This Pennsylvania Ghost Town Inspired Movies and Video Games

Pennsylvania Ghost Town

Centralia is a borough and a near-ghost town in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, United States. Its population has dwindled from over 1,000 residents in 1981 to 10 in 2010 as a result of the mine fire that has been burning beneath the borough since 1962.

There is some disagreement over the specific event which triggered the fire. After studying available local and state government documents and interviewing former borough council members, David Dekok states in two works—Unseen Danger and its successor edition, Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire—that in May 1962, the Centralia Borough Council hired five members of the volunteer fire company to clean up the town landfill, located in an abandoned strip-mine pit next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery. This had been done prior to Memorial Day in previous years, when the landfill was in a different location. On May 27, 1962, the firefighters, as they had in the past, set the dump on fire and let it burn for some time. 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.

In contrast, Joan Quigley states in her 2007 book The Day the Earth Caved In that the fire had in fact started the previous day, when a trash hauler dumped hot ash or coal discarded from coal burners into the open trash pit. She noted that borough council minutes from June 4, 1962 referred to two fires at the dump, and that five firefighters had submitted bills for "fighting the fire at the landfill area". The borough, by law, was responsible for installing a fire-resistant clay barrier between each layer, but fell behind schedule, leaving the barrier incomplete. This allowed the hot coals to penetrate the vein of coal underneath the pit and start the subsequent subterranean fire.

Centralia has been used as a model for many different ghost towns and physical manifestations of Hell. Prominent examples include Dean Koontz's Strange Highways and David Wellington's Vampire Zero. Centralia was also an inspiration for Silent Hill, the film adaptation of the video game, and Nothing But Trouble.

Knoebels Amusement Resort, in nearby Elysburg, features the Black Diamond, a dark ride/roller coaster based on the theme of a haunted coal mine. Near the end of the ride, trains pass a swirling, fiery vortex. Although this resembles popular depictions of the gates of hell, a sign identifies the location as Centralia.

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