See the Real Ghost Town That Inspired Silent Hill

“The Town That Was” will likely smolder for centuries.




The fiction ghost town Silent Hill (made famous by video games and a subsequent horror franchise) is a foreboding realm of impenetrable mist and subterranean nightmares.   What most people never realize, however, is that the macabre aesthetic of Silent Hill was actually inspired by a real town: Centralia, Pennsylvania.  While it was once a vibrant mining community of over 1,600, the population of Centralia would dwindle to merely 10 by 2010.

In 1962, a controlled garbage burn accidently ignited huge deposits of coal in the labyrinth of mines beneath Centralia.  As the fire spread, plumes of toxic smoke began to escape through the ground.  HWY 61, which runs through the center of town, began to buckle and crack, reveling dangerous glowing fissures that radiated intense heat.  At night, residents marveled at the eerie blue glow resulting from the venting of methane gas and carbon monoxide.

While residents and government officials initially scrambled to extinguish the underground blaze, bureaucracy led to inaction.  While many seemed content to carry on with life as usual, the fire became impossible to ignore in the 1980’s when a 12-year-old boy fell through a new fissure; while he survived, he was pulled from the ground covered in tar with his clothes baked onto his body.

Though they had previously been supportive of those who didn’t want to relocate, state & federal agencies began to forcibly evict the residents of Centralia in the mid 1980’s (invoking both eminent domain and public safety).  Apparently, scrapping the entire town was deemed a less expensive option than taking the difficult steps necessary to extinguish the blaze for good.  As households evacuated, bulldozers demolished the now-empty homes and structures.


Today, only a handful of Centralians remain, mostly elderly people with a local lineage of several generations.  Though they’re technically considered “squatters” (residents don’t even own their homes at this point) the government has long abandoned official efforts to forcibly evict—no doubt fearing a public relations disaster.  Centralia seems doomed to exist in a bizarre limbo state, neither dead nor alive.  Ironically, the town cemeteries are the only municipalities that remain, and many former residents opt to return to Centralia for their final, eternal rest.

Centralia has become an off-the-path destination for horror fans and coinsurers of all things creepy and mysterious (much to the disdain of the few residents who remain).  Smoke still bellows constantly from cracks, pits, and fissures, like specters of this once thriving community.  As opposed to other ghost towns that are characterized by rows of empty homes and storefronts, Centralia is unique for its complete absence of—well, pretty much everything; where once stood blocks of houses, nothing remains but vast & empty, un-mowed lots.  The few homes that remain are scattered and isolated.

In 2007, filmmakers Chris Perkel and Georgie Roland released their fascinating documentary about Centralia: The Town That Was.  While it isn’t a docu-horror (Silent Hill is never mentioned directly or indirectly) it’s still an impactful viewing experience.  You can’t help admire the tenacity of the residents who refused to leave their beloved community—even as it literally burns away beneath them.  I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a sad film, but there’s a pervasive sense of loneliness that’s hard to shake.

There’s still enough unharvested coal in the catacombs beneath Centralia to burn for centuries.

Did you know that the fictional Silent Hill is based on a real town?  Have you ever been to Centralia or seen The Town That Was?  Sound off in the Comments section!

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9 Comments on this post.

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  • teresa
    27 October 2015 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    Wow that look very scare

    • brent
      9 June 2016 at 1:44 pm - Reply

      how about one of these sundays ??

  • teresa
    27 October 2015 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    I would like to go their some day

  • Debbie ross
    8 June 2016 at 10:47 am - Reply

    I would love to visit Silent Hill

  • Jason
    8 June 2016 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    I live in PA and once visited Centralia I wasn’t allowed into the town very far but what they just said about it is nothing but truth which makes it even better

  • Dur
    8 June 2016 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    I call bullshit! Silent Hill was made in Japan in 1999 and they started actually working on it in 1996 which doesn’t fit the by 2010 time frame your talking about. If it took till 2010 to get to a population of 10 then this is not the town your looking for. lol.. Click and bait.

    • Hutch
      8 June 2016 at 6:28 pm - Reply

      Read much? The fire started in the 60s and most residents were forced out in the 80s! Try paying attention before making yourself look like a dumbass.

  • Really
    8 June 2016 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    Dude you’re an idiot. This town does exist. You’re believing the japanese version of something that happened and is happening in Pennsylvania, USA? Come to Delaware and i will take you there.

    16 July 2016 at 4:10 am - Reply

    This is a really scary true story that gives me the creeps, SILENT HILL is one of my favorite movies and even better’cause it is a true story!!