Centralia – A Ghost Town?
Polcovich, Timko, Maddox, McPeak, Shemonski, Hoskie, Wasil Fedock, Chudeovich, Zaluskex, Baroway, Oryniack, Kreptock, Ryan, Curran, Brennan, Callahan, Kane, Wyne, Lavelle, McGinlley, McDonnell, Conrey, Lagaz, McHale, O’Donnell, Bosche, Horan, Mumford, McCullion…
Gravestones with Russian letters, Irish and Polish names and orthodoxies crosses full the old and dessert cemeteries. A feeling of longing, melancholy and memory floats above the graves, touched by the distant sound of the orthodox church bells from the top of the hill. Small columns of smoke come out of the ground in a threatening dance as a constant reminder that death and destruction are always there and stay forever.
The cemeteries population exceeds the current one of the town. There are ten people living in the borough of Centralia, in the Columbia County of Southern Pennsylvania.
The reason of all this abrupt and sad facts took place in 1962, when an exposed vein of coal ignited due to the standard policy of burning garbage on a weekly basis in the borough landfill in an abandoned mine pit*. The fire has continued since then and is burning four hundred acres of an underground full of coal that will fuel it for 250 more years*.
Several attempts were managed and millions of dollars were invested in trying to stop the fire. But the neighbors moved, houses were demolished and in 1992 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania claimed eminent domain on the territory. Centralia also lost its ZIP code in 2002; its remaining residents now have to use the one from the nearby borough of Ashland. It has indeed become a ghost town and, actually, this people who refuse leaving their homes receive several curious visitors who search for a haunted town surrounded by a dense fog and full of creepy houses and scary ruins. But far away from that, the truth is not that hair-raising. As a matter of fact, except the distant fields were the smoke burns the earth, it is a nice town to live. Its citizens and actual mayor, John Lokitis, have done several efforts trying to rebuild the borough.
The time capsule: the future of Centralia
The death people that now feed the burning underground once habited this place. They are the past and the present witnesses of Centralia, but maybe this one day the hopes and the struggle of its living citizens will build a new future without their voices calling from the ground. A future that is possible and doesn’t have any ghosts stories in it.
Pictures by Julia Cámara Calvo
*Information from Wikipedia.
The warning signal at the abandoned portion of route 61, where large cracks and smoke made it impossible and very dangerous to drive, even walk.
“The Government made a mistake”, the young mayor says. The media scared the people and they started moving. Forty years after, the danger is no longer as worrying as it used to be, but not even the letters mayor Lokitis sent to the Government have made any positive response. “We’ll wait for the next one (Government)”, a hopeful Lokitis says. Meanwhile, he will not move. Actually, he is the most evident prove that, among the death and old population, there is still future in younger generations.
In 2016 the current and former residents are expected to open a time capsule buried in 1966. They will then celebrate the 200 anniversary of Centralia as a borough.
Maybe then the missing houses could be rebuilt again. Maybe then the former residents could come back not just for visiting the cemetery. Maybe then Centralia could no longer be a creepy place to inspire ghosts and Halloween stories, but a new town where the toxic smoke is no longer part of the landscape.
Just a few houses remain, but there is evidence of former buildings demolished after the fire.
Columns of toxic smoke arise from hills of coal and garbage.
Under them, the fire stills burning…
The borough of Centralia, first called Centreville, was founded in 1841. The Coal & Iron Company, established in 1854, stopped its activity in the 60’s. The two railroads were closed in 1966. The population has fallen from one thousand in the early 80’s to ten in 2007. Route 61 was rerouted around a now abandoned portion full of deathly paintings and signs warning of injury, death, and hell due to the sinkholes and huge cracks in the pavement, from where smoke is still coming out.
The entrance of the small orthodox cemetery,
which has a larger population than the town per se.
Inspiration of horror stories -as the one from the video-game (1999) and its movie adaptation (2003) Silent Hill-, once home of the Irish secret organization “The Molly Maguires”, responsible for multiple crimes, robberies and murders (among them, the town founder’s one, whose murderers were convicted and hanged in Bloomsburg in 1878), the sinister soul of Centralia has more to do with its story than with the town per se.
At first sight you couldn’t tell what is wrong in this place. Situated in a beautiful enclave, surrounded by colorful and luxuriant forests, the peace and stillness this place inspires is somehow broken by isolation. Between the cemeteries where the first inhabitants of the borough now rest and the remaining houses where the few current citizens live, there is a dark dead field covered by garbage and the coal that once make this town rich.
The large extension is covered by random columns of a grey slow smoke coming from hidden slots in the floor. Here, the carbon monoxide can still be smelt and gives evidence of the truth: the ground underneath the mysterious smoke is burning. Burning indefinitely through the coal mine tunnels that fill the underground.