Centralia, PA: The town that no longer exists.

Centralia was a coal mining community in eastern Pennsylvania. In 1962 a coal seam was ignited by burning waste in the town’s dump. From then on, fissures began to develop, pouring out smoke and carbon monoxide gas. The town remained inhabited through the 1970’s while the fire continued to burn. In 1981, a twelve-year-old boy was nearly killed when his grandmother’s lawn suddenly collapsed and he fell into a sinkhole.

His brush with death proved that the fire could no longer be ignored, and the residents were bought out of their homes and relocated. Whole blocks of vacant houses were bulldozed. A few holdouts remained, but lost an eminent domain lawsuit that would have granted them rights to stay in Centralia. Despite this, there are still a handful of residents that occupy their homes.

I first heard of Centralia from a friend, and I was captivated by the vision of a town wiped off the map. There is something particularly apocalyptic about the toxic gas, empty streets and smoking fissures.

I visited Centralia on Labor Day weekend, which turned out to be a bad time to cultivate a feeling of desertion and post-apocalyptic waste because the place was crawling with families that piled out of minivans, groups of teenagers who roamed, possibly stoned, through the streets, and people riding obnoxious motorcycles.

It was still cool to check the place out, though. The highlight was the section of the road going into town that was closed because the road developed large smoldering cracks. Now the road is a canvas for juvenile graffiti and anatomical diagrams. Lots of ‘So-and-so is a fag/slut/etc’ and unoriginal satanic iconography. The road has become a drag strip for all sorts of off-road vehicles, which I would say really helps lend a “Mad Max” vibe to the place.

From Centralia, PA
From Centralia, PA
From Centralia, PA
From Centralia, PA
From Centralia, PA
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