Centralia has had a hold on people’s imagination for years, especially those interested in the odd and spooky. The town, located in Columbia County, had a population of over 2,000 residents at one time until an underground mine fire in the 1960s forced the town’s residents to evacuate decades later. By 2017 only five people lived in the area.
For those who don’t know of Centralia’s history, this video gives the in-depth full story of what happened. As well as several ghost stories surrounding the town.
But for those of you who prefer to read. This is a brief overview of what happened.
Centralia was incorporated as a borough in 1866. The anthracite coal industry was the principal employer in the community. Coal mining continued in Centralia until the 1960s, when most of the companies went out of business. Bootleg mining continued until 1982. Strip and open-pit mining is still active in the area, and there is an underground mine employing about 40 people three miles to the west.
The borough was served by two railroads, the Philadelphia and Reading and the Lehigh Valley, with the Lehigh Valley being the principal carrier. Rail service ended in 1966. The borough operated its own school district with elementary schools and a high school within its precincts. There were also two Catholic parochial schools in the borough. The borough once had seven churches, five hotels, twenty-seven saloons, two theatres, a bank, a post office, and 14 general and grocery stores. During most of the borough’s history, when coal mining activity was being conducted, the town had a population in excess of 2,000 residents. Another 500 to 600 residents lived in areas immediately adjacent to Centralia.
It is not known for certain how the fire that made Centralia essentially uninhabitable was ignited. One theory asserts that in May 1962, the Centralia Borough Council hired five members of the volunteer fire company to clean up the town landfill, located in an abandoned strip-mine pit next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery. This had been done prior to Memorial Day in previous years, when the landfill was in a different location. The firefighters, as they had in the past, set the dump on fire and let it burn for a time. Unlike in previous years, however, the fire was not extinguished correctly.
Residents soon began complaining of fowl odors and seeing smoke rising from the ground beneath their feet. It was apparent at this time that the fire had made it’s way to the coal seam that was located underneath the town.
After multiple failed attempts to extinguish the blaze. The call was made to evacuate the citizens as the town was now lost.
The local government eventually evoked eminent domain and despite several citizens, 5 as of 2017, refusing to leave their homes. Centralia effectively ceased to exist. It now only remains on few printed maps and isn’t easily found. The fire continues to burn until this day. And it’s these spooky attributes that the popular video game franchise “Silent Hill” seems to take a lot of inspiration from. Couple the backstory with reports of people seeing apparitions within the toxic fog and you have a recipe for a true nightmare experience.
As for now, Centralia, for those who can find it. Serves as a popular tourist destination. But be warned, it is not safe to visit!
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