Escape Authority

In-Depth Escape Room Reviews

Review: Pennhurst Asylum

A century-old abandoned insane asylum – which just so happens to be one of most documented spots for paranormal activity around – reopens its doors to welcome visitors every Halloween. What could possibly go wrong?

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Pennhurst Asylum, originally known as Pennhurst State School & Hospital was founded in 1908, five years after its construction began. It remained in operation until ultimately closing its doors forever in 1987 after years of allegations of patient mistreatment. Its main campus, including a sprawling series of hidden underground tunnels that connect each building, sat abandoned for more than thirty years. In modern times, Pennhurst Asylum has become notoriously famous for its features on such well-known TV shows as Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures.

So, let’s recap. This place is an actual, abandoned, century old insane asylum with a notorious history. Oh, and it also happens to be certifiably haunted. And now it’s open to the public as an annual Halloween event. Seems legit, no?

Pennhurst Asylum runs twenty-two select nights between September 21, 2018 and November 4, 2018, including every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and most Thursdays in October. Special engagements promise a higher intensity version only on November 2, as well as a total blackout version of the experience on November 3 and 4 allowing brave paranormal explorers to venture into the haunts under the cover of complete darkness.

Varying ticket options are available, including specific single attraction admission passes to the haunt of your choice, a triple header combo pass to all of the traditional actor-driven haunts or a super combo pass that includes all of the above as well as a self-guided tour of the Mayflower Building, alleged to be the most haunted spot on the property. VIP front-of-the-line passes are also available to help get you through those busy October weekends. Guests must be on the grounds prior to the posted ticket booth closing time – however, once inside, everyone is guaranteed to have the opportunity to experience every attraction they hold a ticket for, regardless of how late it gets. You’ll be sent through the haunts in order, just as they’re presented below in our review. Each tells a flowing story that furthers and subsequently builds upon the storyworld of the Pennhurst campus as a whole, reveling more danger and urgency as you progress through them. Note that even with VIP, guests are only able to experience each individual attraction one single time during their visit, unless they purchase another ticket.

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PENNHURST ASYLUM

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Pennhurst Asylum is home to some of the world’s most dangerous criminally insane. Guests will be welcome to visit the infamous Max Security Wing. Guests will visit the cells of our most hostile patients and must navigate Maximum Security.

What begins as an innocent enough tour of the notorious Asylum building quickly becomes an escape mission of its own. As it turns out, maximum security wasn’t enough to contain these patients, and now the inmates are quite literally running the asylum. And if that we’re bad enough, they seem hell-bent on committing us.

Pennhurst Asylum is one of those haunts that is instantly believable and absolutely impossible to not become immersed within its storyworld. Needless to say, the authenticity of its environment makes for the perfect setting in which this narrative unfolds, making this a haunt like no other, effective on a level that can rarely be achieved in the industry.

Set within the actual 110 year old main building of the Pennhurst campus, this haunt is as real as it can get. Walls and ceilings are stained beyond repair, their paint chipped and flaked so much that in a sense, it’s actually hauntingly beautiful – if it weren’t so terrifyingly foreboding, that is.

Make no mistake; this place is real. And to be clear, we’re not saying it “feels real,” but it is, indeed, absolutely a real, abandoned insane asylum. With its history comes a sense of ominous danger that simply cannot be manufactured.

Pennhurst Asylum – the haunt – spans two different floors in the sprawling main building. Living spaces full of patient beds, bathrooms, shower facilities and examination rooms for good measure add to the flavor of just what it may have been like to be committed here many years ago — and instantly motivates us to get the hell out as quickly as possible.

And let me tell you — there’s just nothing as compelling as finding yourself trapped in an actual padded cell of an actual abandoned asylum.

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Let’s start with a statement that – in any other haunt review would absolutely be a negative; but not here. The actors throughout the Asylum really don’t try to scare you. They’re not “monsters” -they’re mental patients. And they absolutely inhabit their roles so well that at times, you may find yourself wondering if they are acting at all.

Pennhurst Asylum is overflowing with the criminally insane – and naturally, they’re all loose. But rather than jumping out at you and yelling “boo!” like a cliché haunt, every single one of these deranged inmates are fully in character. You may find one walking in circles, muttering to herself, or another quite literally talking to the wall. Some just stare at you. Some follow you — and yes, some actively grab you. There’s no longer any rules in this asylum, so consider your safety bubble of “well, they can’t touch me!officially popped.

And while Pennhurst Asylum, as a haunt, is not about boo-scares, make no mistake that these mental patients are so effective in their actions that the entire experience is off-putting enough to make it even more impactful than a quote “scare.” Everything about this haunt feels real – and as such every single second of the experience is entirely believable.

THE MORGUE

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From draining blood to incinerating bodies, The Morgue at Pennhurst is your full service mortuary.

In the next chapter of our visit to Pennhurst Asylum, we learn first hand that there’s a bit more to the story than just the mistreatment of patients. The doctors and staff running this wicked place have been performing inhumane experiments and unnecessary surgeries on the bodies – both dead and alive.

The Morgue is a much darker take on the world of Pennhurst Asylum. Where the original haunt plays on the bizarre (multiple) personalities of the patients, The Morgue shifts its focus entirely to the sinister staff that manages the facility. Although it’s equally as story-driven as Pennhurst Asylum, this one is much more threatening, frightening and violent.

Again set within the main asylum building, The Morgue carries a “similar but different” flavor to the first haunt. Many of the spaces herein are far more catered to the doctors and nurses than they are the patients. Offices, triage wards and, naturally, operating rooms await, book-ended by seemingly endless halls of morgue drawers and, of course, freezer space to keep the bodies (and body parts) fresh.

The Morgue is a decidedly more bloody approach to the Pennhurst Asylum storyworld – but it does so in such a way that it seems like a logical extension of what might be going on behind the scenes. It’s a jarring juxtaposition from the first haunt, showing just how much worse things really can get right when you think you’ve seen it all in this sinister place.

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Although still unquestionably as story-driven as the cast in Pennhurst Asylum itself, The Morgue’s crew of doctors and nurses (and patient victims) is decidedly more aggressive. They’re clearly more evil, and in turn, much more threatening. Expect much less babble of a deranged mental patient and much more violence, murder and torture.

The doctors show no mercy between guests or their actual patients – pulling people from the line and attempting to restrain them to operating tables while threatening to poke them with giant needles. There’s really a lot to be afraid of inside The Morgue – and we’d imagine this new haunt will prove to be Pennhurt’s pound-for-pound scariest offering.

CONTAINMENT

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Containment takes you through a 1,200 foot long gauntlet underneath the Pennhurst complex. Stationed as a government facility hidden underground for decades, you will bare witness to patients being experimented on in the most inhumane ways possible. Lucky for you, this research facility is still accepting patients!

The third chapter of the Pennhurst story gives things a bit more fictional and almost sci-fi flavored twist. Containment steps the furthest from the clear notion of “this is a real place” and gets a bit theatrical in its presentation. And while that is by no means a bad thing – it’s still a really unique haunt – it’s just a bit of a departure from what one finds before it in Pennhurst Asylum and The Morgue.

The human experimentation seems to center around toxic gases and chemicals, as well as alien-like pods that patients are being locked inside.  It’s a bizarre underground world of secrets that stands between us and freedom from this twisted medical facility.

Containment begins with guests traversing a flight of stairs into an underground tunnel. This isn’t for show, nor is it just clever scenic. The entirety of this haunt quite literally exists within a lengthy, seemingly infinite labyrinth of actual underground tunnels that connect each building of the old Pennhurst State School & Hospital. There’s something instantly disturbing about that very notion. Why did the doctors need hidden tunnels in real life? Just what were they up to? And is it still happening today? Is it about to happen to us?

Although Containment unquestionably embraces a more fictional approach with its story, the reality of its setting still ensures an experience unique from any we’ve seen before, brought to life with theatrical lighting, fog and other effects that create a distinctly ominous tone.

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While the actors within Pennhurst Asylum and The Morgue really go all-out to embrace their story-driven characters, Containment heads in the other direction to embody the classic haunt “scare” flavor. Throughout the lengthy course of this experience, we experienced far more jump and “boo” scares than any other attraction at the event. And while we certainly prefer the story-driven nature of the others, we absolutely appreciate a good, classic haunt just the same.

At times, though, the best “scare” of Containment came from the tunnel itself. This thing is long – really, really long – and seems to wind on forever, twisting and turning underneath the property. It really does give the impression that you may never find your way out to see the moonlight again.

MAYFLOWER AFTER DARK

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Mayflower After Dark, is a self guided tour of the Mayflower Building, reportedly the most ghostly active of all the locations on the campus. It’s featured on Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters. No actors or props, visitors are sent at their own risk to wander through the dormitory, left caught in the sands of time just as it was 26 years ago. Search for spirits on your own, or let them find you first. Included is a museum of Pennhurst State School artifacts with real former employees taking you back in time to what life was really like for the patients. 

The fourth offering at Pennhurst Asylum takes the term “haunted attraction” to a whole other level. Mayflower After Dark has no actors; it has no special effects and aside from on its two stairwells, it has no lights. This is a pitch black, completely self-guided ghost hunt through the most documented and notoriously haunted building on the entire Pennhurst State School & Hospital Campus.

Multiple renowned TV shows have featured this very building in their paranormal investigations, including Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters – each yielding some pretty chilling results. But now, it’s our turn to venture inside, with only the light from our cell phones to guide the way through a building beyond disrepair, completely frozen in time and full of its own haunting secrets.

In keeping with the mood of this unique attraction, Mayflower After Dark has no theatrical scenic or lighting what so ever. This is simply the 110 year old building, left abandoned, literally crumbling all around you. The self-guided tour path leads you through two floors of the space, up and down hallways with most rooms blocked from entry, but still open enough to peer inside and wonder what once may have been.

Filthy old furniture still sits placed throughout, despite the fact that in some spots the ceilings are literally beginning to cave around them. Graffiti left behind from local teenagers and other urban explorers who have broken in since the Mayflower Building’s abandonment only serves to make the space all the more creepy.

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Sometimes having no actors can make a space spookier than it ever could be with them. See – here’s the thing – with an actor ahead of you, it’s a safe bet that at some point soon, they may jump out and scare you. But without one, with nothing but dark blind corners all around you, you’re left to wonder what could be. Your imagination is left to run wild on its own, and whether you intend it or not, your brain creates a scenario steeped in clear danger.

Mayflower After Dark is incredibly off-putting, and frankly it just doesn’t need actors, elaborate sets or special effects to deliver a solid Halloween fright. Theatrics can only go so far – but a real haunted place carries an aura about it that simply cannot be manufactured.

Pennhurst Asylum has long been a bucket list haunt for us – and in those situations full of anticipation, sometimes it becomes more difficult for the venue to live up to its own lofty expectations. But without question in this case, Pennhurst Asylum exceeded them.

It’s no secret that we’re drawn to real. We’ll always be big fans of a good haunt of any type – but the authenticity that comes with the ability to explore an genuine, actual abandoned place first established a century ago simply cannot be built with even the best of Hollywood-quality scenic. We’ve visited abandoned ships, aging old mansions and even a haunted prison, but Pennhurst Asylum may just be the best traditional haunted attraction we’ve ever encountered.

Everything about this place is cool and unique, beginning with, of all things, the walk from the parking lot. Take a look at that photo to the top left of this section — it’s real; it’s the actual shadowy woods you need to trek through, basically in total darkness, just to get to the Pennhurst campus. And from there, you’re immediately faced with dilapidated buildings like the one on to the right, and for good measure, a swing set and slide, because that’s not creepy at all.

These haunts aren’t in tents or sound stages; they’re in actual abandoned asylum facilities. Everything about this experience is real – right down to how it makes the very hairs on your arms stand on end. Pennhurst Asylum is as real as it gets, and make no mistake, we are absolutely committed to return for future visits at any chance we get.

You can find an extended photo gallery from our night at Pennhurst Asylum in this exclusive album on the Escape Authority Facebook page! While there, why not give us a “LIKE” if you haven’t already? We’ll give you candy!

Venue: Pennhurst Asylum

Location: Spring City, PA

Dates: Select Nights September 21st – November 4

Hours: 6:30pm to 9:30pm or 10:30pm depending on the night. (All haunts remain open past posted closing time, until the last guest experiences them.)

Cost: Single attraction tickets cost $18, and combo passes range from $35-49 depending on the day and number of attractions selected. VIP passes cost $78.

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