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The Ghosts of Institutionalization at Pennhurst's Haunted Asylum

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Abstract

In the woods of Spring City, Pennsylvania, lies Pennhurst, a school for people with developmental and physical disabilities from 1908 to 1987. Like many institutions, Pennhurst eventually became a place of abuse and neglect. Pennhurst was finally shut down, and the residents were relocated into group homes. Two years ago, a group well educated about Pennhurst's past formed the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to making Pennhurst into a national museum. Standing in the way of PM&PA's vision was a businessman named Richard Chakejian, who purchased Pennhurst from the state for $2 million and has now converted it to a haunted house. The result is a bizarre hybrid of history and legend, and of criminality and commercialism, that simultaneously evokes and erases Pennhurst's troubled past.

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