Wednesday, August 27, 2014

That Time When... We Went to Centralia (Silent Hill)

When Tom and I were dating long distance, he would come visit me in Pennsylvania every few weeks. After quickly running out if places to go and things to see, we went to the Internet and Googled something along the lines of 'Ghost towns in Pennsylvania'.

"You searched for a ghost town?" Hey. I got desperate, trying to entertain a boy from the big city.... And you eventually do run out of cows to tip over. 

Not surprisingly a ton places showed up after searching. It seems that everyone thinks that they live in an old abandoned miners town. Here's a hint... if you live there, it's not a ghost town. Or, for our purposes, abandoned and falling into ruin. I think we stayed up the night before watching the documentary "After Humans", which might explain the sudden interest.

But we did find one. And so we took off to Columbia County, to to former town of Centralia.

What happened to Centralia?
We saw nothing. At first.We actually drove right past it, and since this was before either of us had smartphones we ended up asking the local gas station attendant for directions. After turning around we found the road turned and led back to the original Route 61.
The original route 61 had to be diverted around the town of Centralia, and for good reason. Cracks started turning into eruptions in the road, and even in 2010 people claimed to see smoke/steam coming from the cracks.

The graffiti'd road ended, and so we walked over to where the old town dump was, and where the fire began. Before leaving I had 'made' a map based on what someone posted online. The black boxes are where the buildings still stood, and the thing that looks like a lake is where the mine fire started.
Did I say mine fire?
Centralia, like much of Pennsylvania, started with a history in anthracite coal mining in 1856. Coincidentally, that is also what ended the town. Well if we're being honest, it was the coal mines and the fact that the citizens were burning their trash in the dump and didn't properly extinguish it.
Smokey the Bear says 'Only you can prevent underground coal mine fires'.
Along with rusted ventilation shafts, you can still see parts of the dump since there are random areas of remaining trash. We found this part of town the creepiest, since there are old dolls, toys, and even advertising. Even though the town was abandoned only 14 years prior, seeing faded Mountain Dew bottles strewn around with tupperware and baby bottles seemed very surreal. We even found some abandoned car seats. Actual car seats, that it. And they were kind of just staring at us.
Centralia was never a big town. They had just over 1,000 residents in 1980, but had it's own public and Catholic school system. In 1996, the state bought out the houses and businesses and most everyone moved. And as of the 2010 census (the year we visited), 10 people remained in town who refuse to move. They did have their own volunteer fire department and an ambulance at the time, which I hear has been sent to a neighboring town.
We were walking around town, and noticing that while most every plot where a house stood, there were bumps. We later found that when someone moved out, the state bulldozed the house and filled the foundation in with dirt. 
(sidenote... Tom was so skinny! This was back when we was biking the Tour de Cure, among other events).
We were walking around, and came up on the skinny building that we drew into the middle of the the map above. Lucky for us, the resident inside saw us and came out to the porch. He called us over and we had an impromptu interview. 
He told us that his family lived in that house, and once the state came with requests for the townpeople to move, he refused. He said that the fire might be there, but he's never so much as seen a sinkhole, only a few places with steam. He even brought up the rampant bunnies. How could this place become such a wildlife sanctuary if the gas was so poisonous?

When the discovery channel came around to do their documentary, they interviewed him. He said that he and the other residents pretty much said the same things to them, but upon seeing the episode air, they painted such a dismal picture, appealing to the masses with tales of sinkholes, smoking Earth and rebel citizens.
In 1962, the Centralia coal mine fire began. In 1992, all of Centralia's properties were claimed under eminent domain, and in 2002 Centralia's Zip code was revoked. A deal was eventually passed in 2013 with the remaining residents, that they can live out their lives in Centralia if they so wish, but their property will be seized when they pass.
Many of the citizens (past and current) insist that the eminent domain claim was a plot by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order to gain rights to the anthracite coal seam running beneath the town. Apparently, when the municipality can no longer operate and everyone leaves, the mineral rights would return to the control of the state.
Silent Hill
The set for the movie Silent Hill was based on Centralia, and I'm not sure I see the similarities. I mean, we saw a ton of bunnies and I don't remember many in the film. And bunnies would not overrun a poisonous town, with all the noxious gas that is said to be seeping out of the ground.
But the church. Yeah, I can see this church in Silent Hill (remember the church in the movie? Uncanny.) And the cemeteries are seemingly untouched by the sinkholes. Again... creepy.

.I guess it makes for a good story right? 

So tell me...
Have you ever been to Centralia, or even heard of it?
Do you have a similar town or story near where you live, and is there a scandal behind it?


  1. I have never heard of this place, but super creepy....I really want to go :)

    1. It's easy to get to, if you're in eastern Pennsylvania. And, if you need to go overnight, there's a bustling little town nearby called Ashland (which many Centralians moved to). Of course I found that incredibly ironic.

  2. I have heard of Centralia but never visited (I went to Bloomsburg Univ for 2 years). This was such a neat post! Thank you for sharing!

    1. I'd recommend going before more people leave and more is taken away. Since they don't house the ambulance, etc anymore, I wouldn't be surprised if the Municipal building is gone and they might start blocking the road to the fire. We weren't the only people there 4 years ago (2 other cars that day) so it might have gotten 'too' popular. Thanks, glad you liked it :)


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