Abandoned Pennsylvania: Centralia review


Katey Ladika

As Halloween approaches, thrill seekers are hitting the road with a plan to find the creepiest spots in their local states including us here in Moon Township. The adventurous look to Google as their source of information and find the same city popping up time and time again. That is the infamous Centralia, Pennsylvania.

Located just over four hours east of Moon, Centralia is viewed as a modern day ghost town. As the story goes, in 1962 an underground coal vein accidentally caught fire causing toxic emissions that lead to carbon monoxide poisoning and even asphyxiation. With the health of the residents in mind, the U.S. Government quickly stepped in and evacuated the city. Though a few homeowners decided to push their luck and stay, Centralia is now desolate and abandoned. The hair-rising tales associated with it have even become inspiration for the popular video game series, “Silent Hill,” but is Centralia as scary as visitors claim?

To me, the simple answer is no.

Centraila Picture 1
Photo credit: Katey Ladika

After taking the road trip myself, I was sadly disappointed in the lack of, well, anything that allowed a glimpse into the town’s troubled past. What was once a plethora of dilapidated buildings that stood as the bones of a town, is now forest land. In fact, a visitor could drive the grid of roads and not see one forgotten remnant of the residents who lived there only 50 years ago–except the abandoned section of old Route 61.

Route 61, or the newly termed “Graffiti Highway,” is probably the most predominant feature of Centralia. This stretch of roadway is covered in cracks, crevices, rifts and, most importantly, spray paint. Visitors have taken it upon themselves to graffiti almost every inch of the unused highway, which, in theory, would be amazing… except for the fact that the majority of “artwork” is of poorly drawn male genitalia.

Centraila Picture 3
Photo credit: Katey Ladika

What draws a majority of people to visit is the anticipation of catching a glimpse of a burning fire or smoking terrain, although, if that is your only reason for traveling there, you will be sadly disappointed. The toxic smoke that is so associated with Centralia is nonexistent at the present time. Even the 4 foot deep cracks along the “Graffiti Highway” give no inclination of the burning fires beneath. It’s actually quite odd that thousands of tons of coal are currently burning under your feet, yet there isn’t a hint of smoky aroma in the air. Frankly, there is no sign of the fire in the least, except a few warning signs and a ventilation pipe.

As I spent more time there, I found that using the term “abandoned” really didn’t fit. Not only were there numerous pre-teens skateboarding and spray painting over every piece of soggy sod, but the “locals” from the town next door used the space as gun ranges and go-kart tracks. While I was photographing the landscape for myself, I even had one of the elderly go-kart drivers’ stop and yell at me for coming, claiming, “The Fire’s gone!”

Centraila Picture 2
Photo credit: Katey Ladika

Another key aspect to Centralia is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church that sits perched atop the city–overlooking the lush woodlands that surround it. This church also was cloaked in the idea that it was haunted and creepy, but it is very beautiful, proving, yet again, that the horrific speculation associated with the town is just not true.

If you’re looking for a fear-fueled exploration for your Halloween night, don’t spend your time nor gas money on a road trip to Centralia unless you’d like being run down by go-kart drivers or dodging middle schoolers on skateboards. As an adventurer myself, I give Centralia two thumbs down.