This year I received an awesome birthday gift – an overnight paranormal investigation at Pennhurst Asylum.
Pennhurst was originally known as the Eastern State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic, but it quickly became a dumping ground for society’s invisibles. Individuals with mental and physical handicaps were not the only patients of Pennhurst. Immigrants, orphans, and even criminals were housed here. They labeled patients into categories: Imbecile, Insane, Healthy, or Epileptic are just a few. Pennhurst was quickly overwhelmed and far past it’s original capacity. Patients were often left chained to beds and cribs, clothed only in thin, wispy hospital gowns, and were at the mercy of other patient bullies and overworked nurses and doctors. Physical, mental, and sexual abuse ran rampant.
In the 1960’s, reporter Bill Baldini aired a 5 part series on Pennhurst called “Suffer the Little Children”. It exposed the terrible conditions inside the state hospital. By the late 1980’s, Pennhurst finally closed. [Note: you can find this series on youtube.]
It stood empty for years until it was bought privately and partially turned into a Haunted Attraction. There is, however, a Pennhurst Paranormal Society and it has been featured on shows such as Ghost Adventures. We had full access to the Mayflower building and part of the Philadelphia building to access a section of the tunnels.
We arrived at 9:30pm and were quickly checked in and split into groups. The small groups would have intimate vigils on the different levels of the buildings. We started on the second floor of Mayflower. Here, our team leader set up two small mag flashlights set on opposite side of the room (away from everyone else). Our EMF readers lit up to inquiries about ‘Emily’. Another woman’s name, Hazel, also came through, although no one was sure if this was a previous patient or a nurse. The flashlights turned on and off, seeming to answer intelligently to questions. We also used an item called and Ovilus which uses radio waves to capture what is believed to be spirit communication.
The temperature in the area shifted from mild to freezing in seconds. We sat in a semi circle facing the flashlights with the doorway and hallway to my back. I could hear movement behind me the entire time we were on the second floor; it was if something light was being dragged across the floor. It was no more than a whisper with an occasional crunch, like stones under a boot tread. I also felt terribly sad and teared up a few times. No one else in my group seemed to have the same emotional response. We played duck-duck-goose, and the ovilus faintly picked up ‘duck’ and ‘goose’. The overall impression was that these were children.
Below is a video I took during the beginning of the vigil:
From here, we moved downstairs to the first floor and had a different leader (I believe her name was Vicky or Victoria). Sarah, still holding the EMF reader, was asked to pick which area to hold the next vigil. The large room was sectioned off into smaller rooms with painted over brick that only went up 6-7 feet high. Sarah chose the last room on the right.
Instead of leaving the Ovilus available for everyone to hear, the team leader put headphones in and gave it to a gentleman named Dave (there were 2 Daves in our group – this will be important later). She asked him to say any words that clearly came through the device. We asked questions: “Is anyone here with us?” “Would you like to talk to us?” “Do you like it here?” and Dave immediately said multiple voices came through that were hard to understand. One voice, a deeper man’s, overpowered the rest and remained prominent throughout the vigil. Dave said he sounded nasty. At one point, Dave quietly muttered “What the fuck“, jerking his head up and saying “It just told me to kill myself”. When asked if it could touch anyone in the group, the voice replied “Try me” and “Can hurt too”. A creeping, swirling chill only touched certain areas of my body; my thighs, a cheek… the back of my neck. Ironically, the room Sarah picked was the only room with complete windows. The temperature outside was actually much warmer (50+ degrees) and the brick and concrete blocked wind.
After a bit, we moved into another small room. Dousing rods were brought out and Dave squared held them. They also seemed to move and cross over intelligently, and at one point we asked if the rods could spin. One of the rods spun rather quickly. I’m not sure how I feel about dousing rods as I feel in this instance they could easily be influenced, but it was neat to witness nonetheless.
Our third location was the basement. Part of the tunnel is accessible from here; make a sharp left after descending the stairs and it leads right into it. The basement itself is expansive. One long hallway runs the length and empties into a large room. The large room was originally one of the areas for physical therapy. The rest of the basement was sectioned off into narrower rooms the ran parallel to each other on either side of the hallway.
The energy down here felt off – oppressive and thick. Sarah immediately mentioned that she didn’t like the vibe and the rest of our group felt spooked. I had a prickly feeling of something lingering just inside the darkened doorways of the smaller rooms. Our leader this time was a woman who claimed she was a Medium (more on this later). We stood in a circle, a menagerie of children’s toys placed haphazardly on the floor. She mentioned that these were toys people had found in Pennhurst with the exception of a couple visitors brought. The Medium told us that there is a dark energy and spirit that resides down here and dislikes women. She also said that there is something inhuman that likes to lurk in the basement as well. It slinks on all fours and has long fingers. The previous night she worked with a women who mentored under Lorraine Warren. She said the thing ran from the woman all night long.
The ovilus was brought out and the same deep voice we heard upstairs on the first floor came through almost immediately. The majority sounded garbled to me, and we heard someone walking around us. I felt tingly and I had an awful lower backache. Ben and I stood across from the Medium in the circle with our back toward the hallway and the doorway to a smaller room. I kept twisting to look back; the hair on my neck stood up and I felt extremely anxious. It’s hard to describe, but even though I couldn’t see anything it felt like something was there. A moment later, Ben says “Something just touched me” and made a movement to show someone had brushed up against his right shoulder.
In this next audio, you’ll hear what was supposedly behind us:
The energy of our group spiked with anxiety and we moved into the smaller room. More easily understood words came through the ovilus along with moaning and what sounded like a painful “oowwww”. The EMF readers were bonkers. At the end of the room there are two doorways adjacent to each other. I swear I saw feet walk past both. The shoes were black and heavy, similar to thick men’s business shoes.
A small closet was set in the back of the room and we watched the door sway without anyone touching it. The Medium asked a few in our group to go in and check it out with the EMF readers and ask a few questions. As soon as they did, there was a loud bang behind us and a skittering noise. The only thing behind us was the brick wall and an old bicycle.
As we made our way upstairs to rotate again, Sarah and I lingered to see if the Medium needed help with her items. I briefly told her that my mom died at home on hospice and that I used to see shadow things in the periphery of my vision. Were they shadow people?
She shook her head strongly, cutting me off: “no, no they’re not. I’m not sure who they are but they’re not shadow people. And you know what-” she stopped, looking up at me. “Your mom’s not mad at you, you know that? She’s okay. She’s not mad at anyone in the family. She’s angry she went so young and she’s missing out, but she’s not. mad. at. you. Ok? Does she like music? I head music, like whistling. She brings the music wherever she goes. She’s with you quite a lot. Does the name Janet/Jane ring a bell? Are her sister’s named that? It’s coming through with her. She’s waiting for them.” She paused, smiling. “She’s cute; your mom’s really cute.”
A few things here: Sarah organized everything for this event, so there is absolutely no way anyone could have gotten information about me and my mother. At no point did I share any personal information, not even my name. There’s also no way this woman could have known my mother was a band geek, specifically playing the flute for many years. She tried to get both myself and my brother into it, but alas we are severely lacking in the musical gene. Furthermore, I have no idea how this woman could have known my mom has sisters. The Janet/Jane name doesn’t ring a bell. Both my grandmother’s have names that begin with J, but they are not those.
In the stairwell leading from the basement to the first floor, I bawled my eyes out.