It has been referred to as the “shame of Pennsylvania” and one of the most haunted places of PA, but The Pennhurst Story: Tragedy to Disability Rights exhibit provides a different view of this infamous asylum. Pennhurst Asylum operated from 1908 to 1987 in Spring City, PA as a live-in treatment center for people with developmental disabilities. The operation closed in 1987 due to controversy surrounding the treatment methods and living conditions for the patients. Today, the asylum remains open for historical tours, paranormal investigations and a popular haunted house attraction during the Halloween season. The Pennhurst Story exhibit moves us beyond its “creepy” and “haunted” reputation. Pennhurst played an important role in the disabilities civil rights movement and the Pennhurst Memorial & Preservation Alliance has sought to educate the public about this important role by developing this traveling exhibit.
The Pennhurst Memorial & Preservation Alliance developed the exhibit in 2015 to “tell the story of Pennhurst through the tragedy, the advocacy action, and the eventual triumph of movement of all the people to community homes and lives,” according to their website. The exhibition will run January 13 through January 31 at Muhlenberg Community Library during the library’s regular operating hours, Monday-Thursday, 10AM-8PM, Friday, 10AM-2PM and Saturday, 9AM-4PM. Library staff encourage visitors to arrive early enough before closing time to have ample time to review all the panels. The exhibit is being offered free to the public. There is no registration or library card required to experience the exhibit.
Throughout the exhibition period, patrons are also welcome to check out civil rights related displays and materials. The library will be hosting author and member of the Pennhurst Memorial & Preservation Alliance, J. Gregory Pirmann, on Saturday, January 18 at 1PM. Pirmann will present the Pennhurst-centered TV documentary “i go home,” created by WITF PBS and entertain a question and answer session. He will be available after the presentation for book signings and his book Pennhurst State School and Hospital will be available for purchase. Proceeds from the purchase of this book benefit the Pennhurst Memorial & Preservation Alliance. Muhlenberg Community Library’s Assistant Director, Eileen Simms is looking forward to hosting this poignant exhibit and correlating presentation which “gives a voice to those who did not have one” during the years the state school and hospital were in operation. “The closing of Pennhurst marked a shift in the way the general public perceived people with disabilities, paving the way to the disabilities civil rights movement.”