Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day, as we all know, and to celebrate this day in honor of one of America's greatest citizens, Scott, Miss Luongo, Creepy Christy and I got up unnaturally early to drive two and a half hours or so to Centralia, Pennsylvania. We'd been up the night before sharing a tipple of the last of Creepy Christy's New Year's absinthe, and that night we all had dreams, too. Absinthe often causes some off-the-hook dreams, and waking up with images of 30 rampaging tornadoes and two-legged puppies dancing in my head was a hell of a way to start this day. Not quite the same type of dream MLK was talking about, but I had to start this post somewhere.
Centralia, for those few out there who haven't heard of it by now, is a Ghost Town (well, mostly) not far from Hazleton, PA, and it's an ode to it's allure that all four of us were able to actually get up and be on the road by 9:30 am to go see it. It is the inspiration for the video game and subsequent horror film known as 'Silent Hill'. It was once a thriving coal mining town, until one day in 1962, some iidjit set fire to a pile of trash in a poorly located landfill... right on top of an exposed vein of anthracite coal. Well, anthracite coal is highly flammable, and fwooom! The vein lit up and started a massive underground coal fire. Over the next couple of years, after failed attempts at putting the fire out, things for the town started looking bleak... the extent of the problem began to be understood in the 70s when a gas-station owner inserted a stick into one of his underground tanks to check the fuel level. When he withdrew it, it seemed hot, so he lowered a thermometer down on a string and discovered that the temperature of the gasoline in the tank was at a dangerous 180 degrees Fahrenheit! Well, long story short, the fire is still burning today. Most of the residents have died or left town long ago, but there are still some people living there; the Wikipedia Centralia entry lists the population of Centralia at 12, making it the least populated municipality in Pennsylvania. Their houses seem to mostly be the only buildings left standing. We saw streets overgrown by grass leading nowhere, and two or three houses.
I don't know if this is true of all of the remaining Centralia residents, but the Wikipedia entry states that the reason people refuse to leave, despite the health hazards of remaining, is that they believe that the government wants to clear the town so that they can claim the rights to Centralia coal, which was at one point valued in the billions of dollars. They say that there is enough coal underground to keep the fires burning for another 250 years...
There is a section of PA Route 61 that runs right into town which has been blocked off by large mounds of dirt and this sign:
Of course we ignored the sign completely and walked the length of what is locally referred to as the "Highway to Hell". I only know this because of all of the graffiti painted on the abandoned stretch of highway, but it's a moniker that seems to fit.
The reason the road is blocked is that the underground fires have caused severe weakening of the ground, and sinkholes have been appearing all over town. Some pretty large cracks, holes, and other warpage have appeared along Ghost Highway 61 as a result, with smoke and noxious gasses continuously pouring out of them giving the whole thing a deliciously spooky atmosphere.
The blocked section of 61 terminates right on the outskirts of Centralia, where there is an old town graveyard. It was sufficiently foggy, gassy, and iconic looking enough that we all took far too many pictures of decrepit old tombstones and eerie trees fading into the mist.
On the other side of the graveyard is an area that appears to be a landfill, and there are vents all over the place there spewing crazy amounts of coalsmoke and sulfur. After about 5 minutes there, poor Miss Luongo had to leave because the fumes were so noxious. Scott, Creepy, and I stayed far too much longer, killing our lungs so we could take a stupid amount of photos of smoke coming up out of the ground.
I've uploaded all of the day's pictures on my smugmug page in my Centralia, Pennsylvania gallery, and some of them are pretty cool, though they're all along the lines of the ones I've posted here.
For further reading, I highly suggest the wikipedia page already mentioned, as well as the entry over at Damn Interesting, and this page also.
Finally, in honor of my newfound superhero-like ability to upload my videos onto YouTube and post them here, I leave you with my pièce de résistance, which I call 'Smoking Crack'.