Book Review – Ghosts of Mayflower: A Pennhurst Haunting

Ghosts of Mayflower Back Cover

The back cover.

A nurse who gives invisible shots, a girl who likes to dart into corners and a man who still sits in the common room are just three of the spirits haunting the Pennhurst Asylum in Spring City, Pennsylvania. How do I know that? I have spent a Halloween season working in the Mayflower building…

Over Twenty-five years ago, Pennhurst State School and Mental Hospital was closed down due to resident abuse. Today Pennhurst has been turned into a Halloween attraction.

 These are the exact words written in Book Club Reading List, where I found Ghosts of Mayflower by Tamera Lawrence. I’m a fan of real ghost stories, and have been enjoying movies with gory histories like House on Haunted Hill, The Ring, Shutter, and Tale of Two Sisters. Stories of how these ghosts lived and how they died are naturally intriguing. Were they tortured? How horrible was their death? After reading the teaser, images of a mad scientist experimenting a brutal lobotomy procedure on his mentally ill patient without anesthesia were lurking in my head. The pain must be unimaginable. The screams must be chilling to the bones.  Their dead bodies might have been damped in the hospital’s basement, and left to rot. At least, that’s what I’ve imagined.

Reading on…

People are fascinated with Pennhurst and want to know more of its past and its present. Intrigued, I decided to do my own research. I have written a book bringing the past and present together to not just entertain, but also enlighten.

Now this is becoming a lot more intriguing. I’m convinced. This must be a good ghost story based on real life. I wanted to know more. And I knew more.

 

Entertainment Factor

Just like the author, I wanted to be entertained by the book. I wanted to feel so afraid I had to stop reading or my mind will create scary images again. Or at least feel that invisible shot. But to cut the story short… I was not. Maybe I was expecting too much.

There are many times that the author succeeded in building up suspense only to blow it in the end. Here’s one example:

I was really enjoying myself, now getting good at telling people stories to set the mood. Then it happened. I jumped back into position, but I didn’t feel a wall. I felt what seemed like a solid shoulder against my back, as if I had just backed into someone. Instantly, I froze. It felt like my husband was behind me. My shoulder felt numb, pressure against it. People were coming up from below. Instinctively, I took four quick steps to the left side just as they arrived. I was so glad to see them. I stared at where I had been standing. No one was there. A chill washed over me. Had I imagined it?

 I’m not familiar with the writing rules so I’m basing on the reader’s perspective. The sentence “Then it happened” is a cue that something will happen, thus killing suspense.

There is one part that I cannot get out of my head, though.

“I got a picture of a man,” she said, quickly flashing a photo in front of me.

I gasped. It was a ghoulish image of a man, but his eyes were hollow, black.

 If I were the author, I would have run out like a mad man and drove home, calling it quits. Tamera sure has the guts to stay with unseen, but felt, spirits.

 

Bringing the Past and Present

Medical experiments went mad has chilling effects. Who cannot be haunted with black and white videos of doctors and nurses trying to inject a struggling patient locked tightly on a gyrating chair? Between entertainment and history, it is history that I am more interested. Miss Lawrence said she did research on the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. While I believe she did, I still find that the flashback is overly generalized and unsatisfactory.

She watched Suffer the Little Children, the documentary that revealed the institution’s financial problems and patient abuse. I did watch the documentary, and must say it’s a must-watch for everyone who wants to read this book. Sad to say, Pennhurst’s issues are common to other similar institutions around the world.

Watch Suffer the Little Children here:

The author has also mentioned her uncle working there and her mother driving a van of Pennhurst kids to Philadelphia.

I thought about the few times I had been at Pennhurst as a child. My mother’s brother had worked there and I remembered hearing some of his stories. Now they lingered in my thoughts. My mother had once driven a van of Pennhurst kids to Philadelphia on a day trip. Her accounting of the event was less than pleasant. Her sympathy was with the kids yet her words of complaint fell on deaf ears.

 There’s also her encounter with an old woman who grew in the institution and left when she was 24. The old resident cannot recall anything gruesome that will add color to the story, though. More details from the uncle’s and mother’s stories will certainly add interest to the memoir’s background. I must commend, however, that the author explained what happened to the residents after 1986.

 

Words and Descriptions

I loved the way that Miss Lawrence described how old the building is, saying “Grass and weeds encroach and twist over old playground equipment. Vines cling to broken windows.” It’s easy to imagine how creepy the place is, thus setting the creepy scene. But I wish she continued the same approach in describing other parts like the mattresses, and how “hideous” they are.

Inside the cells, there are old mattresses. They lay tightly against the walls. They are ugly. Hideous. I wouldn’t even want to touch them, let alone lie down on one. They also have pillows, just as black and gross.

Pictures, lots of pictures, will be helpful in book 2 or a revision of the first one.

Here are some pictures from Tamera Lawrence’s blogsite:

[nivoslider slug=”pennhurst”]

It’s also worth noting that the author is fond of using I-said-he-said, which distracts the reading experience. Limiting that will smooth up the flow, leaving more space for the heart-pounding suspenseful read.

Inadequate descriptions are all over, some lines were used more than twice.  For example, the author used “chill washed over me” three times in the book to describe how a close ghost encounter feels.

 

Storytelling Style

I’ve noticed something unusual about Ghosts of Mayflower. The storytelling is not scary at all, only trying hard. It is as if the author has been living with ghosts all her life. The thoughts and encounters of the other world is nothing unusual for her. And it truly is.

At first I thought she had no ghost encounter reading these lines, “Do I believe in ghosts? To a degree I do. Perhaps Pennhurst would make me a believer.” Moving on, she said:

When I was four, my parents moved into a new house. I was given a bedroom of my own. Or so I had thought. For a time, I shared it with the ghost of a man. I saw him twice and would often hear his footsteps as he walked around at night. No one else in my house seemed to be affected by him. I often saw shadows, faces. I had invisible friends. I dreamed events before they happened and would just know things about people.

The last time I saw the ghost from my childhood, I was sixteen. I saw him walk into my parents’ garage and disappear. I was older. Braver. He didn’t scare me as he once had. These things that have happened to me, I don’t usually talk about.

 I’m not sure if the author still feels the chill with ghost encounters, but it didn’t show in the story.

 

Rating

The memoir has a very promising synopsis. A little editing or maybe a ton of revisions can turn it into one of the bestseller Halloween books. I’ve read The Pond, one of the author’s first books, and can find the suspense I was looking for. The book has potential, and certainly the Book 2 will be better with more background stories, and more chilling accounts. Not that I don’t like it. Ghosts of Mayflower is okay, and for my overall experience, I’m giving it 2 stars.

two-star

It’s okay.

Conclusion

Being a non-fiction book, Ghosts of Mayflower is really interesting, although it didn’t hold to the expectation that the cover and the back cover have set. It’s merely a diary, detailing the author’s experiences as an orderly for Pennhurst Haunt. That diary can spark great ideas for mystery/thriller novels, even another memoir, only if delivered in a scary, suspenseful way.

 

 

 

 About the Author

Tamera LawrenceWith a passion for writing, Award winning author Tamera Lawrence likes to entertain readers with edgy thrillers and mysteries. As a mother of six, Tamera draws on personal experiences to bring to life interesting characters set in today’s complex world. She loves meeting fans and writes book reviews upon request. Tamera also likes to play softball and clang out a tune or two on the piano.

 

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