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A modern day Ghost Town

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Author Topic: A modern day Ghost Town  (Read 4455 times)
Lisa Wolfe
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« on: June 19, 2009, 01:52:17 am »

Centralia, PA


July 31, 2007 ó Centralia, PA, has no multi-screen movie theater.  Centralia, PA, has no fast food restaurants.  Centralia, PA, has no downtown area.  Centralia, PA, doesnít even have a zip code.  What Centralia does have, though, is a 400-acre-and-growing underground coal fire directly beneath it that has burned for 45 years and will burn for a few hundred more. Your town sucks by comparison.

The perennially burning ghost town of Centralia is definitely in the upper echelon of American oddities.  Why?  Because itís a perennially burning ghost town, naturally.  Of course, it doesnít have the only underground coal fire in the world, nor does it have the largest or the oldest.  But it does have the spookiest story, I think.  Plus itís within relatively easy commuting distance for me, so that gives it a leg up as far as Iím concerned.

Hereís how it happened.  The year was 1962 and, as so many of my own personal anecdotes start, some people were burning trash.  Itís a perfectly acceptable practice.  However, in this instance, they were burning the trash near what almost every article on the topic refers to as an ďexposed coal seam.Ē  I donít know much about mining, but that definitely sounds like something that I donít want to set on fire (and thatís a very small list for me).  Which is, of course, what happened.  The coal seam turned out to be Journey to the Center of the Earth deep, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman huge, and The Land that Time Forgot inaccessible.  The underground fire caused sink holes to gape; roads to heave and crack; deadly gases and smoke to waft like ghost armies, and it endangered the lives of many pets, children, and the elderly.  The federal government had to eventually permanently evacuate the town.  Mostly, anyway.  A few recalcitrants wouldnít move, opting instead to brave the danger zone and invent the usual conspiracy theories.  Much of the town was razed.  The fire continued to burn, but now it burns triumphantly.

A few decades later, enter me.  I came across this oddity in an absolutely embarrassing way.  Movies.  I hate when I learn about the existence of something because a movie was made about it.  Makes me feel late to the party.  And Iíve pretty much learned everything I know from movies, so you do the math.  Anyway, two movies in particular used the idea of Centralia as a framework to hang their stories on: Nothing But Trouble (1991) and Silent Hill (2006).  And I name them not because you should see them, but solely so that I can make an as-yet-to-be-determined Digital Underground reference later.

So a foray to Centralia has been percolating in the coffee maker of my mind for a while.  And in that aforementioned mind of mine, I had imagined Centralia to be a place awash in fogs of thick, deadly vapors; porcupined with warning signs; andómuch like my Aunt Eleanorócompletely inhospitable to visitors.  I envisioned mutated animals, barbed wire, and EPA agents in bright yellow HAZMAT suits.  I had planned on cobbling a map together from various arcane and semi-trustworthy Internet sites, painting my face black, donning one of those paper filter masks that were all the rage in China a few years back, dictating my last will and testament, and violating softly enforced trespassing laws.
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