Growing up in Levittown I heard a lot of creepy stories about Byberry. Officially the Philadelphia State Hopsital, it was a mental institution off Roosevelt Boulevard that opened in 1907. After it finally closed in 1990, urban legends spread about insane patients being released to the streets, Satanists roaming its vacant halls and secret underground tunnels. It turns out all of these were true, but it pales in comparison to the real horrors that took place while the asylum was still in commission.
As a teen in the ‘90s, I was a fan of horror movies and the macabre (still am). I was never one to hang out in cemeteries, but my curiosity led me to several, locally legendary sites such as the alleged Cry Baby Bridge, Gravity Hill and Satan’s Church. I love that creepy stuff! From what I heard passed down from a friend that had a friend who heard from a friend that explored the abandoned asylum, it seemed like Byberry was the grand daddy of local haunts. And, that was no urban legend. This remained the case until all of its buildings were razed in 2006.
While deserted, Byberry attracted all manners of urban explorers, ghost hunters and graffiti artists who, apparently, met little to no resistance while trespassing.
Even creepier is the story of Byberry while it was still open. The institution was notorious for being over overcrowded, understaffed and corrupt. Think of the worst portrayals of mental hospitals you have ever seen on the silver screen and you’re close to the real life terror patients experienced at the Philadelphia State Hospital. Public awareness campaigns tried their best to expose what was going on, but Byberry remained northeast Philly’s dirty little secret.
You can also read more and see additional images on the urban explorer and photography site Opacity.
If you’re looking for more than just an article or two, you can get a more comprehensive telling of the Byberry legend in J.P. Webster’s recently published book The Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry: A History of Misery and Medicine. You can read a review here or purchase your copy from Barnes & Noble or Amazon. It’s also available as an eBook from both retailers.