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WMMR's Preston and Steve Crew Heads to Pennhurst Haunted Asylum

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By Joe Vallee and Dennis Bakay

Joe and Dennis recently were invited by WMMR  to tour the newly opened Pennhurst Asylum. Here is a little background on Pennhurst, as well as Dennis and Joe's take on the event.

Dennis recounts his experiencePennhurst Asylum

The Pennhurst State School and Hospital was in operation for over 80 years during the 1900's. After being shut down due to poor conditions in 1986, it became the place to go for youngsters to get thrills. I must admit that I was there on a few occasions when I was younger, but I was too chicken to go down into the tunnels.

Recently, Pennhurst has become open to the public. You can finally go there legally and not face the wrath of local police should you get caught on the premisis. I spoke to one officer who acknowledged that he had to chase twenty youths off the Pennhurst grounds the night before 93.3 WMMR's Preston and Steve Crew headed there for Friday night's event.

The deplorable conditions at Pennhurst are well-documented. Reporter Bill Baldini (then a  young a reporter at CBS) spent several days at Pennhurst State School in 1968 and went on air with his findings in a six-part expose called "Suffer The Little Children.".

Due to lacking of state funding, the State School was a living hell for many mentally retarded patients, who were left to fend for themselves against the criminally insane.

The Pennhurst Memorial & Preservation Alliance is commited to preserving the memory of the former State School and Hospital, and you can see all six parts of Baldini's piece on the website. Yes, that is the late, great John Facenda on the final clip.

As far as the presentation of the haunted asylum goes, we were quite impressed. The actors stayed in character the whole time, and the usage of original equipment, such as the dentist's chair lended a really creepy side to the entire presentation.

The pay-off came when we were led down inside the tunnels. This is where "the worm turned" so to speak. You could feel the aura of creepiness inside the underground tunnels, which served as the gateways throughout the entire campus. They were basically in the same condition as they have been since the closing of Pennhurst some 24 years ago. Just think of a sewer tunnel you ventured into with your friends, but with tiles. They were dank, dark, smelly, and disgusting. If you're "unlucky" the actors from the Haunted House crew would sneak up on you and join your group. This was easily the best part of the entire tour.

Warren Batz and Elizabeth Robinson (both from Douglasville,PA) agree that you get your money's worth with the Pennhurst experience.

"It was great. Just amazing," says Batz. "The tunnels were really freaky. The actors stayed in character. We've been to other places. I won't bash Eastern State, but they went out of character there alot. This was totally different. They were really professional, and I couldn't ask for a better experience. I'll probably be back next weekend."

Casey Boy from Preston and Steve's Morning Show, echoed the sentiments of Batz and Robinson.

"I'm just glad I brought two pairs of underpants because it was that scary," exclaimed Casey. "The tunnel: holy f&*king sh*t. That's all I have to say about that."

"Stand alone, the building is freaky. Just even driving here in the daylight, I was like 'there was no way I would ever come around here.' "There were houses we had to pass to get here. No way, man. You couldn't pay me enough money to live in any of those houses. Just the facilities alone give a vibe of pure sadness. It wreaks of sadness and horror."

Joe's take on Pennhurst

My old lead singer would always ask me to go with him to try and sneak into Pennhurst. I was always intrigued, but took a pass. Getting arrested for tresspassing has never been high on my list of priorities. However, I now have no excuse, and it's always great to see the Preston and Steve Crew.

The vibe is already set the minute you get on the bus that transports you to the place. It's about a five minute drive, but it really makes you contemplate why you are doing this. Adding to the attraction was the whole WMMR crew, who as always, were extremely cool and very gracious towards their fans.

The cold air further reinforces a chill that you already have just from looking at that building. I walked with Bill, Amanda, and Rob from the promotions department. We knew we were in for something heavy when we walked by the mini jungle gym, and the sliding board covered in ivy was the most rust-laden piece of equipment we had ever layed eyes on. Once you walk up to the front doors and hear the screams inside, there is no going back, man. That's it.

It was intense to say the least because you knew there was some sad history within these parts and it was further reinforced as they showed clips of Bill Baldini's piece on the TV screens inside. There is so much tragic history associated with Pennhurst to the point where the long-standing controversy surrounding the institution almost didn't allow the event to come to fruition. Make no mistake: Nobody was here on this night to celebrate, glorify, or make light of the horrible conditions or events that transpired at Pennhurst. The fact that the place is reportedly known to have been haunted is the angle that the organizers seem to be going for. Would it have seemed haunted if I was not aware of the history at Pennhurst? I honestly can't answer that. It definitely gets in your head. To be honest, what disturbed me the most was the live rat one of the actors held. If she dropped that thing, I literally would have grown wings and flown home!

As mentioned previously by Dennis, the actors were great. They would pop out of nowhere. Sometimes they would make their entrance known. Other times they would be hiding in the corner of a dark room and jump at you. What freaked me out more than anything were the loud and sudden noises permeating throughout the rooms.

This wasn't just your usual excursion to a haunted house on a Friday night. What Casey said about the tunnels is truly the best way you could describe them. It's a straight shoot leading to God knows where. I felt like Tim Robbins in Shawshank Redemption just trying to get out of that sewer. The actors roamed the tunnels, it was practically pitch black, and smoke machines fogged your vision. I found myself screaming out a few choice words at times. Do NOT go by yourself either. Bring a friend!  

If you find yourself freaking out in the tunnels, you're not the only one who will be. The best analogy I can think of in regards to handling the tunnels is this: A good buddy of mine used to participate in "extracurricular mind-altering activities," and every time he would "explore the center of his mind," he would tell me that he knew what he was experiencing at the time wasn't really happening, and that everything was going to be alright once the "experience" ended. In other words, things aren't what they appear to be. Feel me? Yes, I think the place is haunted, and if you do get a little freaked, it's ok.

All in all, I think Pennhurst is worth the trip. It's ONLY open Friday through Sunday, so it's best to buy your tickets online and in advance. The final weekend for Pennhurst this Fall is November 5th-7th, and there are special VIP packages  you can purchase as well.

And as Casey said, bring two pairs of underwear............

Special thanks to Eric Simon.

Contact Dennis Bakay at dbakay@philly2philly.com

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com