When I first got home from living in Germany, I’m embarrassed to say that I spent days and days sitting in my house, sulking and complaining about what a cultural wasteland this country was, and how there was no reason to go anywhere until my next trip abroad. Eventually, the act wasn’t cute anymore, my family was getting tired of me sitting around all the time, and I was getting restless. So I started researching interesting things I might be able to find in Pennsylvania. To my surprise, this state is packed with unusual, awesome things that you won’t find anywhere else. Enter Centralia. It was 3:30 in the morning, and I was wide awake as usual. There was no debating or deciding to be done. I jumped in the car and headed out.
The story is simple – A once booming coal town in central Pennsylvania, Centralia has since become a real-life manifestation of what the apocalypse is probably (and hopefully) going to look like, whenever the earth chooses to suffer it. The story goes that a coal miner (or coal miners, can’t just blame one dude) accidentally started a fire one night near the mines. I’d make up an awesome story about how it happened, but I’d just be lying and no one would trust me anymore. Anyway, under normal circumstances, a fire this small wouldn’t be a problem. A fire in a town made entirely of a substance people burn to keep themselves warm, however, and what you have is a 48-year underground coal fire with no intentions of stopping anytime in the foreseeable future, and a place that is well worth exploring.
Centralia is nearly abandoned, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s very easy to miss. The land is hot to the touch, even in the winter, and heavy amounts of smoke bellow constantly out of the ground.
It’s not a place you’d think the residents would want to stick around in. But the few residents that do still live there are still putting up a fight to keep their land, even 48 years later. Admirable, but when you’re waking up breathing toxic smoke every morning, slowly dying of inevitable asphyxiation, you’ve gotta question the sanity (and intentions) of these people.
It wasn’t just the land directly above the mine that was affected, however. A huge stretch of route 61 had to be rerouted around the town, but the decaying remains of the old route 61 still remain. The road is in terrible shape, cracked and warped by the rising smoke traveling to the surface from beneath the earth. That said, 48 years later, it’s still in much better condition than any of the roads in Pittsburgh. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl should probably stop drinking with the residents and start working for them. But that’s another story for another day.
The stretch loops almost two miles and completely surrounds the Centralia mines. This is a good time to mention that I arrived there at 6 in the morning, and the only other person within 15 miles of Centralia was walking on the road about 1000 feet behind me, sporting an out of season Hawaiian shirt and a worrying grimace on his face. I’m thankful I brought one of my parent’s steak knives, just in case.
Anyway, the point of this little tale is that Centralia is one of a very few reasons why Southeast Pennsylvania is worth checking out (the others obviously being the Utz Potato Chip Factory and the Shoe House in Hellam, PA). Bring a steak knife just in case, don’t look the people driving past you in the eye (they always think you’re having car trouble. It’s nice that they care, but then they want to get into a conversation with you, etc. there’s no time for that), and spend a lot of time exploring. The cool stuff is hard to find.
OH. One more item to consider – please bring some red spray paint (I wish I would have). The amount of spelling and grammatical errors in the graffiti on old route 61 is astounding (and a testament to the high quality education offered in Eastern Pennsylvania). Examples follow.
Alright, I think that’s about it! If you need directions or suggestions, let me know! Hope you enjoyed! Oh, one more important thing.
Paul, I don’t know who you are or where you are, but somebody wanted you to know. That sucks, man.
Update: Read about a trip back to Centralia to edit, judge and grade these mistakes: http://www.yeahhedid.com/?p=197