The best kind of travel is trips that involve visiting old friends. My good friend and former Disney roommate Mandi finally returned from her job at Disney and we made plans to reunite. Her town in central Pennsylvania was only two hours away from Philly and I made a weekend trip out of it, taking along my current roommate Trish.
Mandi had told me that she was practically the next town over from the town of Centralia, a ghost town made famous by the movie and video game Silent Hill
which I mistakenly confused with the movie the Hills Have Eyes and I proceeded to tell people that that was where I was going. Knowing little of what to expect, I was excited about the new adventure.
Centralia was once a mining town with nearly 2,000 residents. According to Roadside America, no one knows exactly what started it, but the underground mines caught fire in 1962. (Different websites expressed a few theories, but it looks like the generally accepted one was someone was carelessly burning trash near the mines.)
As the fire spread throughout the coal deposits, it became evident that the flames were not going to be extinguished and would never burn out. After many attempts by the government to put out the fire, the land became unstable, opening up sinkholes, and carbon dioxide levels rose to a dangerous amount. The area was deemed unlivable. The residents were paid to leave, but several refused and are allowed to spend the rest of their lives in what remains of the town. This is of course a very abbreviated version of the history, but I would suggest looking into it if it interests you, because Centralia is a pretty crazy place.
Most of the homes have since been torn down. We were unable to find the remains of the city, and ended up almost getting stuck on a pretty treacherous dirt road when we went exploring. I’m curious what the current residents of Centralia think of all the tourists that come their way!
The main attraction of Centralia is “Graffiti Highway,” the remains of the highway that once went through the city. The road has turned into a place for graffiti artists- whether they be artistically inclined or not – to draw whatever they feel like all over the road. It’s about a mile long, with forest on either side, and the road leads to a dead end. I was a little hesitant of this at first, but entire families were taking their own hand at spray-painting the street. Of course, this ends up being an excuse for people to draw penises all over the road, but some of the work was actually pretty cool. I also enjoyed making my own artwork and “vandalizing” the ones I didn’t like, like a confederate flag or racist commentary. Trish also took the time to change the swasticas we saw into artistic designs
We did see some smoke coming up from the ground at certain points, and the ground beneath our feet felt like it was on fire. According to Mandi, this was the first time she actually was able to see the smoke firsthand. She also says that colder days increase the chances of seeing the smoke. I tried to get a good photo of it, but sadly I failed.
Is it safe to walk around Centralia? We saw maybe 50 people on the highway, and no one fell through the ground or anything. However, there are signs telling visitors to enter at your own risk.
Basically, if you fall into a fiery pit, it is not my or anyone else’s fault that you decided to visit Centralia. Is it worth the trip? Graffiti Highway is a pretty unique place, and it was fun to be able to spray-paint public property and not commit any crimes. It was a great day trip for us and it would also work well as a stopover for another destination.