Pennhurst State School and Hospital

My friend John Corcoran and I were invited by (his cousin) photographer Mike Munchel to go to the Pennhurst State School and Hospital to do some light painting! The Hospital was a mental institution for children, and it was in operation from 1908 until 1987. The hospital was closed after at least a decade of controversy surrounding the living conditions and alleged abuse of children living there.

Pennhurst State School and Hospital

Although a very somber place, the place is a magnet for photographers. Peeling paint, rust and decay… all combined with the possibility of hauntings make Pennhurst an interesting place indeed!

John and I actually had a very strange experience that day. There were several other photographers there, and some of them went upstairs while John and I remained on the first floor. We were just beginning to photograph in one large room on the lower floor of one of the main buildings, and notably, we were told by the hosts that nothing should be moved.

As we were setting up our cameras, we began hearing loud noises from above, noises made by pieces of furniture and beds being moved around. We talked about it, and both decided that there must have been a photographer up there who was disregarding the rules, and we shrugged it off. We both became absorbed in our work, and after light painting for 30 minutes or so, we suddenly realized that the noises had been going on the whole time without pause! It was a little spooky.

Light painting (or, as I like to call it, Sculpting with Light) brings out detail, depth and texture like nothing else. Below are some of the photographs that John and I made that day. We actually felt a bit rushed (a problem for light painters), due to the limited time we were allowed to shoot, but we managed to make some interesting images.


The first image I shot was in the room where we heard the noises from overhead. I was drawn to the colors and textures in this scene.

Photographer Harold Ross at Pennhurst

Photograph by Harold Ross

 In a hallway near one of the playrooms.

Photographer Harold Ross - Pennhurst_wall

Photograph by Harold Ross

John saw this on one of the doors to a bedroom. The design in this image is made of medical tape.

Photographer John Corcoran_Pennhurst_Door_JC

Photograph by John Corcoran

In one of the bedrooms, there were beds and chairs with restraints. While shooting this image, I felt such sadness for the children that lived at Pennhurst.

Photographer Harold Ross _Pennhurst_2

Photograph by Harold Ross

Discarded mattresses.

Photographer Harold Ross_Pennhurst_3

 Photograph by Harold Ross

Mike Munchel’s Pennhurst pictures are HERE. Thanks for the invite, Mike!

~ by Harold Ross on February 20, 2015.

7 Responses to “Pennhurst State School and Hospital”

  1. What an amazing opportunity!

  2. Fantastic images Harold! This is right up my alley! I had the same experience at Pennhurst and kept right on shooting.

  3. Such good work Harold! I am particularly captured by the first two, and the old mattresses.

    Keep up the outstanding work!


  4. In spite of all the horrible things that obiously happened in this place these pictures are really great. All the textures and surface seem to pop out of my screen. Great work, Harold! Lightpainting on location is the “royal league”.


  5. Great pix, Harold. Evocative and disturbing…

  6. Your images really capture the sadness of the place. Haunting.

  7. Very good and nice shots, as J3Jewelry said, it’s the fact. Especially the hallway & medical tape.

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