Have you ever watched a marathon of ‘Ghost Hunters’ or ‘Ghost Adventures’ and wondered what it would be like to venture into an abandoned historic building filled with the tortured souls of the deceased?
Well, now you can. Pennhurst Paranormal Association is offering both Private and Public Investigations of the Mayflower Building, one of the oldest buildings on the Pennhurst State School campus. When it was built in 1908, the school was known as the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. It was designed to separate developmentally and intellectually disabled individuals from traditional society.
Unfortunately, there were no guidelines for admittance; in addition to diagnosed patients, the School was also home to the criminally insane, unwed pregnant teens, wards of the state and disobedient children. The expansive 1,400-acre estate wasn’t intended to be a dumping ground for anyone deemed undesirable to society, and within two years of opening there were reports of overcrowding and understaffing. Despite the grandiose exterior, children spent years in cribs, conditions were unsanitary and unsafe, physical and sexual abuse ran rampant and many patients died within its walls.
Pennhurst Paranormal Association gives you the opportunity to connect with some of the spirits that still roam the abandoned campus.
It’s 9pm, as we slowly make our way down a bumpy, unpaved road. Thanks to the full moon we can see Pennhurst Asylum looming in the distance. I can’t help but wonder what the hell we’re getting ourselves into and if it’s a good idea to spend the night in such a terrifying place. As we pull up, we’re greeted by Mara, a member of Pennhurst Paranomal Association…who also happens to be a medium. We sign a waiver and go over the rules for the night: No Provoking, No Séance or Ouiji Boards and No Alcohol. That’s it? Then Mara takes us on a tour of the building. She points out particularly active rooms and tells us about what she’s experienced at Pennhurst -- whispers, footsteps, objects being thrown and people being pushed down stairs. You don’t need to hear her spooky stories to know that something is looming within the walls of the Mayflower building. When you look past the peeling paint and graffiti, remnants of daily life in the Asylum are a chilling reminder of the horror that happened at Pennhurst – adult sized cribs, rubber furniture with restraints, communal showers and windowless classrooms.
Before our imaginations get too carried away, John and Katie from South Jersey Soul Searchers take over the group. John is the founder of SJSS and hosts the Dead Air Paranormal radio show. Katie is SJSS’s case manager and lead investigator. They introduce us to a slew of technological gadgets to assist us – electro magnetic frequency meters, the ovilus ghost box, thermal gun, laser scope, and a plasma globe. Since many of the spirits are children or child-like, they also bring candy and toys to entice activity. Night vision video cameras and audio recorders are used to document the investigation, later they’ll review them to see if we can catch an Electronic Voice Phenomenon. EVP recordings are the holy grail of ghost hunting and actual proof that spirits are trying to communicate with the living. We grab a video camera and head out to explore the epically creepy building. Pennhurst’s Paranormal investigations allow you the freedom to choose your own experience. If you’re a veteran hunter or just crazy enough to want to wander alone, you’re welcome to. If a guided experience is more your style, you can spend the entire 6 hours with John and Katie. We chose to do a little of both.
So, did we meet any Ghosts?
We’re not sure. We’re new in the paranormal circuit and it’s definitely something we’d like to continue exploring. We didn’t see any apparitions or feel anything touch us, but we experienced some interesting moments throughout the night:
When we were in the back stairwell, the ripped window screen shook when we asked the spirits to play with us. We thought it could be a fluke, so we asked for a repeat and the spirit gladly obliged, two more times.
We also had a fascinating experience with a ball on the 3rd floor. Once again, we asked if anyone wanted to play. At times, it seemed as though the ball was rolled right out of my grip and later, I could feel the ball pushing into my hand. It was surreal.
There was a closet door on the 3rd floor that seemed to be locked shut. John had each of us take turns trying to open the door. One by one, we knocked on the door, asked to be let in and tried to open it. As I pulled on the handle, I could feel the door start to open, suddenly it was violently pulled back to shut. Other members of the group had a similar experience and there was some banging that seemed to come from within the closet.
So... that was really creepy and weird, but the Jaded New Yorker in me has to ask:
Could there have been three strong gusts of wind moving the ripped window screen? Was the ball some kind of trick? Was there someone actually locked in the closet?
I could create a hundred excuses, but my gut tells me, No.
Pennhurst Paranormal Association separates itself from the Halloween haunted attraction. The owners have dreams of restoring all the historic buildings and educating the public about the atrocities that occurred there.
All I know is that we’re dying to go back. We had a blast exploring the equipment and techniques used to connect with the other realm. We’d also love to have a historic walking tour of the property and explore the other buildings—especially the tunnels. I know it sounds crazy, but 6 hours definitely isn’t enough.
The Pennhurst Paranormal Association offers both private and public paranormal tours and investigations from March through August. Tickets are $125 each for the public investigations and $1,000 for private investigations with up to 20 guests.
If you'd like to learn more about the dark history of the Pennhurst State School, watch "Suffer The Little Children," the 1968 NBC10 Expose on Pennhurst State School (below) or Read the Autobiography of Former Patient, Roland Johnson.