‘Scrrrrrrape’ goes the underside of our little rental car as I pull off Highway 61 into a makeshift car park.
“This is how I imagine it” I remember saying to myself. A town hidden away, out of sight, forgotten to the world and which holds on to a dark, miserable past. I say town, but there’s really nothing left. A few empty reminders, in the shape of house foundations and roads which lead to nowhere, a ghost town slowly being eaten away by mother nature. You see the reason Centralia, PA is no more….., is right under our feet. Fire.
As we walk up the hill of the now deserted part of highway 61, under your feet, deep in the mountain beneath you, an out of control fire rages relentlessly in an abandon coal mine. The fire was said to have started in 1962 by the volunteer fire company to clean up the town landfill. Unlike in previous years, however, the fire was not fully extinguished. An unsealed opening in the pit allowed the fire to enter the labyrinth of abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia.
Over the years, people have been forced to relocate to other nearby towns as the ground has been found to be unstable, sink holes have opened up and carbon monoxide has been detected. Now, only a handful of residents remain.
In places, the road is buckled, twisted and huge cracks have formed. The road is warm to the touch, smoke and steam can be seen rising out of the cracks. Budding artists have spray painted the road with intelligent slogans and art work. “Silent Hill, PA” Reads one. Others read “I Love Meth”, “This man has a small penis”, “The End is Near”. In someways it has the same eerie feeling as when I visited Chernobyl, the landscape, the trees, the worn out roads, it all looked vaguely similar.
If you’ve played the game or watched the horror movie, Silent Hill, you’ll know the town in the movie was abandoned by a coal fire. Centralia was the inspiration behind the movie. But unlike the movie, Julie and I didn’t get chased by the undead, though there were two Gothic girls taking photos of each other on the old highway, so who knows…. Maybe it was the real Silent Hill, after all.