This Is The Story Behind The Infamous 'Haunted' School In Penang

It used to be a hotel.

Cover image via Stuart Taylor/HighlanderImages Photography

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Sitting on an empty lot in the heart of George Town, Penang is an abandoned school with a long, colourful history behind it

Known as Shih Chung Branch School, this building was once a magnificent mansion but has been left in a dilapidated state for years, and is now covered in overgrown plants and trees.

Penangites who frequent the popular dim sum shop, Fu Er Dai, may be familiar with this school as many would often park their cars in its vicinity. 

Penang has always been known to retain many of its heritage buildings laced with eventful pasts. But this school, in particular, seems to have attracted interesting rumours over the years, as many believe it to be haunted by the souls of Japanese soldiers.

As rumours go, we can't prove them to be true. However, we can see what led to these stories.

Let's take a look at the complex history of this building and what it used to be:

1. Built in the 1880s, the building was initially known as The Chinese Residence, or 'Goh Chan Lau' aka Five Storey Bungalow. In its heyday, it was one of the grandest five-storey mansions on Northam Road.

It was built by the son of an established merchant and community leader, Cheah Teik Soon, who died at 63 and left the villa to his niece.

In 1908, the building was sold to Tye Kee Yoon, one of the largest property owners in Penang.

2. Before it became a school, the mansion was used as different hotels

It was believed that the Tye family leased it out to be used as the Bellevue Boarding House. And it was later taken over in 1910 by RN Brunel-Norman who called it Raffles-by-the-Sea hotel.

However, because it sounded too similar to the famous Raffles Hotel of Singapore, he was forced to rename it Hotel Norman in 1912. Three years later, the fifth floor was used as the P'i Joo Girls School until 1920.

Apparently, the owner decided to leave Penang and Hotel Norman ceased operations. The building was then leased to the Government English School. 

3. It was used as administrative headquarters by the ruling Japanese military during World War II

There have been disturbing stories of dark events that supposedly took place within the site during the time when the Japanese occupied the building. Rumours have it that many people were tortured and executed within the building, and their souls remain there to this day. As a result, many consider the place 'haunted'. 

During the Japanese rule, the school had to be relocated to its main body and it only returned to occupy the space later on. Post-war repairs led to the removal of the top two floors.

According to Penang Hidden Gems, a mother who used to attend the school recalls them keeping a coffin in a locked room that no one was allowed to enter.

Another writer, who shares that her father-in-law, Khong Kwot Seong, was headmaster of Shih Chung Primary School, explains that the school returned to the building in 1950 until around 1993 or 1994. She alleged that stories have been told about the basement being used to house prisoners during the Japanese rule but there's not much to prove whether or not this is true. 

Shih Chung Branch School Graduation Photo, 1956.

Image via mypenangstories

4. There was a proposal to turn the premise into a columbarium (a building to store funeral urns) but that fell through following a public outcry

According to an article by The Star in 2007, the Penang Municipal Council did not approve the project because of protests against it.

It was reported in the same article that Asia Green Group bought the land and had plans to restore the building to its former glory. The plan was to build a condominium or hotel on the land without affecting the school building. 

The school has since relocated to Sungai Nibong but its previous building still stands there as a mark in history till today.

The building is currently blocked off from the outside but you can take a virtual tour on Google Street View

Click on it below:

Do you know anyone who used to attend this school? Share with us.

Here's another dilapidated mansion in Penang with a dark history to tell:

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