I like running across pictures from the past that I never really had much of a chance to do anything with or look at much. Right after an event or trip, sometimes many of the photos get glossed over, because the memories are still so fresh and perhaps the images don’t do the experience justice. But months, or even years, later, these pictures might be seen in a different light. They jog the memory and evoke a feeling of nostalgia for the event that they portray.
Yesterday, I was looking through my digital files for some photos for another article I’m working on, and I happened across the album from a weekend last summer when some friends and I went mountain biking in Jim Thorpe, PA. On our way home, we made a spontaneous decision to stop in the ghost town of Centralia. I’d always wanted to visit, and it was only minutes off the highway that we would be driving anyway.
Centralia, PA is located in the heart of the anthracite coal region of the Appalachian Mountains. It was a small mining town, founded in 1866, with a population that hovered around 2000 residents. In May of 1962, an underground fire began that would rage for decades, rendering the community abandoned.
I didn’t really know what to expect when we visited. It was a lot more “normal” looking than I imagined. There were no plumes of smoke from the fires that are still burning, and many of the areas where buildings were torn down are grown-over. Nature is taking over, softening the image of a community leveled by disaster. A few homes still stand, as some residents refused to leave. We saw a couple locals as we were driving and walking around town, and they didn’t seem too pleased that we were there. I’m not sure I would be either, if there were a steady stream of tourists coming to gawk at my hometown.
We walked down an abandoned section of Route 61, which was closed and rerouted in 2007 because the mine fire threatened its structural integrity. The surface was becoming uneven, and some sections were caving in. Now, it’s commonly called the Graffiti Highway. Both the graffiti and the fire damage were pretty interesting to explore.
This website is a good resource for finding out more about the history of the town, both before and after the fire began.