Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Urban Exploring: Pennhurst Mental Institution

This Memorial Day, I visited the abandoned Eastern State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic, also known as the Pennhurst Mental Institution in Spring City, Pennsylvania. The facilities here, as you can guess by the name, housed several thousand mentally retarded and physically handicapped patients from it's opening in 1908. Pennhurst has been the source of a lot of debate for some time. It had been under scrutiny for overcrowding, patient abuse, and sexual abuse of patients since it's opening. Roland Johnson, an ex-patient at Pennhurst Mental Institution, writes in his autobiography, Lost In A Desert World, about being physically and sexually abused by other patients and witnessing the hospital staff do the same to completely disabled bed ridden patients. A 1968 news report, Suffer the Little Children, shares similar findings at the institution. It brings the public's attention to the overcrowding and poor conditions at the severely understaffed hospital. This news report had a strong influence on the eventual closing of the hospital in 1987. Several years after the fact staff interviews paint a different picture of the Pennhurst Mental Institution. In interviews with a registered nurse and an aide, they claim that the press really exaggerated the story they prepared for the public. They claim that old photos from times where standards weren't as high were used in the reports and painted an unrealistic picture for the general public.

My visit started with a 4 hour car ride including a stop at Wendy's where we laughed at Paul's chicken sandwich which looked so overcooked and heat lamped that we deemed it the "Chernobyl Chicken Sandwich." We then stopped laughing at Paul's sandwich to laugh at Paul when he somehow absent-mindedly threw out his tray. Good job Paul. As we got into the area we saw the huge Nuclear Power plant nearby. While I've noticed a few on my train rides through France, I've never actually seen one in the US so it was kind of neat to be able to stop and actually take a few photos.

Once we arrived in Spring City, we wandered around a bit and finally found a road closed sign in front of a blocked path. The water tower was the landmark closest to this closed road. We seemed to have found what we were looking for so we stopped there and wandered down the path.

After a few minutes of walking the abandoned road, we came across another street of the main road. After about a minute of following this road we came across a section of cleared land. There were two buildings here. One appeared to be a sort of school or administration building. It was difficult to tell without actually breaking in, which we did not do. We wandered around this site for a moment and then continued on the main road. Not too long after we came across another side street.

We followed this path way and came across the main campus. The path way led to a really neat building that had an archway. I believe it may have been attached to the building we saw at the previous opening.

The main campus has several buildings. Supposedly all of them are connected by an underground maze of tunnels. The tunnels were used to transport patients back in the days this place was functioning. Sadly, the ones we came across were blocked off, however, this is the best way to actually enter the buildings. The campus also has a raised walkway connecting many of the buildings on ground level.

Scattered throughout the entire campus one can find various ruins of things to entertain the children that lived here. Just off of the walkway pictured above, one could see an in ground pool. We also found a few slides, some of which were in better conditions than others. A swing set and a set of monkey bars could also be found somewhat towards the center of the campus in an overgrown playground.

While we didn't actually enter any of the buildings this time, I was able to take a few window shots. I was particularly fond of these shots because without the camera flash, you couldn't see anything in these rooms. I was kind of surprised that there wasn't more vandalism inside than there was. In a few of the rooms I photographed, there wasn't even any graffiti. The paint is peeling off the walls and the pipes and lights are rusting, but there wasn't very much damage at all that seemed caused by vandals.

I really enjoyed this little adventure. It was amazing to see something like this so overgrown, but still preserved so well. I would love to try to go back at some point before it is fully torn down to check out inside of the buildings. I suppose we'll see how that works out.

Pray to your god, open your heart
Whatever you do, don't be afraid of the dark
Cover your eyes, the devil's inside
One day it'll all just end

No comments:

Post a Comment