Written By: Stephanie Pislis
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Most of us are familiar with the Silent Hill horror franchise. Whether thinking of the several survival horror video games or whether thinking of the 2006 film adaptation, the eerie town of Silent Hill is a staple location to many horror enthusiasts. Yet not many people are aware that in fact the fictional town of Silent Hill isn’t so fictional after all. The town is actually based off of a veritable location. Although the real town may not be crawling with otherworldly monsters, horrifying creatures and brooding fog, the true origins of the town are quite creepy. The town of Silent Hill was inspired by a small town in Pennsylvania in the borough of Columbia County.
It should be noted that many sources have supported and suggested that Centralia Pennsylvania was part of the inspiration for the town of Silent Hill. However, it is unclear whether the creator of Silent Hill, Keiichiro Toyama, ever confirmed this to be the case.
Centralia Pennsylvania was first settled in 1841 and was implemented with several coal mining sites within the following years. By 1865, the town had already established five mining sites as well as a railroad that was used to transport and expand the town’s coal sales.
At its peak, the quaint and cozy town had a population of only 2,761 people. Yet as the years advanced, many men were drafted out to war in order to meet the need for bodies as the United States entered World War I, diminishing the population significantly to approximately two thousand citizens.
In 1962, a devastating disaster took place that would eventually force its inhabitants to flee their homes and unfortunately never return. On May 27th, 1962 a coal mine fire rapidly ignited beneath the borough of Centralia Pennsylvania. This subterranean mine fire began in an attempt to clean up the town’s landfill. The landfill was located in an abandoned surface-mining location (as opposed to an underground mining site) right outside of the town limits. The landfill was also fittingly located right next to a cemetery.
The landfill had been purposely set on fire in an effort to burn the town’s trash rather than have it accumulate on the site. This method of disposal was not uncommon and had been the usual custom for the previous years as well. However, on this particular occasion, the firefighters had not properly extinguished the fire once the trash was done burning. This in turn allowed the fire to spread into the underground mines beneath Centralia.
How serious of an issue was this?
Initially, the problem was not immediately addressed. It had been monitored and kept in check by experts. It wasn’t until 1979, seventeen years later, that the threat level became increasingly serious. In 1979, a local gas station owner had inserted a dipstick into one of his underground fuel tanks to check how much fuel remained. Once he withdrew the stick, he noticed that the stick seemed hot. He then inserted a thermometer into the tank only to discover that the gas was at a dangerously high temperature (172 °F). After contacting authorities, immediate attention was drawn to the dangers of the fire and action would soon be implemented. In 1981 another incident occurred. A young 12-year-old boy had plummeted into a sinkhole in his backyard. The sinkhole had suddenly appeared and was undoubtedly caused by the burning beneath the earth. Luckily, seeing that the sink hole was only 4 feet deep, the boy managed to emerge with the help of his cousin with whom he was playing with. The noxious steam and gas that was emanating from the sinkhole was tested and found to contain lethal amount of carbon monoxide.
To stay or not to stay?
At this point the town’s residents were torn between the decision of either staying or evacuating their hometown. In 1983, the government allocated 42 million dollars worth of relocation fees to its residents in response to the gravity of the fire. However, even though the fire did in fact pose a threat, relocating was not mandatorily imposed. Yet, indeed the majority of the citizens of Centralia took up the offer and moved out of the flaming city. Inhabitants began to rush out as infrastructures were subsequently demolished. In 1990, only 63 citizens remained. According to sources, in 2017, the population dropped down to a measly 5 individuals and grew to 11 individuals in 2019.
An abandoned ghost-town
Centralia Pennsylvania, although technically still a habitable location, is seen more as a desolate and abandoned ghost-town. The remaining buildings are covered in graffiti and many roads are cracked, deformed and ridden with sinkholes. Many of these fissures still omit steam and smoke. Oh, and did we mention that the fire is still burning? It is not uncommon for mine fires to persist for several years. According to the state’s Department of Protection, the fire could remain alight for another century. Perhaps the foggy atmosphere of the town of Silent Hill has to do with the incessant smoke and steam still omitting from the cracks. Needless to say, one cannot deny the similarities between the town of Silent Hill and Centralia Pennsylvania.
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