Centralia, Pennsylvania, The modern ghost town

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Johnathan Faust opened Bull’s Head Tavern in Centralia in 1841, and Centralia was incorporated as a borough in 1866. The anthracite coal industry was the principal employer in the community until the 1960s, when most of the companies went out of business. An exposed vein of coal ignited in 1962 thanks to weekly garbage burning, and as a result a huge underground coal fire commenced. Attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful, and it continued to burn throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Adverse health effects were reported by several people due to the carbon monoxide produced.

In 1979, locals became aware of the scale of the problem when a gas station reported a fuel temperature of 172 degrees Fahrenheit (77.8°C). This provoked widespread attention, boosted in 1981 when a 12-year-old almost plunged to his death as a 4 foot wide, 150 foot deep sinkhole suddenly opened beneath his feet. In 1984, $42 million was spent on relocation, with most residents moving to the nearby Mount Carmel and Ashland. In 1992, Pennsylvania condemned all houses within the borough, meaning that of the 1,000+ residents in 1981 – only a handful now remain – mainly priests. The fire still rages on, and according to experts could do so for another 250 years.

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