Welcome once again to Pulp Adventures. In this little series, we take a look at people, places, business and things that could be melded into a pulp fiction-style story or role-playing game.
THE REAL STORY: In 1948, an air inversion smothered the town of Donora, Pennsylvania. This wouldn’t normally be a bad thing, since all normal air inversions do is create a massive pocket of super cold air in a region. After awhile, the inversion dissapates and the things go back to normal.
This wasn’t the case for Donora. Instead, the air inversion trapped industrial pollution from nearby manufacturing plants, the two prime suspects being a pair of plants associated with U.S. Steel. With the pollution, probably sulfur dioxide, trapped inside this atmospheric bubble residents began to suffer health problems.
The bizzaro smog was described as yellowish in color, thick and difficult to see through.
The weird event lasted for three days, and it went from bad to worse as a total of 20 people died and hundreds other were seriously sickened. Additionally, about 800 local heads of livestock died.
Such weather events aren’t entirely uncommon either. A similar incident, with less disastrous results happened in St. Louis in 1939, for example.
Probably the the worst was London’s Great Smog of 1952, when an anticyclone settled on the city. In that incident, a thick fog enveloped the city and created near-impossible to see conditions during daytime hours. Later studies on it suggested that the Great Smog killed about 4,000 people prematurely. Researchers discovered a spike in wide variety of medical conditions that the population of the city suffered in the wake of the incident.
GOING PULP: In a pulp story, focus on the slow build of the smog. It starts a light yellow haze in the air centered around the rail yards . Then it just begins to cling to buildings and finally starts cutting down vision. Soon, the townsfolk can only tell its daytime out because the yellow fog has a glowing spot hanging in the air.
As the haze lingers, people start having coughing fits. Car crashes increase. The mist creeps indoors and hangs in rooms.
People begin to have an unsettling feeling about the haze. Its evil, they say. The work of the devil, some say.
But it can’t have just appeared out no where. Something or someone must be doing it.
Perhaps introduce this smog as a background element to an earlier adventure. As it grows thicker, suspicions arise. Fears double. Sickness spreads.
WIKIPEDIA: The Donora Smog, London’s Great Smog, the St. Louis incident.
MORE SITES: Donora Smog digital collection
IMAGE SOURCE: Writes of Way
THE ADVENTURE: The strange incidents are actually the result of a scientist who has uncovered a way to manipulate the weather. By building an inversion bubble, he can hold a whole city, maybe even a whole valley hostage. He trucks his weather device into town on a flatbed or railcar and begins to generate an inversion event.
Then, he does one of two things: 1) Waits for the town to choke itself or 2) He introduces a toxic substance to slowly choke the town.
Armed with special breathing apparatus, he lets the city’s residence flee as he loots it for all its worth.
The pulp adventurers must stop the scientist as they slowly grow more and more ill unless they can come up with their own breathing apparatus.
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