The Death of an American Ghost Town: Centralia, PA
From the information circulating the internet about Centralia, PA, you’d think it was America’s creepiest ghost town. An article posted on Cracked.com just eight months ago declares it as such right in the title.
The blog ‘Damn Interesting’ details the city’s “smoldering smoldering ruins” and “ominous warning signs,” while ‘Uncovering PA’ describes the “scorched earth” as resembling a “blockbuster movie set.” ‘Destination America’ declares it “one of the spookiest places on Earth”
They all tell the same story, and they can all suck it. This place is bullshit.
A lot of the lore is true, and some of it is fairly macabre. Yes, a mine exploded under this once-blossoming town, causing the ground to literally split and draining Centralia’s population from over a thousand down to about six. The government has pretty much wiped the place off the map, even revoking the zip code in 2002. And sure, sometime in the early 80s the ground actually opened up and nearly swallowed a kid, but the little fucker got lucky and pulled himself to safety on some tree roots. In fact, no one died as a result of any of this nonsense, so if there are phantasms infesting this ‘ghost town’ it’s just because they got lost in the thick Pennsylvania boondocks like anyone else.
Centralia has been the subject of a ‘Ripley’s’ feature and dozens of Youtube videos, and served as the setting for a Dean Koontz novel. Most famously, it was the inspiration for the titular town in the popular Silent Hill video game and movie franchise, making it a popular destination for people into small-town spooks. Unfortunately for those who actually make it there, Centralia is mostly just a plot of goddamn dirt.
I only found out about the place three weeks before my visit, but all the talk online had me piqued to say the least. In the middle of a nine-hour drive from New York City to Columbus, OH, a forty-minute detour to a potential Hell portal seemed a no-brainer. That quickly became a three-hour diversion of it’s own as we circled the area trying to locate the something grim. Turns out we were already there, but everything has apparently turned to ash and dust in the last few months.
Thanks to the US government, addresses no longer exist on this patch of the planet so it takes some serious hunting to find anything noteworthy, and even then it’s quite underwhelming. Sidewalks have grown over with weeds, the slabs a bit more craggy and protuberant than anything in a major city but not completely unusual for anywhere this far out in the backwoods. The main roads, once burst open from the heat like an overcooked frankfurter, are now freshly paved and there was no sign of the toxic smoke or noxious sulfur smell said to cover the area like a carcinogenic quilt.
The first sign of anything out of the ordinary was the infamous ‘Graffiti Highway’ a long stretch of abandoned road covered almost entirely in messages from past visitors. The spray-painted text turned out to be a lot less scary and Satanic than I had hoped, mostly sophomoric and occasionally racist. Plenty of contact numbers for anyone looking for a good blowjob, but that’s not what I came for.
Few buildings still stand, a couple of neglected residences and a small memorial shrine just to make sure the whole history of the place isn’t lost to the uncompromising claws of time. The most interesting edifice is a Ukrainian Catholic church, well kept and hidden high up in the densely wooded hills. It’s far from the spookiest I’ve ever come across, and in fact still hosts a regular service more than a century after it’s construction. It’s actually pretty nice, I’d even consider attending church here if I was ever desperate enough to do something idiotic like that.
Even the infamous fire itself, said to be able to blaze for up to 250 years, seems to have extinguished in less than a quarter of that time. Maybe it was our fault for going on a muggy Monday afternoon in June, perhaps on some foggy October night one could catch a glimpse of something ghastly in this mecca for the morose. Or perhaps the spirits that once possessed this real-life Silent Hill are as faded as the flames that once burned inside it.
I don’t think I’ll bother going back to find out.