Centralia, PA….

July 9, 2009

Centralia, PA….

Centralia, PA is the creepiest place I have ever been in my life. I’ve been wanting to make a trip there for years, but only recently got the chance when Lisa and I were driving back from NY this weekend. Centralia is a ghost town in Pennsylvania about halfway between Scranton and Harrisburg. The story behind the downfall of this town is so unbelievable, I felt like I had to witness the devastation in person.

Centralia was a coal-mining town established in 1866 and doomed to failure less than 100 years later when somebody was burning a bunch of garbage near the entrance to a coal mine, and the fire became so hot that it caught the coal underneath the town on fire. Since then, millions of dollars have been spent to put out the fire, but all attempts have been in vain. In 1981, because the ground started to collapse in random sections and the toxic gasses coming from the coal mines got to be too much, congress voted to relocate the town members and essentially condemned the entire town.

So, they re-routed rt. 61 to make a big circle around the town and bulldozed all of the houses. Since then, everything in the town except a couple of cemeteries on the outskirts has been left un-touched. Over the years, massive cracks have formed in the ground where a constant supply of toxic smoke pours out. There are different theories on the subject, but experts believe the coal vein under Centralia will keep burning for anywhere from 100 to 250 years.

So, Lisa and I decided to check it out to see if it was as bizarre and creepy as it sounded….and it was. In fact, much creepier than I anticipated. I don’t think I could adequately describe how uneasy I felt walking down long-abandoned highways with trees growing out of the asphalt right next to cracks which smoke poured from. So, we (mostly Lisa) took a bunch of photos to do the talking for us:

The mountains surrounding Centralia.
Entering the town.
Re-routed section of rt. 61 where we parked.

The only remnant of Centralia as it was is a a little memorial and this old, worn bench.

Walking down the abandoned highway. Let the creepiness begin.

There were a few other people walking around but mostly it
was just
rednecks on dirt bikes and ATVs using the
remains of the town as a playground.


The smoke didn’t turn out very well, but if you follow our gaze
there was
quite a bit of smoke pouring out of this crack.


It’s much easier to see here. The smell was awful. Like burning plastic.


Penny the friendly dog was really uneasy the whole time. We
didn’t stay that long since the ground was so hot because of
the fires
and she just clearly didn’t want to be anywhere near
the place.


Don’t know if you can tell, but there are a few people at the
bottom of the
hill walking up and I wanted a post-apocalyptic
zombie type of shot.
Lisa was kind enough to humor me.


Oh and in case you couldn’t tell, the graffiti covering
the abandoned
highway didn’t make the whole scene
any less bizarre.


This was my favorite shot. Mostly because I liked the
stark contrast of standing on the still-smoldering ashes of the
remains of a coal mine with the wind turbines behind. Although
the turbines are creepy in their own right, it was still kind
of comforting
to see the sustainable energy source off in the
distance with the devastation of the coal
mines in the forefront.

Leaving the town was unsettling as well. Mostly, because we expected the closest towns to be pretty far from Centralia….they are not. The next town over, Mt. Carmel was no more than a few hundred yards from the border of Centralia. The other unsettling thing is that there is a strip mine less than a mile from Centralia. You would think that having destroyed an entire town, the locals would want to try to avoid having the rest of the beautiful mountains surrounding them raped.

I guess that is what I find most disturbing about Centralia. The fact that so few people seem to know about it. It’s not like the Three Mile Island accident (which happened only 68 miles from Centralia in Middletown, PA) which is common knowledge. Somehow Coal accidents seem to be covered up a bit better. Like last year when a berm broke in East Tennessee and 525 million gallons of wet coal ash flooded the area completely destroying the local eco-system. The disaster was so massive in scope that scientists still don’t fully understand the possible ramifications for people down stream of the accident. And after all of that, very few people I spoke to had even heard about the spill.

That is pretty terrifying that the mainstream media doesn’t do more to cover these kinds of eco disasters. This isn’t just the kind of thing that people with an environmental conscience should care about. In TN, subsequent water tests have showed elevated levels of lead and thallium which have been directly linked to birth defects and nervous and reproductive system disorders (read more here). That effects everybody.

So, yeah, I am not a big fan of coal as an energy source. And the whole “clean coal” idea really doesn’t seem to be much different than using traditional coal burning methods. It kind of seems like a PR move by the coal companies with very little substance that politicians support because the coal companies are extremely generous to their campaigns. And even if they come up with cleaner ways of processing the coal, it still needs to be mined. And unfortunately, that means strip-mining and mountain-top removal mining, which as far as I’m concerned is the most shameful form of environmental rape that occurs in America. There is no excuse for this practice still being used today.

You can check out Centralia on wikipedia. Also, Bill Bryson discusses his trip to Centralia in “A Walk in the Woods.”

July 7, 2009

“Cutting Ties” now on iTunes….

you can get it here.