A Town Nearly Gone — Centralia, Pennsylvania, the real Silent Hill

Highway 61 ( © Kevin Shau Photography 2018)

A little over a week ago, I had the opportunity to visit the now-infamous town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. Centralia was a rather run-of-the-mill town in Pennsylvania’s coal region throughout much of its history. Things took a dramatic change in 1962. The residents of the town were about to celebrate Memorial Day and it was decided to clean up a landfill near the Odd Fellows Cemetery. The trash was burned. The fire, however, spread beyond the area in which the trash was being burned and reached the nearby mine. The coal region of Pennsylvania has the largest known deposits of anthracite coal in the Americas. The fire under Centralia has been burning ever since.

There were multiple attempts to put the fire out, all of which failed. In 1981, a boy was nearly killed when a hole opened up in his backyard. Lethal levels of carbon monoxide emerged from the ground. This phenomenon was observed along a stretch of highway 61, which passes through the town, as well. In the 1980s, the government of Pennsylvania began aiding those who wished to evacuate the town. By the 1990s, evacuation became more or less mandatory. A few residents remain, having been allowed to live in Centralia for the remainder of their lives. The population of Centralia dropped from just under 2,000 in 1950 to 1,017 in 1980, 63 in 1990, to 7 in 2013.[1] Houses were demolished as people moved out of town. A portion of highway 61 was closed off. The highway now snakes along what was once an old logging road.

Nowadays, there is little to see in Centralia itself. There is a church on the hillside. There are two graveyards on the other side of town, near highway 61. A couple houses still stand amidst a town which no longer exists. I did not see any signs mentioning Centralia. traveling along the main roads, one can see the remains of driveways which go nowhere.

One can easily see where route 61 was diverted. There is a sign with an arrow directing people along the current route. The abandoned portion of 61 is closed off but visited on a fairly frequent basis by those curious enough to venture along the old road, now covered in graffiti. The highway is known as the graffiti highway or the highway to hell (in the early 1990s the fire cause large cracks to appear, releasing carbon monoxide gas — the thickness of the smoke and presence of the cracks made the highway unusable). My exploration of the highway was rather limited. I saw no smoke but plenty of graffiti.

The fire under Centralia is not expected to g out anytime soon. Experts have previously predicted that it could continue burning for over 250 years. The story of Centralia, Pennsylvania served as inspiration for the movie version of ‘Silent Hill’ in 2006

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[1] Data from United States Censuses and https://wnep.com/2013/10/30/agreement-reached-with-remaing-centralia-residents/

Artisan | Wordsmith | Bohemian | Independent Green | Anti-Authoritarian, Pro-Decentralization/Localism|. http://www.instagram.com/kevinshau/

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