Silent Hill In Real Life: Abandoned Centralia Pennsylvania

Centralia PennsylvaniaThere is a coal mining town in the Eastern United States that was once home to over one thousand people, most of them members of the secret society that founded the town. When the coal fires started throughout the mines fifty years ago, those that didn’t die abandoned the town.

The coal fires burn to this day covering the streets in ash. Those of you familiar with the Silent Hill video games and movie may think that I’m talking about that town, but I’m not – this article is about the very real town that Silent Hill was based on. Welcome to Centralia Pennsylvania…

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In 1841 Johnathan Faust came across a robust community of coal miners living in shanty towns throughout what was then Roaring Creek Township of Pennsylvania. Seeking to fill a void and profit by it, he established his bar the Bull’s Head Tavern.

Unknown to Johnathon Faust was that the coal miners all around him were members of a secret society known as the Molly Maguires. The Bull’s Head Tavern would become the default meeting place of the society, and in not too long the center of a new town, Centralia Pennsylvania.

The Molly Maguires came to America from the streets of Ireland during the American civil war. Although historians believe the Molly Maguires were a peaceful organization, they were none the less hunted by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, and even vigilante groups seeking to collect rewards from the Pinkertons.

Credit: Flickr/erin_m

These two factions came together in Centralia Pennsylvania with disastrous results. A fire was lit in a land fill on the outskirts of Centralia, some believe by vigilantes hoping to draw members of the Molly Maguires into a trap as they rushed to put out the fire.

The heat from the fire ignited the coal deposits below, and coupled with the oxygen provided through the mining tunnels, the coal mine fires began. Historian, and author of several books on the subject of Centralia, David DeKok, describes the scene below ground:

“This was a world where no human could live, hotter than the planet Mercury, its atmosphere as poisonous as Saturn’s. At the heart of the fire, temperatures easily exceeded 1,000 degrees.”

The death toll amongst citizens of Centralia Pennsylvania and emergency crews alike easily reached into the hundreds, although the exact number has never been known.

As the smouldering coals continued to spew ashes and toxic gas out into the town for the years to come numerous others died of inhalation and many physical ailments, until 1992 when Pennsylvania claimed the lands under “eminent domain’ and formally closed the town for good.

It’s no surprise that the ghost town of Centralia is considered to be amongst the upper ranks of paranormal locations with reports of phantoms and even hallucinations described as being much like the visuals provided in the Silent Hill movie.

However, despite any paranormal occurrences, the town holds its own amongst creepy locations. The buildings mostly lay in rouble with only the larger government building and school still standing, coal smoke rises from the graves of the nearby cemeteries, and the streets are blanketed in ash.

Although tours are available, none will take you into the town or the mines themselves, and for good reason. It’s not the ghosts in Centralia you need to worry about, it’s the town itself.

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One comment

  1. This article is unbelievably wrong on so many counts. Centralia wasn’t founded by the Molly Maguires, it was founded by settlers looking for a place to farm and subsist, and it grew with the coal mines that popped up nearby. The Molly Maguires were not a secret society from Ireland hunted by the Pinkertons for unknown reasons; they were a miners’s fraternity that worked to organize the miners against the mine owners and sometimes sabotage mines to make a statement. The Pinkertons were hired by the mines to intimidate miners and hunt down union organizers. The underground fire wasn’t lit deliberately; in 1967 the fire department set the local landfill ablaze like they did every year, but during the buldozing and grading in 1966, a coal seam was uncovered at the landfill site and it caught in 67. The fire is totally underground and does not spew ash into the air. Nobody died from the fire, though one boy fell into a small sinkhole that appeared in his yard. While it’s true that Pennsylvania siezed most of the town via eminent domain to avoid anybody else being injured by sinkholes or possibly noxious fumes, several people still live on the outskirts of the borough, which is nothing like the author’s description.

    On rare occasions, smoke can be seen coming from vent holes drilled into the ground; there are no clouds of haze blanketing the town. Two major state highways still run through the center of Centralia to this day, though one had to be rerouted around an unstable area just south of the town. There are no tours of the town because there’s nothing to see but a bunch of grass lots where houses used to stand. There are no paranormal sightings and nobody hallucinates there unless they take hallucinagenic drugs. Most importantly, the town wasn’t abandoned. People fough hard to prevent the State from taking their homes and land. They dragged out the lawsuits for years and those who still live there are still dealing with the State’s attempts to relocate them even though the danger has passed.

    Whoever wrote this did no research and made up most of what’s written. I should now, I live two miles from Centralia and study the history of the Coal Region as a hobby.

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