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The Day the Earth Caved In: An American…

The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy (2007)

by Joan Quigley

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A history of the Centralia, Pennsylvania mine fire (most famous as the location inspiration for the Silent Hill games). Underwhelming, unfortunately - the history was interesting and tragic, but the writeup was just "okay." One of my biggest complaints is that the book simply stopped once efforts to put out the fire were abandoned and the town was evacuated; I wanted some kind of epilogue at least - what's the town like now? How does this tragedy and massive fuckup influence policy-making today? Did the kids who grew up in carbon monoxide filled homes wind up with tons of freaky health issues, or are they more or less fine now that they're out of there? etc. ( )
  KLmesoftly | Mar 8, 2015 |
Back about the time I was born (1963), a fire started in an anthracite coal mine that ran underneath the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. The fire was still burning twenty years later, when -- as an undergraduate geology major -- I visited Centralia on a department field trip. Twenty-five years after that I saw The Day the Earth Caved In at a library sale, and picked it up on a whim, curious about the background of the story.

Joan Quigley, who has her own family ties to Centralia, is interested less in the geology than in the story of a town that – caught between the disastrous consequences of the fire (noxious fumes, sinkholes) and the equally disastrous unwillingness of government officials at any level to take decisive action – slowly began, in the early 1980s, to come apart at the seams. She begins the story at a turning-point moment when the near death of a young boy spurred the town to action, and shows how the need to (finally) confront the worsening crisis pitted family against family, neighbor against neighbor, and all against the government and the mining companies.

There are literary echoes, here, of books like A Civil Action (in the story of a town in the throes of ecological disaster), Deer Hunting with Jesus (in the sharp, poigniant portrait of working-class life in a town on the way down), and even The Perfect Storm (in Quigley’s narration of her own reportage). I'm not sure what I was looking for when I picked up the book -- more geology, less human tragedy? -- but this wasn't it, and it went on the "done" pile (and off to someone else via PaperbackSwap.com) after about 50 pages. Your mileage, even more than usual, may vary.

The fire, by the way, is still burning. ( )
  ABVR | Mar 22, 2013 |
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Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1
For my father
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A look at the Centralia, Pennsylvania, mining disaster offers a portrait of the dying coal town, the scene of the nation's worst abandoned mine fire, and the families caught up in the disaster, discussing the struggle to provide a just remuneration to the victims.… (more)

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