Monday, October 17, 2011

Fire Will Attract More Attention than Any Cry for Help

In the case of the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania these words could not have rang more true.  Pennsylvania is renowned for many things: rolling farmland, the Amish, our nation's capital at one time was Philadelphia, Scranton is the setting of television series The Office, notoriously bad roads and coal...and a lot of it.

Located near the centre of the state, Centralia started out at the Roaring Creek Township in 1841, later renamed Centralia after it was determined that the name Centerville had already been taken, and was a busy coal mining town that had at one time over 2,000 souls in its heyday but this all began to change in the 1960's when the coal industry began to fail.   It was during this time that the true tragedy, not only in ecological impact but also upon the town and its people began to take shape.  It is unknown how the fires began.  One theory states that it was from the ashes of a coal burner that were thoughtlessly tossed into a hole in the ground.  Another places the blame upon a haphazard trash burning that took place in an improperly lined surface mine pit.  Whichever the case may be, the fire spread into the abandoned coal mines beneath the small town of Centralia in the 1960's and it has been burning ever since.

Media attention grew when a gas station owner noticed that the stick he used to measure the fuel level in his tank was abnormally hot, and after fetching a thermometer he found that the gasoline in his tank was an alarming 172° F (77.8° C).  Even the ground began to literally fall away beneath their feet when in the early 1980's a boy fell into a sink-hole four feet wide by one-hundred and fifty-feet (the young man did survive thanks to the quick thinking of his cousin).  In 1992 Eminent Domain was declared by Governor Bob Casey, in 2002 the United States Postal Service revoked the town's zip-code and formal evictions (or evacuations depending on whether or not you were a resident) in 2009.

The town just simply ceased to be...almost.

It is still possible to visit the town of Centralia, but what you see now is a slowly decaying town that has very few buildings, warning signs posted and a small hand full of very resolute residents who are trying to hold on to the homes that they have.  The town has gained a certain cult-status thanks to news paper articles, a few mentions on television shows, and it even was a source of inspiration for the fictitious hamlet of Silent Hill, but all one will find is a cemetery, steam fuming from holes in the ground and the twisted remains of PA Route 61 covered with lurid graffiti which to me is the saddest monument to the memory of this town.

The directions that I will post are from I-81 South as this is the direction I came.  I will just mention a few things ahead of time.  Roaming around the town could be literally hazardous to your health.  Coal off-gasses a lovely cocktail of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and many other things.  The ground is subject to shifting as mines collapse.  The old structures that do remain (as there are not many since they are slowly being bulldozed) should not be entered as they may be structurally unstable or could trap potentially deadly gasses. Anything you do here is at your own risk.  And yes, I will admit that this is something impressive to see, but please please please respect those who have chosen to stay here.  It is a very sensitive and sad situation.  And please do not remove any material from the site.  

Directions from I-81 South:

-Take Exit 124B and merge onto PA Route 61 toward Frackville
-Turn Left on N PA 61
-Follow this until you reach the center of the town of Centralia.  Parking can be made at the bottom of the hill from the cemetery.

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