Is Silent Hill A Real Town?

The answer is yes, and it’s located in Pennsylvania.

Photo by Andrea Boldizsar on Unsplash

While you may not encounter any zombie nurses, giant reapers, deformed human-like creatures, or weird sacrificial cults, the story of Silent Hill has historical ties to a real town in the United States. Abandoned by its citizens, there’s not much left of Centralia, PA aside from the eerie remnants of a ghost town that once was.

So, what happened? How did a small city of over 1,200+ people turn into the ghost town that inspired Silent Hill?

Early Mining in Centralia

Between the 18th and 19th century, coal was a highly coveted natural resource. The cost of lumber, the labor required, and its effectiveness as a fuel source was no longer efficient in sustaining the rapid growth of the Industrial Revolution. Coal was able to burn longer and at hotter temperatures, making it the ideal fuel for powering boats, trains, and at one point, even cars.

During this time, mining companies quickly discovered that Centralia was sitting upon a massive, rich deposit of coal…one of the largest in the world, in fact.

Dozens of tunnels were shoveled out in order to meet heavy demand, but by 1862 the world had moved on to oil and gas as a primary fuel source for transportation. Many of the mines were abandoned, but the citizens of Centralia were there to stay.

There Was a Hole Here. It’s Gone Now.

Like the majority of developing towns in the United States, procedures and basic safety operations were shoddy and poorly regulated…if at all.

By the 1960s, Centralia had few laws regarding waste management or removal. Trash was collected and burned in the mines that had already been depleted. Researchers have yet to determine the exact cause of the immortal blaze that burns below the town today, but it is believed that the fire started as a result of trash being burned in a location that had not been used or inspected prior.

Where other tunnels had been closed off, the theory is that this particular location may have had an exit. That small hole led to an untouched vein while simultaneously allowing oxygen to leak through. Fun fact, when coal burns it releases carbon. Oxygen, carbon, and a small spark can create a big, long-lasting flame.

Photo by Taton Moïse on Unsplash

I’m no conspiracy theorist myself, but legend has it that these pits had a secondary purpose of burning witches…

There are entire novels, even plays dedicated to the remembrance of the gruesome Salem Witch Trials.

Not to mention, Pennsylvania is only a six-hour drive from Massachusetts. That mixed with segregation and high racial tension that existed during this time period certainly makes you question what might have actually been going on in these small towns.

To be honest, I’m leaning more toward the trash-burning theory.

As the flames smoldered beneath their feet, local folks continued on about their lives as usual. No one had any idea that they were standing upon a crumbling furnace. One day, a gas station owner testing the temperature of his tanks made an unpleasant discovery; they’d reached a hazardous 172 degrees.

Fire Doesn’t Cleanse, It Blackens

From this point on, the situation deteriorated rapidly. City officials attempted to stop the spread by digging trenches between veins, but the fire moved faster than contractors were able to dig. When that didn’t work, they tried to close off holes that allowed oxygen to feed the inferno.

That plan backfired in a way that nobody had suspected. Massive sinkholes were opening up, swallowing highways, and even homes. In 1981, twelve-year-old Todd Domboski was nearly gobbled up by a hole that abruptly appeared in his backyard.

It gets worse.

The deadly carbon monoxide being released was beginning to affect the 1,000 some odd citizens who still lived in the town. Symptoms such as headaches and nausea became common amongst neighbors. Some, even falling asleep and dying in their homes.

In 2014, the state of Pennsylvania put $1.4M toward putting out the fires, but the effort failed.

Silent Hill Today

Photo by James Garman on Unsplash

As far as I know, Centralia has about five to six people who still live there and own property. Visitors regularly ride their ATV’s up and down the roads that are still paved, and visit the untouched church that has somehow evaded the consequences of early industrialization.

In the last month or so, a decision was made to cover the graffiti highway that had attracted so many curious travelers throughout the years due to the ever-present COVID pandemic.

Some areas are closed off to the public, but you can still take a trip up to Pennsylvania and see it for yourself.

Welcome to Silent Hill.



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