Creepy and weird or abandoned places always seem to top those “must-see” travel lists for those looking to go beyond the normal “touristy” stuff. Sometimes, though, these types of places are right in our own backyard. A while back, I took a trip to Centralia, Pennsylvania, a town not too far away from my own former hometown and the real-life inspiration for the movie and video games Silent Hill (talk about creepy, right??!).
What exactly makes Centralia so weird and how did it serve as the inspiration for Silent Hill? Located in Columbia County, PA, the area was once a popular coal-mining site (there are still active mines nearby today). In 1962, the mines beneath Centralia accidently caught fire when (according to the most popular theory, as there are quite a few) a fire at a landfill was not entirely extinguished and reached down into a strip-mine pit, leading the coalmines to eventually catch aflame, as well. Centralia is literally a town with a fire burning beneath it.
Numerous attempts were made to extinguish the fire, but the fact of the matter is that there is too much coal beneath the town, too many different veins that may have caught fire, and no amount of water that could be poured into the ground would sufficiently put it out. The fire is still burning today and there are estimates that it could take over a thousand years to fully burn out, given the amount of coal that may lie beneath the town and connect to other coal veins in the area. Ultimately, residents of the town were forced to evacuate due to dangerous gases, the fire itself, and possible land collapses as the coal burned beneath the town. Some residents refused to leave, however, and as of today, there are less than ten people remaining in the town (against the will of the government). Centralia’s zip code has been revoked by the U.S. Postal Service and the state has invoked eminent domain on all the property, with last-ditch efforts to evict the remaining people there. The residents won a lawsuit, however, and are allowed to remain in the town until they die.
Centralia is easily missed unless you’re actually looking for it. The state route that once ran through it, PA Route 61, has been torn up and no longer reaches the town. Other, smaller roads are now used for access. Once you do stumble across the town, it’s quite an eerie sight. All buildings have been knocked down (save for those still being lived in by the few who refuse to leave), so nature has reclaimed much of the town. The crumbling sidewalks and cracked streets still remain, though. Coal fire smoke and steam drifts up between cracks in the road and from the side of the large coal-dump mountains and piles. In the winter, snow melts because of the temperature beneath the ground. There’s always a fog/mist hanging around Centralia due to the fire, giving the town a definite creepy-abandoned feel. You can still drive through the abandoned streets and, if you’re super adventurous, get out on foot and head back into the woods, where the old mine shafts are. I did just that and found some interesting things.
Be careful crossing into any areas marked with bright orange netting! These are dangerous and are not advisable to enter!
There are some old, overgrown access roads that now make for some solid hiking trails if you’re looking to do some exploring. It’s super important to pay attention to the ground when walking around Centralia, particularly if you go into the lesser-visited areas and into the woods. Many of the old mine shafts were simply abandoned when the town was evacuated, so it’s certainly possible to accidentally end up falling into the old mines if you’re not careful. In my experiences exploring Centralia, I’ve come across old ruins of the coal mine company buildings, abandoned mine shafts, empty houses and shacks, old power lines, rusted equipment and children’s toys, and other odd things. When exploring the area, it’s easy to see how the town was the inspiration behind Silent Hill.
It is absolutely crucial to be safe about where you go and what you do. DO NOT approach any mine openings and stick to roads and obvious paths while exploring. Be cognizant of your surroundings always! Vandals have unfortunately defaced some of the roads and ruins around the town, so police patrol the area more heavily now than in the past. Always be smart and always be safe!