Why Preserve Pennhurst?

A lone wheelchair in Union Hall
photo: Wayne L. Benner

Memory is the critical language and terrain of human rights. Through preserving past evidence of neglect, we make it real, we make it present, and we make it public. The place that bears the mark of the painful past becomes a powerful catalyst for awareness, action, relevance, inspiration, and investment in multiple senses. A National Disability Museum and Community of Conscience at Pennhurst will engage ordinary citizens in an ongoing national dialogue on social issues to build lasting cultures of human rights. Unlike the typical museum, it will not be place of passive learning but a place of active citizen engagement.Its mission will be one of truth seeking, of building a culture of "never again," of reconciliation, and of outreach though opportunities for public involvement, curriculum development and the like. This dialogue must be both about the meaning of the past and the shape of the future— with the full temporal spectrum of past, present, and future palpable in the Pennhurst visitor experience. What happened at Pennhurst and how did caring families and employees finally rise up to end it? How did that change create reform across the globe? What does it mean to be classed as "the other" and how and where is it still happening today? No other museum attacks these questions as they relate to disabilities head on---a dangerous absence of dialogue where indifference.

At some point many of us will become disabled in some manner, whether from injury or old age. But the events played out at Pennhurst affect all of us in ways that are even more profound. The struggle for acceptance, understanding, and, ultimately, freedom, is central to what it means to be an American. Moreover, it is the dream of oppressed people the world over. Here, at Pennhurst, cradled in a Commonwealth founded on ideals of tolerance and second chances, we have a complex but positive and inspiring story to tell. We hope you will join us to seize this opportunity to create a site of hope, a resource for all people somehow treated as "the other"—a place where they will be recognized and accepted without condition. This place of pain can become place of healing, reconciliation, and insight. It will be a center of national conscience with a message that knows no political, racial, or socio-economic bounds.

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Read more About Pennhurst on our About Pennhurst State School page...

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Sharon A03/31/2017
PLEASE TELL ME THAT THE FOLLOWING IS NOT TRUE! I have heard from more than one source that Pennhurst is now the site of Halloween parties where people come to enter and to tour the buildings and to encounter haunts! To my mind, Pennhurst is the Pennsylvania equivalent of the Holocaust!
Tear the whole complex down to the ground and leave it as park land. These buildings are so far gone and so full of asbestos it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. That would be a total waste of time and money better used elsewhere.
Melissa Lastname12/28/2016
Adv medicine/training has helped these people escape big institutions that were not financially/staff sustainable. You say reopen them to stop crime/shootings crime is down since the 90s when these places closed! You just don't want to see them out in the world, awful! Glad my cousin is safe @home!
This place contains powerful evil and good spirits that need to be left alone! They are being disturbed and should NOT be exploited. I have proof! Please stop people from coming here! They been through enough!
I would happily pay to visit Pennhurst as a walk through museum but never pay as an amusement for Halloween. It's just so disrespectful to the patients who suffered there.
TK Gillette06/16/2016
Pennhurst has turned into a fun time for some of these so called people that are running ghost hunts and para cons. My daughter got threatened with a gun up there a few weeks ago by someone who runs these Para cons
It seems like most of the commenters are not even reading the deion closely. Preservation of Pennhurst does not mean supporting or condoning what the hospital did in its day. It's to REMEMBER the people who lived there as well as the people who worked there.
I worked with people who'd lived in Pennhurst-including Nick Romeo. These PEOPLE loved, laughed FELT-like we do. Yes, many weren't easy to love, but that's true for all people. We've come so far need to continue. A museum/place to educate sounds great. NOTHING for Halloween. Show respect.
Anna M Bean08/11/2014
I agree that Pennhurst needs to be PRESERVED, NOT turned into a touristy type of trap haunted house,etc. A lot of suffering went on there, for both Staff patients - I urge CAUTION if it's fixed up. remodeled
heather 03/25/2014
these children and young adults did not ask to be brought into this world with the problems they had. It makes me sick to think people get enjoyment from others suffering i have a child with special needs
Janet Albert-Herman03/03/2014
Let's remember that the residents at Pennhurst had intellectual disabilities or mental retardation, as it was called a few years back. They did not have mental illness unless they had a dual diagnoses. Yes, Aliva, this is indeed a historic place where the lawsuits changed the world for the better.
Whatever your connection is, it's irrelevant, it is a historic place. It is disgusting to see it turned into a mockery of people with mental illnesses. The equal treatment of people with mental disorders is still an issue this is only furthering the stigma!
Beth Ehrhart09/25/2013
I worked at Pennhurst for 12 years before they shut it down. We taught residents to shower, dress and feed themselves. We also took them on field trips.We also got injured by the residents. Most of the parents never came to visit their children - even on holidays. It wasn't all the helps fault -
Look, I get that some of the history of Pennhurst is something we don't want to remember or talk about, but whether we like it or not, places like this once served a purpose. With all of these mentally ill people shooting up schools, its clear that they need a place to find help. Reopen Pennhurst.
If there is any former workers of Pennhurst please email me, I would love to corepsonde with you. Travlobaugh@gmail.com

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