Marie Gilbert at Pennhurst Asylum


I’ve written about the amazing ghost investigators of South Jersey Ghost Research at Biff Bam Pop! before here, and here, but I’ve never gone to Pennhurst Asylum with the group. I won’t be using my usual humor in this post. There is nothing humorous about Pennhurst.

Pennhurst first opened its doors in 1908. Pennhurst’s mission was to serve as a school, hospital and asylum for the mentally and physically impaired, but somewhere along the line, it failed. The facility became the poster child of institutionalized life where neglect reigned because of understaffing, overcrowding, financial cuts and misdiagnosis.


Pennhurst became overcrowded after it was forced to include among its residents criminals, immigrants and orphans who could not be housed anywhere else. In 1913, the Commission for the Care of the Feeble-Minded was appointed. They ruled that those with disabilities were unfit for citizenship and were a menace to the peace. Pennhurst functioned almost completely separate from the rest of society. You know what that means? No one was regulating or reporting the living conditions of these patients. Not all the staff was uncaring or neglectful. There were good doctors and nurses there, but it just wasn’t enough. The horror finally stopped after a fledgling television reporter, Bill Baldini ran a five-episode expose, “Suffer the Little Children” in 1968.


Pennhurst finally closed its doors in 1986, but the building isn’t empty. There are spirits there and Pennhurst Asylum has earned the reputation for being one of the most haunted places in Pennsylvania. Did I make contact with the spirits?


My two fellow investigators and I headed out towards the Asylum equipped with maps, a Garmin, and my Google GPS and, we still got lost. After driving aimlessly down dark deserted paths, two brave members of the paranormal team, Marti Haines and Sharon Vincz, came out looking for us. Once settled, we were told where the most activity had been observed that night.


Our first stop was to the basement, which was damp, cold and marked with graffiti. When we reached the end of the basement, I felt that something was in the area with us. Jean felt it too. I’ve mentioned in other posts that Jean and I both feel nauseous when we first sense a spirit. This nausea is our clue that we are not alone. I took a photo and caught this orb. To make sure it wasn’t a glitch in the camera, dust or a reflection, I took several more, but no orbs.

Shadow Man

My two friends and I headed up to the third floor and eventually entered a back room where one couple had definite activity going on. They asked us to join them, we did and, we were not disappointed. The man told us that whenever he had asked the spirit to tap on the wall, the spirit did. Tapping on a wall or table is sometimes helpful when asking questions that can only be answered in a yes or no response, for example, tap if the answer is yes.


My friends and I remained in the back room with the woman. There was no power in the building and we all had to rely on our flashlights to get around the building. At one point, the young man heard tapping coming out of the old hall bathroom.  He was about to enter when the spirit said loud enough for all of us to hear, “Stay out.”  The young man quickly exited the bathroom and assured the spirit that he would not enter. I think we were all a bit shaken by the event and the young man quickly moved closer to the room we were in to taking readings on his equipment. It was at that moment that I observed a dark, tall shadow making its way quickly towards the man.


“There’s something coming right at you,” I said to the man, his companion and my friends. I had a tight grip on my rosary beads, which I always wear around my neck on investigations, but I was ready to take out my holy water and use it if the spirit was hostile. My friend Jean had also seen the shadow. I sensed the shadow to be male and angry. He didn’t want us on that floor. Luckily the Shadow Man did nothing more than hover near the man before vanishing.

Now, this is the weird part. As I turned to talk to the man’s companion and describe to her what I had witnessed, I noticed a small business card on the floor. “Is this yours?” I asked. She said no. I turned it over to find this.


It wasn’t there before. I would have seen it. Where the hell did it come from? Was it the man the Shadow Man? I put the card back on the floor and told the couple not to take it home with them. Leave it where it was. “Let’s not bring home an unwanted guest.”


We made our way to the other side of the third floor to find a mother and daughter team in another bathroom. As was with the first couple we met, they were in a very active area. Geralyn and her mother, Patty, were communicating with the spirit in the room by way of flashlights and a recorder. They had left two flashlights on the sinks. The female spirit would reply “Yes” by turning on the flashlight. Then this spirit would turn off the flashlight until we asked another question. No light meant “No”


Geralyn and her mom are psychic and I think Geralyn may also be an empath like me. We both had the sense that this woman’s name was Mary or a version of it. Through a series of elimination questions, we got Maryann.

She told us through use of the flashlight that she helped take care of the people in this room. These were people in wheelchairs. I had a feeling that she was also a patient who had been given the job of aiding those unable to wash themselves. We learned that she was born early 1940 and that she loved Shirley Temple and Betty Boop. She loved to sing. We asked her to please sing for us in hopes that Geralyn would pick something up on her recording device.

Marie, Marti, Dave, Sharon
Marie, Marti, Dave, Sharon

Just then, Geralyn picked up a male voice saying “Don’t say anything.” Was it the Shadow Man? Was it another spirit that we hadn’t picked up on? After a while, the flashlights stopped going on. We said our goodbyes to Maryann, Geralyn and her mother, Patty and went looking for Dave Juliano and Marti. When I told Dave about the Shadow Man and the card that we had found on the floor, he did tell us that many people have encountered the Shadow Man on different investigations and that he doesn’t like men up on that floor, but Dave was surprised about the picture.


It was really cold in the building we were in and after a few hours, my friends and I were ready to call it quits. I want to go back and talk to Maryann again. I left a small toy car in the bathroom where the female spirit was. Other investigators have left dolls and balls. No matter our age, we are all children at heart.


I know people are afraid of ghosts. I’m not. I’ve been seeing them since I was a kid and I take the proper precautions when dealing with them. Ghosts don’t scare me, but heartless and uninformed people do. We’ve come a long way in caring for people with physical and mental disabilities, but we haven’t done enough. Bad things happen when no one cares what happens to the most vulnerable among us.

You can see the full document of “Suffer the Little Children” here. This document is a reminder why we must never, ever allow patients to be treated as less than human.

4 Replies to “Marie Gilbert at Pennhurst Asylum”

  1. Marie, this is fascinating! I have never seen a ghost, but I do believe in them and love a good ghost story and hearing about these encounters. I really dislike those shows where the investigators disrespect the ghosts – they’d go in the room anyway even when the ghost clearly said not to. Your lot seems very respectful. Was it scary bumping into the other investigators? I imagine it was thinking you were the only folks there…

    1. Hi Jessica, We do respect the spirits at all times the same as we would the living. I wasn’t afraid of bumping into the other investigators because we were all part of the same group, but I think I might some times frighten them.

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