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Murder at the Movies: The truth behind ‘Silent Hill’

I’m not normally one for video game-inspired movies, but Silent Hill is the exception to the rule. This 2006 horror film is incredibly creepy and atmospheric, thanks to its setting–a town that is literally on fire, abandoned when a coal mine underneath its streets started burning.

Or was it abandoned? The only thing eerier than walking through deserted streets with ash drifting down on you like snowflakes are Silent Hill’s remaining inhabitants.

Even spookier? Silent Hill is based on an actual place–and people still live there!

A coal mine has been burning underneath Centralia, Pennsylvania since 1962, with no end in sight. The town was condemned in 1992, and the United States Postal Service discontinued its zip code in 2002. In spite of this and the toxic levels of carbon monoxide, steam billowing from the earth, and cracks that appear in the ground, a handful of people fought for the right to continue living there–and won. As of 2013, Centralia still had seven residents. When they die, their homes will fall under eminent domain and the town’s remaining buildings will be razed.

There are a number of different theories about what caused Centralia’s fire, but no clear consensus. Some believe it was the result of a failed attempt to clean up a landfill by setting it ablaze. In this theory, an unsealed opening allowed the landfill fire to reach the abandoned coal mines. Author Joan Quigley argued that the fire began when hot ash or coal was dumped into an open trash pit. Still others say the fire is the result of another underground conflagration that wasn’t properly extinguished. What everyone can agreed on, though, is one–this is yet another manmade disaster, and two–it really sucks.

One wonders why anyone would fight so hard to stay in a place others have referred to as hell on earth. What is there to do in Centralia? Well, the one remaining church holds services on Sundays. And the town’s four cemeteries are still tended. Good to know.

Would you visit Centralia? Would you ever live in such a place?

Some exciting news on the writing front. Return to Dyatlov Pass will soon be an audio book! The folks at Severed Press tell me the audio version should be available within two or three months. Also, I’m finally able to announce that I’ll be a presenter at this year’s Surrey International Writers’ Conference, along with the likes of Diana Gabaldon and Anne Perry. I used to participate in this conference as an attendee for years, so to be invited back as a presenter is a huge honour.

The $100 Amazon gift card is still up for grabs. All you need to do is read and review Temple of GhostsFor details, click here.

PS: Love reading about spooky places or scary true stories? Check out these posts about the world’s spookiest islands or the true story behind the Child’s Play movies.

1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.


  1. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    I guess if you just had no where else to go and no funds to move, you’d have no choice.

  2. Mary Aalgaard

    Some people are oddly sentimental about where they live. Some call that being stubborn. It’s their home and they don’t want to leave. I might pass through Centralia, but not linger. Those fumes might be toxic. Congrats on getting the audio of Datlov. I just got my paper copy. Looking forward to reading it!

  3. Randee

    I would totally visit, but not so much live there.

  4. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    Haven’t seen the movie, but it’s on my To Watch list.

    Congrats on the audiobook! And so excited for you about presenting at the conference! I love your attitude, how you consider it an honor. 🙂

  5. Liesbet

    I wouldn’t live here, but I’d swing by for a look and a visit. Some people are really attached to their home and roots. I assume that’s why these residents decided to stay. You hear about people sticking it out during natural disasters, or evacuation times when tornados or hurricanes threaten. I understand the desire to remain, but when you’re health is at risk, it’s somewhat of a different story.

    Congrats on being a presenter at the conference! It’s so wonderful that the roles will be reserved, and you will be the influencer after all those years of attending!

  6. Birgit

    I probably will not see Silent Hill because it it looks and sounds scary. i had no idea about this town until now. I feel bad for the residents who owned homes and businesses that they had to walk away from and probably still have a mortgage on in some cases. I would not live there because of all the noxious fumes etc.. no sense in playing with one’s life.

  7. Nikki B.

    Silent Hill is still one of the creepiest video games I’ve ever played because of its atmosphere. The movie is almost equally as creepy. I thought it was based somewhat on an actual town! I have no idea what I would do if something like that happened in my town, I can’t imagine sticking around and taking a risk, but also can’t imagine losing everything and walking away from all I knew. 🙁 I have a morbid fascination with Silent Hill though, the whole vibe is deliciously creepy.

  8. Kate Kading

    Saw you on the presenters list and CHEERED! Can’t wait!

  9. Loni Townsend

    Woot for the audiobook! I’m an audiobook person, as I absorb more when I hear it.

    I don’t think I’d ever be so attached to a place to risk my family’s health and lives to remain there.

  10. L. Diane Wolfe

    That has got to be so unhealthy living there. I hope none that stayed had kids.

  11. Chrys Fey

    Wow. You have so much going on. That’s wonderful! And a $100 gift card giveaway? Jeez. You make me look cheap. haha 😛

  12. Of a mind

    If I were without family living with me, I wouldn’t hesitate to live there. Imagine the peace. The serenity. Security. I would adjust to the smell. My health is already bad. So live where I’m comfortable and at peace. Live where I know. Yeah. I’d do that.

    With family, is certainly visit a while. I would love to walk through the town totally alone and unhindered or interfered with. I would talk with the residents of their personal experiences both before and after the “incident”. I would never ask why they stayed. I know that. In fact, I wouldn’t ask much. Just let them talk. They would likely be willing since they don’t see many folk.

    Just my thoughts. It’s not creepy. Just different.

  13. Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor

    An audiobook – how exciting – and yay for presenting at the conference! I love walking in cemeteries. Good to know that they keep then tended to.

  14. Ryan Carty

    I might drive by…really fast…and not look.

  15. Of a mind


    ?Best comment by far! ?

  16. Tamara Narayan

    I’ve heard of this town before, but didn’t realize that it was the inspiration for Silent Hill. Now I’ll have to see the movie.

  17. Lee Lowery

    Congrats on being chosen as a speaker at the conference! So exciting! I would visit Centralia – it would be interesting to walk the streets for the experience of the sights, smells, sounds, etc. Interesting note about the cemeteries.

  18. J.S. Pailly

    I don’t live too far from Centralia, but I’ve never gotten around to visiting. I’m definitely curious about the place, but the more I’ve read about it and heard about it, the more convinced I am that I don’t want any of that in my lungs.

  19. Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine

    I have heard about this place and I would be interesting to visit it. I think it’d be neat to witness first hand, but I don’t think I’d stay long. LOL

  20. Denise Hammond

    Never heard of Silent Hill. And after reading about it doubt that I will. If I had no where else to go, I guess I’d have to stay in the town. I doubt that the government would provide enough money to relocate.

  21. Toi Thomas

    This is not a place I’d want to visit, no matter how curious I may be. Congratulations on being a speaker at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

  22. Hunter Shea

    Centralia is on my bucket list to visit! I might be one of those stubborn people who would refuse to leave. At least you won’t have noisy…and nosey…neighbors.

    • JH

      You do have a point, my friend. Losing the neighbours would be almost worth it.


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