The hospital received its first patient in 1908 and within five short years overcrowding became an issue as the pressure to admit criminals, orphans and immigrants rose tremendously. Most institutions faced the problem of overcrowding at least a decade into their operation but Pennhurst grew rapidly.
The hospital was meant to treat those with mental and physical disabilities but in the end it became a human warehouse for anyone with epilepsy, mental illness, physical and developmental disabilities and a diagnosis of criminal insanity. Patients ranged from infancy to seventy years old even though they were referred to as "children" as most state school and hospital patients usually were.
Two old cars left behind in the center courtyard
Overgrown swingset in the center yard
At the time, the medical terms used for classification were based on IQ level and labeled "moron" for the 59-69 IQ group, "imbecile" for 20-49 and "idiot" for anyone whose IQ fell below 20. These categories were later replaced with mild, moderate, severe, and profound mental retardation.
The daily tasks for staff included changing diapers, giving baths and showers, assisting patients who couldn't walk on their own, create education programs, and provide individual physical assistance to those who needed it. With the long hours, low pay, and demanding tasks, not many skilled doctors, nurses and staff wanted to work at Pennhurst which lead to the hiring of unskilled and poorly trained staff and an understaffed institution. In 1946 there were over 2,000 patients with only seven physicians and not much changed even when the hospital hit its peak patient population in 1955 with 3,500 patients.
One of the two rusted slides on the Pennhurst campus
With the hospital's lack of funding, building maintenance was put on the back burner and the budget for each patient per day suffered significant cutbacks, basic patient needs could not be met.
In 1968, Bill Baldini of NBC did an expose reporting on the conditions inside Pennhurst called “Suffer The Little Children” which played a huge role in in getting the facility closed. Charges of physical and sexual abuse, improper restraint and seclusion, corruption, mismanagement, and neglect led to the closure of Pennhurst in 1986.
Assembly building across the street from Devon Hall
Mayflower hall taken from outside the Tinicum building
The mosaic artwork outside of the administration building
Art from the haunted house hosted on the Pennhurst campus in October
What looked like a green chicken coop as actually housing pipes and machinery underneath
Front of Devon Hall
Front of Administration Building
Jungle gym equipment left to rust in the center courtyard
"The Residents" is a piece put together by the Pennhurstproject.com
When Gerald was only three years old, he and his sister were admitted to Pennhurst by court-order because of their parents marital issues which were cited simply as "fighting". For the next twenty-four years, Gerald worked at numerous unpaid institutional jobs. As of 2010, at age sixty-one, Gerald was living in his own apartment in Chester County and was an active member at his local church.
lost in a desert world
All photos taken by Sami Fego unless stated otherwise