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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

“The Pennhurst Project”

My name is Betty Cauler and I am a graduate student in the English and Publishing program at Rosemont College. I also worked for 23 years as a newspaper photographer and videographer in Allentown, Pa.
I'm currently working on an educational video documentary called “The Pennhurst Project.” The goal of the project is to record and archive first-person narratives from the staff, administrators and residents of Pennhurst State School and Hospital. I grew up not far from Pennhurst and I have always had an interest in the controversy that seems to surround this institution. Now that the campus has been deserted for over twenty years and has recently been bought by a private developer, I feel it is extremely important to document people’s memories about what life was like there.
Like it or not, Pennhurst was in the national spotlight for many years, thanks to the NBC 10 exposé by Bill Baldini in 1968 and the ensuing class-action lawsuit in 1974 that finally shut it down. This was an important time in history for the civil rights movement as public opinion was shifting away from “warehousing” of those with developmental disabilities into large, isolated institutions and towards more community-based group homes.
The results of the project will be included in an interactive history-based Web site and video documentary that will show the sights and sounds of Pennhurst through the stories and experiences of those who were connected with the institution in some way.
I am looking for men and women in the Spring-Ford, Pottstown and Phoenixville areas who were residents or employees of Pennhurst and who would like to be interviewed for this project. I realize that Pennhurst is a controversial subject to a lot of people and that there may be some hesitation in talking about it on-camera. Therefore, those of you who respond may remain anonymous if you wish, and I will only record your voice but not use your name.
Please feel free to contact me at: or by phone at 484-866-1540 or 610-435-3501 if you have any questions or concerns. Your story is very important in documenting this era in our national history.
Thank you.

Jerry Wheaton (pictured above), 61, poses in his Spring City apartment. Wheaton was sent to Pennhurst State School and Hospital when he was 3 years old and lived there until age 21.


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