When Spirit Halloween’s 2022 animatronics video shoot was complicated by unexplainable paranormal encounters, we had to reach out to the team and get all the details. Melissa, Carlos, Bobby, Paul, and Paige gave us the stories of their daunting experience. Though they also had strange encounters with the paranormal during their 2021 shoot at the same location, after the 2022 shoot, Spirit’s video team has made it clear that they aren’t eager to return to Pennhurst.
Every year, Melissa, Spirit Halloween’s Sr. Video Production Manager, scouts locations for the season’s animatronic video shoot. Finding the perfect creepy environment for our prized animatronics is part of her job, and for the last two years, Pennhurst State School and Hospital has been the location she chose. Her team knew it had a reputation for being haunted, which was part of the allure. While initially scouting the location with Melissa in 2021, it’s reported that a Spirit Halloween marketing manager was spooked enough to tell Melissa she would not return to Pennhurst under any circumstances.
What is Pennhurst?
Pennhurst State School and Hospital is an abandoned institution in Spring City, PA, that is known as one of the most haunted places in the United States. It closed in 1986 after decades of underfunding, neglect, and abuse, but it now hosts a haunted attraction you can visit each year. The building is dilapidated and creepy which makes it an ideal place for Melissa and her team to work, though she told us that she “…won’t be in a room there by myself.”
Strange Experiences in 2021
The Figure in the Courtyard
Though usually a skeptic, an incident left Spirit’s Art Director/Monster-Maker, Carlos, feeling unsettled during their 2021 shoot. While shooting a scarecrow animatronic in the playground courtyard, he happened to scan the surrounding area and noticed a dark figure standing near the corner of the adjacent building. The light from their shoot seemed to illuminate the face of this figure who was wearing what appeared to be a dark uniform, but when he turned to look back at him, he was gone. Carlos and another team member ran toward the area where he saw this uniformed figure thinking it was possibly a security guard on duty, but found no one.
Giggles in the Nursery Room
Robert, Spirit Halloween’s Sr. Videographer, also had several experiences during the 2021 shoot. He felt remarkably cold spots inside a few of the buildings, which is said to be caused by a ghostly presence. He also recalled many times when he and some of the Spirit video team heard children laughing and whispering in a room that was known for its paranormal activity. This former nursery room also had a reputation for scaring employees of the seasonal haunted attraction, who often described hearing children’s voices and whispering.
Spirit Halloween’s 2022 Animatronics Shoot
Working with the Pennhurst team to secure the dates before the shoot, Melissa, Robert, Bobby (production assistant), and Carlos began the 2022 shoot like any other year. They usually plan to spend six to eight days on-site between preparation, shooting, and break down. They always enter shooting locations respectfully, work efficiently, and leave quickly, especially at Pennhurst because of the creepy feelings they experienced there.
Scares at the Mayflower Building
Robert would be the first person on the Spirit team in 2022 to experience a dramatic, unexplained occurrence in the Mayflower building, which has a reputation for being the most haunted part of the property. Walking down the steps inside the main hall, Robert suddenly found himself tumbling down them and then lying on the ground at the bottom. With no one in sight, he says he was pushed.
Further living up to its haunted reputation, while recording in the basement of the Mayflower building, the team accidentally caught an inexplicable growling sound. Only noticing it days later, they were so captivated by the recording that they included it in the background audio for Spirit’s Halfway to Halloween video:
Radio Interference at the Hospital
The scariest event came at the end of the 2022 shoot, while the team was shooting outside of the hospital building. They all carry walkie-talkies set to the same channel. While working, a young girl’s voice started coming through the radio that Bobby was carrying: “Hello?… Hello?… Can you find me?” Surprised and confused, they looked to each other for confirmation, but no one was speaking into their walkie-talkies. As Carlos told us, “[the voice] was clear as day.”
After reaching out to Pennhurst reps, they confirmed that no one else was on-site that evening, and certainly no one with the ability to patch into their walkie-talkie signal. Despite their best efforts to radio back to this voice and find out who it was, they received no response. Over the course of the next hour and a half, they listened in shock and disbelief as this mysterious voice sporadically made its way through one radio, then to several, and finally took over all of their radios at once: “Hello…? Hello…? Can you find me?”
The following day Carlos, along with team members Paige and Paul, returned to the same area, and on a few occasions experienced the same voice speaking through their radios. This never happened to the Spirit team in 2021, but it had happened to Pennhurst staff, who frequently encounter radio disturbances in that same area.
Perhaps most chilling of all, Carlos walked inside the building from the previous night and discovered the phrase “Can you find me?” spray painted on a wall. Your guess is as good as ours, but perhaps others have heard that same question. It makes sense that a spirit might want to be found, because Carlos told us, “You can feel the sadness [inside Pennhurst].”
Several members of the team experienced nightmares after the shoot concluded and continued to have strange feelings about it in the days and weeks that followed.
After the team’s experience over the past two years, it’s unlikely that they will return to Pennhurst for a third year. One team member described shooting at Pennhurst as ideal, but also “draining.” Prior to his experiences at Pennhurst, Carlos said he didn’t watch paranormal shows and he was somewhat skeptical of the paranormal. He still feels that each individual brings their own interpretation to so-called hauntings, but his interest has been “sparked” and he has a new perspective on the whole matter. Carlos told us that wherever Melissa decides to shoot in 2023, “our experience will be [talked about internally] for a while.”
Do you believe in the paranormal? Have you ever experienced a haunting? Do you think Pennhurst is riddled with ghosts? Let us know on social media by tagging us @spirithalloween.