I can honestly say I have been to Hell and back. In 2005, I took a Caribbean cruise with my family and one of the day tours we took at a stop in the Grand Caymans was the town of Hell. It is basically a tourist attraction named for the razor-sharp rock formation that looks like what Satan’s fiery den can be imagined to look when the sun casts a reddish hue on the rocks. Basically, we ate ice cream and mailed post cards from Hell’s post office so our friends and family could say the received post cards from Hell. But this quaint little rest stop in the Grand Cayman is simply a way to build more memoires on a Caribbean cruise. The real Hell on Earth is much closer to home. You cannot experience Hell on Earth until and unless you visit Centralia, Pennsylvania.
Razor sharp rock formations found in the town of Hell, Grand Caymans. They take on a reddish glow like the Devil’s den when the sun hits them just right.
I’ll give you a disclaimer, I personally have not visited Centralia and quite frankly, I am a little deterred from doing such as the toxic gases emanate from the ground and the ground can give way and suck you down to your death at any time. To anyone who visits Centralia, it could be the last place you go and the last thing you do. Much of what I base this is another blogger who actually made the trip. I was curious about what the lowest zip code in the nation is and I had learned that Centralia, PA had their zip code revoked. The once thriving coal-mining town has been reduced to a borough of Ashland, PA and mail to any remaining Centralia resident must now be addressed GENERAL DELIVERY, ASHLAND, PA 17921 for what’s left of the Centralia fire department to pick up and deliver to those die-hards. (The town applied for zip code 00000 and can be used for packages handled by UPS or Fedex).The pictures alone freak me out and make me think hard of what the Books of Revelations have in-store for us. Was what happened in Centralia a living harbinger for the rest of us Americans to pay heed?
Pennsylvania State Road 61 aka Locust Street, Centralia, PA circa 1959, when it was a town with people and local businesses such a store, a saloon, and a gas station, just down the hill known as Silent Hill en route to the residential neighborhoods. Once a booming mining town for anthracite coal.
The town was founded in 1866 as a coal-mining town and had close to 1000 residents. On May 27, 1962, in attempt to clean up for a Memorial Day parade (before the Monday Holiday Bill in 1973, Memorial Day formerly Decoration Day was celebrated on May 30th regardless of day of the week), trash was hauled to a landfill on the west side and set on fire (before recycling and the environmentalist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, incineration was the most popular way to get rid of rubbish). The landfill dump was very close to an abandoned mine and the fire from the dump seeped underground and ignited some anthracite coal below the ground and started a chain reaction resulting in an underground fire that to this day, burns below the entire town of Centralia and is expected to continue to burn for another 250 years. While anthracite coal is harder to ignite then regular black coal, once ignited, it is even harder to extinguish.
Abandoned houses in Centralia when they were still standing.
When you think of the term ghost town, this is what you usually imagine. Abandoned buildings, houses, general stores, saloons, sheriff’s offices and jails, railroad stations, etc. still intact as though the town could still function if the people returned and the eerie feeling of ghosts haunting the place trying to scare you out of their valhallas and let them rest in peace. Centralia is now the exact opposite; most of the buildings, all of the town center is gone, razed over the last 30-40 years, and yet some people, seven (7) to be exact, still live in Centralia. This makes it even eerier.
What the main drag looks like now with no buildings and hot steam rising on ground so hot it will light a match on contact. Some of the tree trunks are bleached white in color due to the hydrogen sulfide and other toxic gases.
What Route 61 looks like now. A big crack in the middle as heat below the groundcaused the pavement to shift. Adolescents typically spray paint graffiti along what is left of the pavement. Photo courtesy of Jason Frank Rotherberg.
When you think of Hell and try to imagine what it would look like based on how described by a priest or minister at a Sunday sermon you once attended, you think of people crying, mashing of teeth, and being completely engulfed in flames 4000oF and being tortured by Satan for eternity. Man-o-man am I glad I got saved and spend a day, let alone an eternity, in a place described by those God-fearing preachers. But Centralia is more of a Purgatorial hell with the flames below, the cellars of the remaining residents’ homes so warm furnaces are not required for winter heat, and the appearance of eternal loneliness of a place abandoned. Taking a trip through Centralia, even through pictures, and you have a working preview of Armageddon.
Vent pipes have been installed to relieve the town of toxic gases and prevent it from getting so hot below ground that would cause the town to be sucked under like the world’s largest sinkhole in history.
I mentioned seven people still live here. Many people left in the mid 1960s and 1970s but there were still close to 100 people there in 1981, when a young boy was visiting his grandparents, among the last of the hardy Centralians, and almost fell into a sinkhole in the backyard. With the carbon dioxide smoke bellowing out from this hole, the boy would have died if it weren’t for the fact that another child was able to pull him out just in time. The smoke from the sinkhole was so thick and dense, it could be seen miles away from drivers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. That same year, the town’s last mayor who lived above the gas station died when overcome by toxic gas from a vent pipe nearby in his sleep. The state of Pennsylvania decided Centralia has become uninhabitable and ordered an evacuation of all residents. By 1984, most of the remaining residents did leave, but a few insisted on staying upset by the state’s possible ulterior motive. The state proposed to dig a huge trench and pump mega-gallons of water into the trench in a last-ditch effort to put out the fire at the cost of $660 Million with no guarantee. The remaining residents believed that the state no longer cared about Centralia but after the fire was out, excavate all the remaining coal and make huge profits with no intention to replenish the strip-mined land because the town was dead. A court settlement resulted in the remaining residents being allowed to live out their lives in Centralia and once the last member of a certain household is dead, the house will be immediately bulldozed. Once the last resident is dead, the town will be completely condemned and closed off.
The sinkhole Todd Dombrosky fell into and would have died if another child wasn’t there to pull him out.
Signage warning people not to enter Centrailia.
A nasty letter to Governor Corbett by remaining Centralia residents on how the state government makes draconian budget cuts but spends money to force out remaining residents. As the late Speaker Thomas Patrick O’Neill once said—all politics is local.
The real mystery to me is why these seven people insist on staying in a place that is beyond a ghost town, but an entrance to Hell. They have all lived in Centralia before that fatal day on May 27, 1962 and have family histories dating back almost a century before. They cannot drive anywhere. Mail, food, and supplies have to be picked up and delivered by the fire department. They won the right to stay in their homes but they are trapped in their homes. They almost never leave town and if they do, the fire department has to escort them out and back in as all roads leading into Centralia are blocked off. Why not live somewhere else? Perhaps they are protesting the government’s plan for the coal and want to make them put it off as long as possible—a strange type of sacrifice. Perhaps they fact that they are exempt from paying any taxes of any kind for the rest of their lives. Or perhaps they supported the dump fire to clean up the town and feel they should remain in this Hell on Earth to pay for their sins.
Today, all that remains standing are the homes the seven people still reside, a general store used as a supply hut, and the St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, now boarded up, but a religious shrine to the town that once was.
St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, the final vestige of God’s omnipresence in Centralia, PA. Boarded up and not used by the remaining seven residents as they have no priest.
One of the last inhabited homes in Centralia. Brick buttresses had to be erected on both sides to ensure it will withstand as it is no longer stable on its foundation. Christmas and other lawn decorations that nobody really sees, a rusted out mailbox not used since mail has to be brought in by the fire department, and a red fire hydrant. You think there is nothing wrong until you go in the backyard and look straight ahead at the creepy steam rising from the ground.
The Oddfellows Cemetery where many deceased Centralians are buried. An eerie place as smoke rises from the tombstones at times symbolic of the death of Centralia. Some flags placed on gravesites still wave as little to nobody visits these graves.
A time capsule was buried in 1966 after the town’s 100th birthday. Families of relocated and departed Centralia residents will be returning on May 27, 2016 to open the capsule after 50 years. Coal mining equipment, books, oil lamps, and other family heir looms are in this capsule.
I see Centralia as a time capsule of the American Dream from the time it was born to the time became unimportant to most Americans. Centralia is a microcosm of what the entire world can become if we are not careful. We need to educate a generation to survive limited government intervention, take it upon themselves to respect Mother Earth and be its good stewards, and live purpose-driven lives without government entitlements. The coming of Christ or any messiah you may believe in is imminent, guaranteed, and I hope lessons can be learned by studying Centralia, PA.