Assails Use of Notorious Institution as Halloween Fright House
If there is any “haunting” on the 110-acre former site of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital in East Vincent Township, Pennsylvania, it is in the dark vestiges of an institution where residents with disabilities were abused, neglected, beaten, and sexually assaulted.
Shockingly, the suburban Philadelphia Pennhurst site, which closed in 1987, has now become the location that two developers are using to stage a commercial horror house attraction, scheduled to open to the public on Friday, September 24, called “Pennhurst Asylum.”
The Arc, The Arc of Pennsylvania, The Arc of Chester County, and hundreds of advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in neighboring states are calling on their members and the public to boycott the new attraction, which desecrates one of our nation’s most notorious state institutions.
U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Broderick ruled against Pennhurst in a 1977 class action suit finding the institution guilty of violating patient’s constitutional rights. When it was forced to close in 1987 in the wake of allegations of abuse, it sparked the process of deinstitutionalization; the remaining 460 patients were discharged to live in the community, transferred to other facilities or provided with treatment plans guided by family members.
The Arc of Pennsylvania was a key plaintiff in the litigation that resulted in Pennhurst’s closure to stop overcrowding and abuse sending a strong message about the mistreatment of this vulnerable population.
“This outrageous, offensive and disgraceful business venture is an assault on the historical memory of Pennhurst and diminishes the pain of real people with disabilities who endured unspeakable abuse within its walls. “Pennhurst Asylum” exploits the suffering that took place there and undermines meaningful efforts to eradicate stereotypes and negative perceptions that persist in society against people with disabilities,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.
This fright-filled Halloween themed atrocity, according to property owner Richard Chakejian and his partner Randy Bates, aims to attract customers between 12 and 20 years old. Visitors will be “entertained” and scared by an electro-shock therapy scene with a Frankenstein-like monster; an autopsy room will contain some artifacts that the developers said were found on the property.
Reports of the torso of a female monster, complete with a skeleton face in the autopsy room, is said to “mimic” former residents of Pennhurst or people with disabilities. It’s been reported that in response to these claims, Chakejian said, “This is all traditional Halloween fun.”
Despite a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, by a resident of the East Vincent Township, seeking a court injunction to halt the property development of the Pennhurst property, Chakejian in partnership with Bates, who owns and operates Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride in Glen Mills, PA, are moving forward.
“The Arc is making a plea to all people of good conscience to join us in standing against the opening of this truly horrifying project as well as Mr. Bates’ other attraction, The Bates Motel/Haunted Hayride. We want to send a strong message to business people such as Mr. Bates that the public will not tolerate commercial enterprises which are so disrespectful of a large group of people. While we have come far in the struggle to ensure that people with disabilities are not abused, neglected or mistreated, the “Pennhurst Asylum” is an ugly reminder of how far we have to go,” Berns said.