Haunted ‘Asylum’ At Site Of Former Institution Has Disability Advocates Cringing
Disability advocates are speaking out against a planned haunted house on the site of a former state institution for those with disabilities.
The Halloween attraction dubbed the “Pennhurst Asylum” is expected to open Sept. 24 on the site of the former Pennhurst State School and Hospital outside of Philadelphia. The facility housed individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities for nearly 80 years before closing in 1987 after a lawsuit alleging neglect and abuse.
“Not only does this place have an incredible ambiance, a built-in cult following and a treasure trove of unique props, it has a history; a history riddled with accusations of torture, abuse and neglect. A history of mental patients chained to the walls in dark tunnels, children left for years in cribs, sexual abuse by the staff and even murder. All this happened behind the walls of Pennhurst State School,” reads information on a website promoting the haunted house.
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The plans are leaving advocacy groups none too pleased, charging that haunted house organizers are cashing in on stereotypes about individuals with disabilities and disrespecting those who lived at the facility.
“Creating a so-called haunted attraction is an abomination because it merely perpetuates such stereotypes about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and desecrates the memories of the Pennsylvania citizens who were forced to live there — segregated and isolated from their communities and families,” the Arc of Pennsylvania said in a statement.
In an op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday, officials from the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia likened the the planned attraction to developers putting a thrill ride called “Escape from the Twin Towers” at Ground Zero.
“Similarly, this haunted house threatens to exploit the tragedy at Pennhurst for cheap thrills,” they wrote.
But organizers of the attraction told The (Pottstown, Penn.) Mercury recently that they’re just trying to create a fun place for families to come for a scare.
“The last thing I want to do is offend people,” said Randy Bates, a managing partner on the project.