CENTRALIA, PATHE REAL SILENT HILL
The front fender of our underpowered rental car catches a raised piece of concrete as we enter the makeshift car park on the edge of highway 61, rural Pennsylvania. Julie and I exit our tiny ash grey Nissan to inspect the damage, luckily everything looks fine so we breathe a sigh of relief and survey the surroundings. Straight away we can see this car park was once part of the old highway. Parts of the road markings are still visible under the piles of trash and between the wild plants which have reclaimed this road as theirs. A gigantic mound of dirt acts as a barrier stopping any vehicles going further on to the old highway. It hasn’t been successful as muddy tire marks can be seen on disappearing into the distance on the forbidden highway.
‘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. The reason Centralia is no more lies 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.
“the landscape, the trees, the worn out roads, it all looked vaguely similar.“
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 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 bizarrely, there were two ghostly looking Gothic girls loitering around, taking selfies whilst holding candles, so who knows, maybe it was the real Silent Hill, after all.