On May 27, 1962, a small fire was contained at a landfill in Centralia Pennsylvania. The town had just tossed their refuse from the year in preparation for the annual Memorial Day parade and celebrations.. What the firefighters did not know–and no one else did either–was that a coal mine underneath the landfill had caught fire. What began in 1962 has continued to today: An odyssey into government confusion, town chaos, a legal battle, and a hamlet of 2000+ turning into a ghost town of overgrown grass and only about 7 people in homes, refusing to leave even though government edicts have demanded their exit from the location..
I know a lot about Centralia.. I lived there. My family lived there. My ancestry dates back to the turn of the 20th century and Centralia was the central location where my mother and father’s side met up … This mine fire, this tragic event, turned even more tragic during my lifetime.
I was born in 1980.. Things were normal for years, my childhood was wonderful. I have those amazing and nostalgic feelings of playing on long summer afternoons under my grandmother’s grapevine–one that was there for decades.. I recall neighborhood children playing into the night, as fireflies swarmed around streetlights. I remember sleigh riding in the wintertime down alleys near my home.
Today, where my home stood, a tree now grows.. It’s amazing how large it got..
My family moved out in the mid 80s.. Along with hundreds of others. The townspeople dwindled to nothing as the government began buying out properties.
All because of a mine fire 300 feet down–one that caused people to keep canaries in their basements just in case carbon monoxide took the wrong path and ended up in their concrete fortress..
You can read up on Centralia. While I never believe WIKIPEDIA to be valid 100%, I think the Centralia page is sourced properly and has good factual information about the flow of events from 1962 through today.
Facts are facts.
But there is more than facts here..
There is emotion, there is a human toll.. there is a population of people who moved and perished.. There are people who were deeply affected by the loss of their home and heritage..
When I was a child, young and naive to what was taking place around me, I become a lover of bulldozers and wrecking equipment.. I recall vividly a day when I watched the entire block in front of my grandmother’s house be demolished by a contractor.. It was chilly, I had a blanket wrapped around me, and my amazing grandmother, now resting in peace someone far away from this reality, made me hot chocolate…
Those homes, as a child, were just buildings. Only later in life would I come to understand that they were also houses of memories.. places where cherished events happened.. Birthday parties, weddings, funerals..
Centralia is gone. Now it’s the subject of endless homemade YOUTUB`E documentaries –along with graffiti highway–and the horror movie SILENT HILL..
All that remains are a few homes and scorched earth.
There are some Facebook pages I belong to, where people sort of commune together to speak highly of the nostalgia and memories they still have..
But the town is gone.
The beginning of that end started on this in 1962..
And the rest is history.
While the town is not haunted–believe me, I would know–it’s filled with a sad mist.. A sort of palpable feel that something amazing used to happen here.
My earliest memory is being pushed in a stroller on a block that is gone, buying cupcakes from a store that has been long knocked down, and spending Christmas at a Church and house that are distant memories now overgrown with high weeds and trees.. When I was 6, my first ‘crush’ was playing hide and seek with me while the movers were loading up things from my house to take to the new abode my family purchased .. Annie hid and I never found her. One of the movers told me, ‘She went back home, bud.’
And I left, armed with only my HE-MAN action figures for protection.. endeavoring to a new world beyond the town with the underground fire.
I did not have the same memories that people older than me had.. By the time I was growing, the town was already transforming. People were already packing up and leaving. And smoke was billowing from boreholes cut in the roadways to relieve pressure..
This may sound kind of corny, but there are six minutes of a ill-fated 1980s movie called MADE IN USA with Christopher Penn that best conjures memory and nostalgia for me.. Take a look at this movie, if you have the chance.. The scenes were filmed in Centralia at the height of the mine-fire buyout and destruction of properties. And it’s these six minutes i often go back to now and then–today for example–to refine my sense of nostalgia and purposely remember all that is now non-existent.. All of those memories stay.. but there are no more houses to put them in.