Centralia’s Silent Hill

gravegirlCentralia, Pennsylvania is the favorite mining town here at the House. Not only does it have a constant fire burning beneath its surface, it was the inspiration behind the “Silent Hill” media franchise. It has earned the nickname “Helltown USA” for good reason and none are stereotypical.

The town was officially incorporated in 1866. It is ironic that the first tavern in the area was opened in 1841 by a man named, appropriately, Faust. It blossomed like any other small American town through the years. The only story to garner national attention for this city, in the first half of the Twentieth Century, was the plane crash near by that killed Broadway producers Beryl Wallace and Earl Carroll in 1948.

When the town was once thriving partly due to the coal industry. It had seven churches, over twenty-five saloons, theaters, general and grocery stores as well as a variety of schools.

The actual cause of the fires in the mines was never determined. It is supposed that using the mines as a trash pit ignited the coal seams still veined in the surrounding rock. This theory surmises that the safety process for disposing of hot coals and ash from the coal burners was ignored. This has been accepted as the most logical reason. The secondary and lesser-accepted theory is that the fire was actually there all along from the booming coal mine days and was only discovered in the late 1970s.

Whatever the reason, the discovery was alarming to residents. One gas station owner noticed his fuel tank was abnormally hot. He found the temperature inside the underground tank to be over 170 degrees hot when he lowered a thermometer. This episode and the terrible fall of a 12 year-old boy brought great attention to the little town. The child was playing in his backyard when a pit opened that was 4 feet wide and over 150 feet deep. Luckily, a relative was nearby to help him avoid death by fall or inhalation of the toxic fumes.

From that point it became clear that the town was in grave trouble. The officials began providing residents with the means to relocate. The grounds started caving in and dangerous gases from the fires below made life there impossible. The population gradually decreased and in 2002, the United States Post Office revoked the postal code for the town.

From the release of the “Silent Hill” film and the knowledge that this tiny town is a very real place, Centralia has seen many visitors. It should be stated that this is NOT an official tourist destination. Should you decide to take the drive (7 miles off I-81), you should proceed at YOUR OWN RISK. The fires are still raging, the ground can open at any time, and there is still a heavy presence of airborne toxins where the fires are burning.

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