Halloween Attractions in Sanitarium, Pennsylvania

by Shelly Barclay

A sanitarium is a place where patients receive long-term medical care, such as for a terminal illness or prolonged mental illness. One such place in Pennsylvania is now a Halloween attraction. This is the Pennhurst Asylum in Spring City, Pennsylvania. It was a school for disabled people that was initially called Pennhurst Home for the Feeble Minded and Epileptic. Its name later changed to Pennhurst State School.


Prior to becoming a Halloween attraction, the Pennhurst Asylum (pennhurstasylum.com) housed up to 10,000 patients. It was a world unto itself with its own firehouse, movie theater, greenhouse, store and barbershop. The school had 1,400 acres of property to work with. Pennhurst State School opened in 1908. The process of closing the school began in 1986, due to complaints that the patients were mistreated there. After nearly 20 years of neglect, owners repaired areas of the complex in order to host a haunted attraction.


In 1968, NBC came out with the report "Suffer the Little Children." It alleged that the Pennhurst State School was not caring for its patients properly. Eleven years later, an ex-patient of the school -- Terry Lee Halderman -- sued the school. The reason for the suit was that mentally retarded people have a constitutionally protected right to an education and a place to live. The result of this lawsuit was the discovery that Pennhurst students were getting worse under the school's care. The staff was guilty of abusing the students and of keeping them in unsanitary housing. This abuse is the fodder for alleged hauntings of the buildings and the story of the haunted attraction.


The eerie state of the Pennhurst Asylum lends to the stories of hauntings. The building was not empty at the time of closing. Clothes, equipment and furniture remained in the building when the patients and staff left. Some visitors claim that there are ghostly voices, moving objects and drops in temperature that occur at the Pennhurst Asylum. That is why the designers of this haunted attraction chose this site. One of the designers -- Randy Bates -- said, "This is the kind of environment I want to build the next generation of haunted house; a proven haunted location."

Halloween Attraction

Enough of the stabilizing, painting and designing of the Pennhurst Asylum Halloween attraction is complete, so some areas, including the tunnels beneath the property, are open to tours. Some of the rooms in the tour are the morgue, tunnels, asylum history museum, intake room, delousing chamber and shock therapy room. Many of the objects and medicine tools in the haunted house are originals left in the building. Actors scare guests as they walk through the rooms, lending some Halloween style fiction to the facts of the building's history.

About the Author

Shelly Barclay began writing in 1990, focusing on fiction. She has been writing nonfiction articles since 2008. Her work appears on various websites, focusing on topics such as history, cooking, scrapbooking, travel and animals. Before she began writing, Barclay was a line cook for 10 years.