They hate Silent Hill there
October 13, 2015 1:13 AM   Subscribe

This strikes me as good writing about a sad reality. Thanks for posting this.
posted by newdaddy at 3:48 AM on October 13, 2015

> Like, what if everyone knew the name of your home town, but only because Frank Booth in Blue Velvet mentioned that he once went to the toilet there.

The town I grew up in is only in public consciousness (inasmuch as it is though of at all) as the place where some crazy fucker put an explosive collar on a pizza deliveryman. The college I graduated from is better known for the National Guard gunning down people in cold blood, not for its academics or athletics.

It happens.
posted by ardgedee at 4:03 AM on October 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Our life was Centralia. NONE of these cults are welcome to geek at my family plots."

Your place, your home, your roots: that ground you think of as your piece of this earth, that ground devouring itself, forsaken by state and federal governments for its economic worthlessness, and yet beloved for being where you learned to drive and had your first kiss and went to baseball games, your life. How happy would you be to see it surrendered to graffiti and gawking? It's not a backdrop for outsiders. It was lives, histories, memory. I have some sympathy for the love of place, and with how difficult it is to reckon with its betrayal and exploitation. And after the town passes from living memory, then what? Thanks, figurant; this was a thoughtful and sad read.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:00 AM on October 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Trying, perhaps, but not trying very hard.

In truth, the Centralia fire was never impossible or even that hard to put out, just expensive. ... But at any stage of difficulty, nobody in government, or in Centralia, thought that they should be the ones to spend money on it. The town of Centralia was simply not politically nor economically valuable enough to get a fire put out.

Remember this attitude. We'll all encounter it again in many ways.
posted by delfin at 6:15 AM on October 13, 2015 [23 favorites]

Well, okay, but there surely is SOME level of expenditure where it's not reasonable. This was a small town, if you told me it would cost $10 billion to save it, I think I'd say no.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:25 AM on October 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have known about Centralia before I knew about Silent Hill. I always wanted to go, but suspected the tourism angle would be a good reason not to.
posted by Samizdata at 6:39 AM on October 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

If it cost $42 million to relocate the residents, would this have been more or less than trying (harder) to put out the fire in the first place?

I learned about Centralia from one of Bill Bryson's books. I learned about Silent Hill from this article. I'm not as old as those Centralia residents that are "too old" to know about Silent Hill am I?

I get the attachment to a town, I really do. But I'm always fascinated by people who refuse to leave towns which are literally toxic. Wittenoom in north-western Australia is another one. But asbestos might only eventually kill you. A fire burning in and under your town is a giant blinking Move On notice.
posted by pianissimo at 6:56 AM on October 13, 2015

My father was one of the people brought in to assess the situation in about 1964. He remarked at the time that the town was too small to prompt real action, and that the thing would probably burn forever. Pennsylvania has a long history of ignoring chronic environmental horror; Pittsburgh once required street lights to remain burning during the day as pollution from the steel mills eliminated sunlight. I'd ask about the dirt that forced my grandparents to wash their curtains regularly, and was told "that's prosperity." The current PA attitude toward fracking is typical. In many ways Centralia is the poster child for horrifically bad environmental stewardship.

Tangier Island, Virginia has a similar vibe--livable land shrinks, crabbing in the Bay and hence the residents' only way of making a living has been savagely impacted by pollution, yet the people stubbornly vote Republican, deny climate change and view tourists with resentment even as those tourists bring most of the little income the island sees.

I've wondered how the place was faring. Thanks for posting.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:16 AM on October 13, 2015 [15 favorites]

Given that the Centralia fire is, to all intents and purposes, a permanent quasi-natural phenomenon now, has anybody considered exploiting it as a means of generating electricity? If there's an essentially permanent source of heat close beneath the earth's surface, there should probably be a way of harnessing that to spin a turbine of some sort or something.
posted by acb at 7:18 AM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Silent Hill thing is a weird digression, not sure why it's in the article at all.
posted by octothorpe at 7:24 AM on October 13, 2015

The Silent Hill thing is a weird digression, not sure why it's in the article at all.

The site is for Campo Santo, a video game developer, so I guess they need to tie it back to that somehow.
posted by The Lamplighter at 7:36 AM on October 13, 2015

Also interesting to note that Campo Santo are the folks making Firewatch. Promising studio.

(Game title and article subject overlap is, I think, a coincidence.)
posted by postcommunism at 7:50 AM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

The video game connection is kinda the whole point of the article. It's a "hey, gamer, here's the true story that video game movie was based on" article.
posted by straight at 7:56 AM on October 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I read it more as, "if people are kinda brittle over disaster tourism, it's because they still feel a connection to their former home town and they're not seeing anybody treat it with respect."
posted by ardgedee at 8:06 AM on October 13, 2015

The Silent Hill thing is a weird digression, not sure why it's in the article at all.

I agree that it goes a little far at that second bit near the end but that's sort of the whole lens through which the article is written though to make the point that Centralia is lost in a few different ways. Silent Hill basically stole the identity of the town in favor of the fire, and not even an accurate story about the fire, but some demon-pit mythology. “You can go to Centralia on almost any day of the year and see tourists wandering around,” says DeKok. “Of those I speak to, which obviously isn’t everyone, I would say a third to a half are there to see ‘the real Silent Hill.’”

So the fire killed Centralia and now Silent Hill is burying the memory. That'd sting to me too. Not even to go into the perception that Silent Hill enthusiasts are what's driving the worst of tourists' bad behavior (the deer corpse in the cemetery? come on, people....).

Full disclosure: I've been. Not for Silent Hill, but my presence was probably unwelcome anyway. At the time I definitely wasn't aware tourists were a chronic issue, and maybe they weren't as bad then. My boyfriend and I sort of have a thing for mining history and we read a lot about it, we watched The Town That Was. It's pretty striking history. We made a trip out of visiting a couple of places we'd wanted to go and making Centralia a big part of the trip. Drove through a lot of small rust belt towns, hit up the Bear Valley Strip Mine, visited the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine in Ashland, Centralia's neighbor to the south.

We drove through what used to be the town but we didn't wander around near the couple of houses still there, we visited what's apparently now the 'dick road', which at the time didn't have much graffiti (this was 2009 I think). Hit up a geocache located out in the woods. Visited the landfill where the fire started and took photos of steam and smoke coming up from the ground. It was a pretty amazing place to see in winter. We didn't visit the cemetery for reasons that I think should be obvious.

It is honestly and truly a very sad story, and if people have been using the lens of Silent Hill to ignore the real history I'm ok with this article using the lens of Silent Hill to try to take it back. My own home town is year-to-year between dying and barely making it, and I can't imagine what it'd feel like to watch something like that take over the way people saw it. The fire should've been enough.
posted by nogoodverybad at 8:08 AM on October 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've both known about Centralia since I was a child, *and* played just about every single SH game out there, and I was still baffled about the connection between the two until it resolved that the association comes entirely from the movie. Of course I didn't remember that, because man that movie was a turd in an old shoe. Interestingly, that actually strengthens the connection between Centralia and the Silent Hill games - they both seethe with bitter resentment over having their legacy marred by association with that febrile lump of a film.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:25 AM on October 13, 2015

"Tourists" seems a weird word to use. I doubt anybody much comes from out-of-state to see it on a regular basis. It's in central PA. If that's anything like northeast Ohio, then a mostly-abandoned place with plausible haunting stories is going to attract bored teenagers like a rotting log attracts bugs. That there's a film connection helps, but... this is what places look like as they are dying, in the modern American landscape. I'm guessing virtually everybody who goes there is from within a relatively reasonable drive, and that the actual graffiti and stuff is mostly going to be kids from neighboring towns. Nobody's happy to see that happen to a place they cared about, but if you abandon a place, what do you expect to happen to it? It's going to decay, one way or another.
posted by Sequence at 8:53 AM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm definitely a Centralia tourist. I went to visit from NJ, driving for about 3 hours both ways to hang out there for 2 or so. I find it to be such an interesting real world example of systems turning their back on people. Everyone who was involved in the town or existed to help people when disasters happened looked at it and said "Nope." That's pretty awful, and I'm kind of thinking out loud here, but its kind of a pretty good reason for why small town people don't put a lot of faith in big town government.

It's also an illustration of the worst case consequence for the things industrialization brought to the world, like a mini-Chernobyl I was able to drive to. I totally understand people being upset about their lives being turned into a weird curiosity, but shit, they are living weird curious lives, living above a massive underground fire.

That said, while I love the band, I couldn't really get behind this video filmed at grafitti highway. It just seemed to cartoonify things.
posted by lownote at 9:19 AM on October 13, 2015

At least the Centralia fire is not threatening to ignite illegally dumped nuclear waste, as is happening in St. Louis.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 9:56 AM on October 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

The government inaction while they quibble over what to do about this unfolding environmental disaster is too familiar. Their decision just to let the very earth burn is too terrifying.
posted by adept256 at 10:40 AM on October 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

If someone wrote a fictional story about a government this ineffective in solving an existential crisis, it would be derided as propaganda. This is an Ayn Rand–level parable about collective incompetence, except it actually happened.
Once a solution was chosen, the agency would tender for a contractor and work would commence. And then, the project would simply run out of money, or prove ineffective, or it would be discovered that the fire had already grown past the point where the specific project was designed to contain it. Years later, the agency would seemingly forget they ever did anything in the first place, and respond to Centralians’ anguish with fresh calls to study the fire. Eventually, the fire itself reached the town.
Can't wait to look back decades from now on the consequences of how people dealt with basically ignored climate change.
posted by Rangi at 11:15 AM on October 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Silent Hill thing is a weird digression, not sure why it's in the article at all.

Within the mythos of Silent Hill, the horror is a manifestation of the suffering, trauma, and denial of reality of the main characters.

Within the mythos of the US we hide that we destroy people because they are unvalued - and this is a horror that is both extensive and life destroying. The myth of the US is that anyone can be a success if they work hard enough. The truth is that a minority can escape, but the powerful will always alternatively ignore and exploit the poor and powerless.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:12 PM on October 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

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