As Halloween approaches, two networks are looking at Chester County’s shuttered Pennhurst State School and Hospital to round out their spooky seasonal programming.
A&E airs its examination of the facility, World’s Biggest Ghost Hunt: Pennhurst Asylum, at 8 p.m. Oct. 30. The two-hour special features more than 100 “documented paranormal encounters” filmed by five paranormal investigators across two weeks, according to a promo. As a result, it is being touted the “longest continuously filmed paranormal investigation in television history.”
Travel Channel, meanwhile, will feature Pennhurst in an episode of Destination Fear, which begins airing Oct. 26 as part of the network’s “Ghostober” programming. In that series, three paranormal investigators travel around the country in an RV and spend their nights in locations considered to be among the most haunted in America.
From 1908 to 1987, when it closed, Pennhurst had housed a total of more than 10,000 residents with physical and cognitive disabilities. It became known for its inhumane living conditions following the 1968 release of investigative reporter Bill Baldini’s documentary, Suffer the Little Children, which gave the public its first look at the institution’s operations.
The documentary showed residents who were overmedicated, restrained, neglected, and physically punished, Some reportedly even died there. Today, Baldini’s work is considered to be a watershed moment in the disability civil rights movement.
Since the institution’s closing, the location has become a popular Halloween destination, with organizers billing the horror-themed venture as “Pennsylvania’s most terrifying haunted attraction.” It annually provokes outrage from mental health workers and advocates, some of whom call for the attraction to be shut down.
“The asylum only closed in 1987,” Bucks County-based human service professionals Rachael Miroddi and Allison Beck wrote in an Inquirer op-ed Wednesday. “It’s sickening that it should be able to make a profit off the past sufferings of people with disabilities.”