Catch a Glimpse of Allentown State Hospital in M. Night Shymalan’s New Movie “Glass”

 

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The hospital’s administration building from a 1903 blueprint and today.

M. Night Shymalan’s new movie Glass is coming out this week. Looks pretty good from the trailer. But what I’m most excited about is that a lot of the movie was filmed at a real life psychiatric hospital in Pennsylvania?!

That’s right, most shots inside and around the movie’s fictional institution were filmed at Allentown State Hospital in Lehigh County, PA.

The hospital has been closed since 2010 since changes in mental health care in Pennsylvania have reduced the need for large and expensive institutions like Allentown. But in its heyday, it was home to thousands of residents and staff.

Enjoy these historic photos of Allentown State Hospital from the Pennsylvania State Archives.

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Construction of the administration building, 1908.

Allentown State Hospital was originally named the Pennsylvania Homeopathic Hospital for the Insane and was a unique state hospital when it was established in 1901.

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Inside the Administration Building’s lobby, circa 1920s.

At the time, the state legislature decided that Pennsylvanians with mental illnesses needed a new institution that employed homeopathic treatment techniques. Allentown was the first hospital in the state to employ this method, where this residents were given treatments and therapies in very small amounts at a time. Since the early 20th century, homeopathic treatment fell out of favor with medical professionals who questioned its effectiveness. Eventually, Allentown abandoned its homeopathic approach and the hospital adopted a more traditional treatment program similar to other state hospitals in Pennsylvania.

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Patient ward, circa 1920s.

When Allentown was opened in 1912, it was quickly filled to capacity by men and women from all over eastern Pennsylvania. Like all other mental institutions at this time, Allentown was built not just to provide treatment for people diagnosed with mental conditions, but also to remove these people from the rest of society and isolate them at the institution. Though some residents were eventually released, there were many more who were basically dumped off at Allentown and had little contact with their families or communities ever again.

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Allentown nurses, circa 1960s.

With a large farm, nurses’ training school, a power plant and even its own train station, Allentown State Hospital was built to be an independent community between the cities of Allentown and Bethlehem. Since many residents worked (usually for little or no pay) as part of their “occupational therapy” and treatment, Allentown had a large pool of labor that helped the hospital keep itself supplied and operational with little support from the state. In the early 1950s, there were over 2,000 residents living at Allentown!

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Heliotherapy at Allentown, circa 1930s.

After uncompensated hospital patient labor was outlawed in the 1970s and new state policies reduced admission rates, Allentown’s population dropped and it struggled to maintain its operations. Many patients were released to community-based mental health programs or were paroled.

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Mess hall, circa 1920s.

In 2010, Allentown State Hospital closed for good and its last patients were transferred to Wernersville State Hospital nearby in Berks County.

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Hallways like these connected Allentown’s wards and provided places for residents to sit in the open air and sun. Circa 1920s.

Sadly, Allentown State Hospital’s buildings will probably not be around for much longer. In the years since its closure Allentown has decayed and the state is planning on selling the property. This will likely lead to all its buildings being demolished, though there are efforts underway to rescue the historic buildings from the wrecking ball.

 

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Allentown’s auditorium as it appeared in the 1920s…
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…and when I visited two weeks ago. The room is suffering from huge cracks in the ceiling, buckling floors, and is in need of a serious paint job.

Even though the patients have left and the buildings may be torn down, there are still have many historical artifacts and documents that survive. If you would like to learn more about Allentown State Hospital’s history, the State Archives of Pennsylvania has a large collection of records that span its entire history. If you had any ancestors who lived at the hospital, you can contact the archives reference department at ra-statearchives@pa.gov for access to their patient records.

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Some of Allentown’s clerks, the people who made many of the hospital’s historical records we have in the archives today.

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