While we were on vacation we decided to lay low for most of the trip, taking it easy, sleeping in, that sort of thing. There was one thing I wanted to do while in Pennsylvania. I wanted to visit Centralia. I had seen a documentary on the town via Netflix, “The Town that Was” I am pretty sure was the name of it. So here is the story with Centralia; in 1962 the town was burning trash at the landfill (pretty standard in those days) before the Memorial Day celebration that was held yearly at the near by cemetery. This particular year the fire wasn’t put out properly/completely or otherwise traveled down into the ground. Well Centralia was a mining town, coal actually. This fire caught one of the veins of coal on fire in the ground which eventually led to the entire mine becoming a huge underground fire. This fire swept through town (under the ground) and cause damage and high levels of carbon monoxide. The short version of the story is that after being unable to stop the fire the government bought the town and told the people they had to leave. Most people did and as they left their homes were knocked down as well as most of the other buildings.
There are a few die-hard citizens who refuse to leave. This is their town, where they grew up, had families and imagined their futures. Recently they sued to try to get their property back but their suite was denied. The fire still burns under the ground. It has moved outside of town and now burns in the hill behind the cemetery but the damage has been done. There is a large section of highway 61 that was closed and re-routed because of the fire damage.
We walked down that highway, looking at the graffiti as we went and then marveling at the damage that the coal fire had caused so many years ago. It was both eerie and exciting, it was like a scene straight out of The Walking Dead. Miles of divided highway stretched before us, partially overgrown, covered in spray paint and so very quiet. It was amazing (though covered in broken glass and oodles of spray painted penis’) and led my imagination to try to picture what it was like when this town was full of families and pets. The town street are all still in place with driveways and all, but the buildings are gone and the lots are becoming overgrown. What an amazing place. Apparently the movie “Silent Hill” (never seen it) was based (loosely) on the town of Centralia, and I could see how this setting would work well for a horror movie.
After walking the highway and driving through town we decided to walk up the hill and try to find evidence of the fire. With Judah on leash and Musher’s Wax on his paws (to protect him from the heat and other things on the ground) we headed past the cemetery. It didn’t take long and we began to see puffs of smoke rise out of the hillside. We poked around for a while and found several small sink holes with condensation on and around them as well as steam and smoke rising out of them.
It was amazing. It was a cool windy day and we decided to sit down and take in the view (which was GREAT as long as you didn’t face the opposing mining operation on the far hill) and so I could test my blood sugar. The ground was warm, to the touch, it reminded me of sitting in a heated seat in a car. I mean, noticeably warm to the touch, incredible.
While we were there we also saw several areas where the fire had broken through to the surface and scorched some things. So much of the area was overgrown but still identifiable that it seems to have effected me. I can’t get it out of my mind, what a place! It’s filled with so much history, hope, sadness and emptiness. I know that I want to go back and spend MORE time there, for sure.