Centralia – the smoldering ghost town

January 25, 2007

So some of you might have guessed I have some fascination about zombies, horror video games and whatnot. One of my (not so secret now) dreams is to design the first pervasive survival horror game – yes, I know, it’s definitelly a challenge not to get players believing it too much and end up killing each other, cast members and eventually the game designer.

One of my all time favorite games is Silent Hill (in particular the first installment). I have recently seen the movie adaptation and honestly thought it wasn’t neither too good nor too bad. It’s good as an adaptation, but there is some rushing of narrative as well as other signs of bad writing throughout the movie. But this post isn’t about the movie. This post is about a place which inspired the movie adaptation. The funny thing is that I came to know it not because of the movie, but because of Culture Clash column at the IGDA website.

When I was introduced to the adaptated versio of the Silent Hill town I found it a somewhat cool (yet highly fictional) idea: a town which had been abandoned due to a fire in the coal mines underneath. An extensive coal seam had been burning for years, and would burn for many more, as if the town would be slowly cooking on hellfire itself, a concept not found in the original game (nor any of the sequels). Now this sounded a really cool idea and gave the setting that creepy, hazardous quality any good ghost town should have. But it couldn’t possibly be real now… could it?

In 1962, an exposed vein of coal was accidentally ignited, underneath the prospering town of Centralia (Pennsylvania, USA). Attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful, and the townsfolk started to suffer from adverse health effects caused by the release of carbon monoxide. The fire caused the road to shift and crack, and a 12 year old boy fell into an eighty-feet deep sinkhole that opened under his feet (he saved himself by clinging to a tree root until a cousin pulled him out). So eventually the town was abandoned and nowadays you can still see the smoke rising from cracks in the ground or pipes purposefully installed in several places for ventilation. The coal vein provides enough fuel to keep the fire burning for 250 years.


Damn creepy, isn’t it? Centralia has become a popular stop for tourists. Curiosity about this eerie ghost town is spiced up by a sign warning of DANGER from asphyxiation or being swallowed into the ground (shown at the beginning of the post).

Eventually I came to realize that coal mine fires aren’t that uncommon. Always learning…


One Response to “Centralia – the smoldering ghost town”

  1. […] 19, 2008 In the trail of the Silent Hill movie and for it’s sheer creepiness, I posted some time ago about the ghost town of Centralia. In the original game snowfall, fog and darkness are constants; in the movie the snow was replaced […]

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