Saturday, June 06, 2009

Centralia, Pennsylvania

I'm going to use this forum to write about the various abnormalities in the world. First up, the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania had a population of over 1,000 people in 1981. Recent census data puts that number at 9 in 2007. So where did all the people go in just 26 years? In 1854, Alexander Rea moved to the area and began developing roads and lots to sell. The town was known as Centreville until 1865 when the post office rejected the name Centreville as there was already a Centreville, Pennsylvania. Rea decided to rename his town to Centralia. Anthracite coal was the largest employer in the city and mining in the city took place until the 1960s when most of the businesses went out of business. In 1868, town founder Alexander Rae was murdered by the secret order of Molly Maguires who were very active in the area. While coal was be produced, Centralia always had a population in excess of 2,000.

In 1948, United Airlines Flight #624 crashed in the area killing all 4 crew members and all 39 passengers on board. This crash would be the worst plane crash pre-1950 and rescue efforts were based out of Centralia. Sometime in the early 1960s, a mine fire broke out in a nearby coal pit. There are two theories as to how the mine fire began. One is that during a yearly clean-up, firefighters did not extinguish a controlled fire set at a landfill and the burning ash seeped into the mine; another is that trashmen dumped hot ash or coal from coal burners into the pit and the city, who was supposed to cover each layer with fire-resistant concrete, fell behind in this duty. Some think the fire had always been there, it just grew.

The fires continued burning through the sixties and into the 1970s when in 1979, the citizens realized how big the problem was when the area under the streets of Centralia were revealed to be 172 degrees. In 1981, a sinkhole suddenly opened up in a backyard that a child fell into. In 1984, Congress spent $42 million for relocation efforts, most people taking the money and moving to other communities. In 1992, Pennsylvania declared eminent domain on the town and comdemned all of the buildings in the town. In 2002, the United States Post Office revoked Centralia's ZIP code.

Today, most buildings in Centralia have been demolished but it still has a small population. The fire is still burning underneath the town and the town now just looks like a field with paved roads criss-crossing it. The four cemeteries are well-kept despite one being completely surrounded by the mine fire. There are no plans to extinguish it and it's estimated that there's enough coal under the town to burn for 250 years.

A time capsule, buried in 1966, is expected to be opened in 2016.

Got a weird, mysterious or just plain strange story you want to see featured? Let me know and I will attempt to research it.