurst especially when it comes to spreading the awareness and lessons of what happened there.  I know Randy would like to see Pennhurst Haunted Asylum become a long term event that restores several buildings on the property.  This is Pennhursts last chance at telling the world what happened there and its too bad that the protectors don’t realize it.

That said check out the trailer for Pennhurst Haunted Asylum below:


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7 Responses to “The uproar over a PennHurst Haunted Attraction”

  1. Joseph Shmedola says:

    Pennhurst wasn’t an insane asylum. It wasn’t a prison – like Eastern State or Ohio Reformatory. It did not house raving lunatics, murderers, rapists and thieves. It housed disabled children. The most innocent and vulnerable people on earth. It was also the site of an historic Supreme Court case that resulted in national de-institutionalization for developmentally disabled people. Your work is excellent – very professional. But ultimately what Bates is doing is cheap exploitation. Granted it’s not easy to find funding for ‘real’ preservation (which this is not), but surely a less-exploitive, less-demeaning way can be found.

  2. admin says:

    You seem to be under the impression that Randy Bates plans on having handicapped ghost children running around scaring people when that’s not the case at all. I know that’s not what they’re doing so that’s why they changed the name to Asylum. It it was called a “School” yet then you might have an argument. Your just making assumptions about the content of the haunt at this point.

    I should also point out that there is a on site museum that will be part of the attraction in the administration building. It will detail the history of Pennhurst and the suffering that took place there. This is why I still say that more people will know about Pennhurst and become educated about what happened there then ever could if the place just crumbled in on itself. Sure it may not be idea to someone like you but it will preserve some of Pennhurst so that the next generation won’t make the same mistakes.

  3. admin says:

    Sorry I wrote all that and forgot to say thank you for the compliments on the site:)

  4. Joseph Shmedola says:

    Your welcome. Your work is truly top-notch. Hiring your firm is pretty much the only sign of good taste I’ve seen come from Mr. Bates. And you make a lot of good points that are tough to argue. However, I’m not under the impression that Bates plans on using handicapped ghost children etc. He is purposely propagating myths and spreading misinformation about the real Pennhurst to drive more thrill-seekers to his attraction.
    For example, in this video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXPe3Ey6Cd8
    Mr. Bates falsley claims Pennhurst State School and Hospital was “commonly known as Pennhurst State Mental Institution”. It was never called that.
    In this article:
    http://hauntworld.com/featured_article/haunted_house_in_philadelphia_pennsylvania_pennhurst_asylum
    Mr. Bates makes many false claims including “Patients were thrown out and a large homeless contingent developed in the area…”. Not even one resident was sent out into the streets. And there were never any lobotomies performed there. This is the person building a Pennhurst museum??!
    If Mr. Bates truly wanted to make a separation between the real Pennhurst and his attraction, he wouldn’t be at Pennhurst using the name “Pennhurst”. That’s why this is exploitation. He is exploiting Pennhurst’s name and twisting its history to make money. It just irks me, but I do find some saving grace in knowing at least some of the money is going to save some of the buildings and support artists like yourself.

  5. admin says:

    I can’t defend or speak to the video you posted or the article since I had no involvement with those. You make some good points about the comments he makes. However when I went to Pennhurst in April I spent quite a lot of time talking to Randy about his plans for the complex and while, like any good salesman, Randy might sensationalize the story of Pennhurst, He truly would like to see the complex preserved and do right with the museum. I hope that you’ll be able to visit the attraction and see the museum when it opens and i invite you to post your reactions here. I hope that Randy balances the history with the scares but I guess time will tell. In any case He’s a good guy and I know he means well.

    Having been to Pennhurst and seen its potential, I hope that a lot of good can come out of this attraction and a lot of people learn about it what happened there. I’d hate to see it just crumble and be forgotten.

  6. admin says:

    Maybe you and your eugenics conspiracy spouting fellow commentators (whose hateful racist posts I’ve deleted) should go back to watching Glenn Beck and debating the existence of FEMA camps. Its pretty ridiculous to compare a outright hatred fueled genocide of thousands at Auschwitz to the neglect and abuse of children by so called medical professionals and nurses at Pennhurst. While what happened at Pennhurst was terrible it wasn’t anything like the persecution of Jews in Nazi ruled Germany during War War 2. How Dare you even try to make such a comparison!

  7. admin says:

    I’m done defending this post. I’ve had one 1 constructive comment sent to me. The rest have been hateful and ridiculous to put it mildly. One was a right wing nut job tirade about eugenics that made no sense. its clear that this debate won’t be sttled here and I have no idea why I’m trying to defend it especially to people who need to learn the difference between Genocide and Neglect! Don’t bother replying any further to this post. I’ll delete any more comments I receive before reading them.