Centralia Pennsylvania is one of my less glorious destinations, but one of the most interesting ones. I spent the day exploring a ghost town – a town that ceased to exist almost overnight due to a massive underground mine fire that is still raging today.
The fire started in 1962 next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery where trash was being burned. None of these geniuses realized that this trash fire would ignite a nearby coal seam. Once burning, multiple, unsuccessful attempts were made to extinguish the fire, all at enormous cost to the tax payers.
The town co-existed with the mine fire for some time while the government tried to find a solution to the disaster. It wasn’t until conditions became hazardous forcing the local gas station to close and a young boy falling into a sink hole that forced the government to take action.
In 1984, the government authorized the relocation of the remaining residents to nearby towns. Houses will demolished while the infrastructure (roads and sidewalks) were left in-tact. When you drive through the town, all you see is remnants of a town that used to exist.
In 2002, the US Post Office revoked Centralia’s zip code, and today there are an estimated 10 people living there (down from it’s peak of 2,400 residents in the 40’s).
While the town doesn’t exist, it is very much still a destination for tourists. The main highway had to be re-routed around the mine fire because the heat from the fire caused the road to begin to subside and “cave in.” Walking around the town, you’ll find monitoring bore holes and gas vents – all signs of the evil demon below.
In modern day movies, Silent Hill was partially inspired by this ghost town and you’ll find graffiti throughout referencing “the real silent hill.”
Odd Fellows Cemetery
The Odd Fellows Cemetery is located on the East side of Highway 61. This site was adjacent to the landfill where burning trash ignited an exposed coal seam.
The cemetery is open to the public as an unofficial tribute to a town that tragically died.
There’s not much history in Centralia aside from the coal fire. The cemetery is filled with generations of locals who made a working wage in the mines.
Old Highway 61
Old Highway 61 is pretty easy to miss. Park at the cemetery and you’ll see a curve in the road and grass berm. Walk around it and you’re now on old highway 61.
The first thing you’ll notice is graffiti EVERYWHERE. This place has turned into a haven of graffiti artists, taggers and amateurs who like to spray paint penises everywhere.
A few hundred yards down the road and you’ll begin to see surface cracks and [maybe] steam. These cracks were formed because of the intense heat of the underground mine fire eroding the road underlayment and ultimately causing the stability of the land to begin to slump.