Status: Former Psychiatric Facility; Completely Demolished; Residential Properties and a State Park
Reader Discretion is Advised: There Are Depictions of Terrible Conditions and Brutal Mistreatment in a Facility Designed for the Care of the Mentally Ill in this Article.
This institution began as a small farm at this location that was used for the treatment of the mentally ill. In 1906 construction was began on a set of cottages on the property. In 1907 construction of the large buildings began and the facility was named the Byberry Mental Hospital.
When Byberry was first set up they had nothing but the best intentions and followed the teachings of Dr Benjamin Rush – one of America’s Founding Fathers (his signature is on the Declaration of Independence) and the Father of American Psychiatry – who believed mental illness could be treated and cured but the insane needed to kept separate from “normal” people until they were cured.
In 1936 the hospital was turned over to the State and became the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry. As with many other similar institutions Byberry was built to relieve over population in other hospitals but it became overpopulated and under staffed itself. Unfortunately, Byberry – like nearby Pennhurst – became the epitome of the worst case of negligence and mistreatment.
During the Second World War people who were unable to fight due to personal, religious or spiritual reasons were employed in the psychiatric hospitals. One of these new employees blew the roof off of the truth of this facility when he took a series of photos of conditions inside. These photos would eventually make it to Life Magazine who would publish them in 1946 setting off a Nation-wide scandal.
Conditions were compared to the Nazi Death Camps with naked patients piled on top of each other in their own filth with a smell so strong it was described as taking on a life of it’s own. One particularly brutal treatment involved wrapping a wet towel around a patient’s neck and tightening it until they passed out resulting in a borderline psychotic but effective way of controlling the patient. It had the added bonus of leaving no marks so nothing could be found by the inspectors.
Things never change fast and when they do its not always for the right changes. Despite being at it’s highest level of population – over 7000 – Byberry began a series of downsizes in the 1960’s – resulting in worse patient care – with the ultimate goal of shutting it down.
In 1985 the site failed a State Inspection and was accused of misleading of the State Inspectors. Reports like keeping extremely violent patients in the Forensics Ward and removing a patient’s teeth without anesthetic made things even worse.
Cases of murder – including 2 orderlies who confessed to strangling a patient to death who were not only not punished but given pay raises - and sexual and other forms of assault reported were beyond count. One female patient was raped and murdered and another resident was found carrying her teeth.
In 1987 the hospital failed another State Inspection in which conditions were described as “atrocious” and after 2 patients who were released were both found drowned in the Delaware River the announcement that the facility was closing was finally made on December 7 of that year. In June of 1990 the hospital was finally closed with all patients and staff transferred to Norristown State Hospital.
The entire campus was left standing; citing asbestos issues. Within a few weeks people were breaking into the abandoned buildings stealing everything of any value. By 2003 – despite police patrols and security - the site was a disaster with every window smashed and covered in graffiti.
People living in the area complained to the City repeatedly finally resulting in the complete demolishment of the site by June of 2006. The former site is now covered by open land, a residential development called The Arbours at Eagle Pointe, Benjamin Rush State Park and soft industrial park.
Parts of the grounds of the State Park are said to be where the hospital cemetery was. We found no historical documentation that the remains were ever moved; although that isn’t proof that they weren’t.
Either way there are reports of apparitions running through the trees in the park, light anomalies and feelings of being followed by invisible presences.
While the old buildings were still standing the following was reported on site: apparitions of former patients and staff in the buildings and wandering the grounds; shadow figures including some that have become aggressive toward the living; hundreds of hours of video and audio evidence of paranormal activity; aggressive attacks toward the living including scratches and pushes; touches by unseen presences; objects moving their own; disembodied voices; phantom screams, yells, crying and laughter; electrical disturbances; phantom footsteps; light anomalies; empathic feelings of anger, fear, depression and overwhelming evil leading to physical symptoms of illness including nausea, vomiting and migraines and feelings of being followed, not being alone, being watched and not being wanted.
No in-depth investigations have been done of the new structures – residential or commercial – that we could find. There are a few reports of paranormal activity in the State Park – as written above – as well many reports of an uneasy feeling on what was the hospital grounds.