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Spooky Places: Centralia, Pennsylvania

Updated on May 17, 2015

Once a thriving coal mining town, Centralia, Pennsylvania is now virtually abandoned

A population of over 1000 people has been reduced to 10 people over the last twenty years.

What happened in this town that caused almost everyone to flee, leaving behind a ghost town, a shadow of the community it once was?

Centralia's Greek Catholic Church Photo by: Craven570

What happened to Centralia?

One day a gas station owner was checking the amount of gasoline in an underground tank using a dipstick. When the dipstick was removed, he noticed that it seemed very hot. He then lowered a thermometer, which was found to read 172 degrees Fahrenheit. These events revealed the deeper problem.

Centralia was on fire.

Below the bustle of Centralia's grocery stores, churches, bars and homes. Below the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, below everything, in Centralia's old abandoned mine, a fire had been burning for years.

How did Centralia's fire start?

There are some unknowns about how the Centralia fire started. Perhaps it was a combination of things, a series of events that, each taken by themselves, would have meant nothing.

The most commonly cited theory is that the cities garbage, long collected and burned at the landfill, was not fully extinguished this year. Firefighters had gathered and burned garbage every year at a different location, on memorial day.

This year, the landfill had been moved to a different location, an old, abandoned mining pit. The belief is that the fire wound its way down the shaft to find a coal vein. Once it made its home in the coal vein, nothing could have stopped it from spreading.

The events of the gas station would happen 20 years later. The fire had been burning underneath the surface the whole time. Things came to a head when, in 1981 a young boy was suddenly swallowed up when the earth opened up beneath him in his very own backyard. The hole was 150 feet deep. He was narrowly saved by his cousin, who was able to pull him to safety. Tests would later indicate that the hot steam had lethal levels of carbon monoxide.

Photo: US Bureau of Mines, small portion of Centralia mine fire, 1969

Repercussions of the Centralia Coal Fire

Even now, nearly 50 years after the fire started, it rages on. Hot gases, steam, and carbon monoxide seep up from the ground. The fire has spread to nearby Byrnesville, which is now also abandoned. The ground is hot to the touch.

Some estimates report that Centralia will burn for 250 more years.

Photo by: Mredden

Source: Centralia, PA @ wikipedia

Old Route 61 has opened up like the underworld is trying to swallow it whole. A new route 61 has been built to replace it.

The governor of Pennsylvania invoked imminent domain to evict the remaining residents.

Most of the town has been demolished. 5 homes contain the remaining holdouts, which number less than 10.

On August 28, 2011, the last church in Centralia (pictured at the beginning of this article), celebrated 100 years of worship. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church still opens its doors today.

The 4 cemeteries remain in remarkable condition, despite closeness of the fire. Gases and steam rise near and from the inside of one, which is located on an otherwise peaceful, quiet hill.

Centralia's church, hill, and eerie, abandoned buildings became the setting for disturbing horror movie, Silent Hill.

Watch a firsthand account of how Centralia looks today, below.

Photo by: Lyndi and Jason

A first-hand look of how Centralia looks today.

One of America's worst places to live - Won't you leave a comment?

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    • shellys-space profile image

      Shelly Sellers 

      5 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      Never heard this story before about the coal fire in Centralia, Pennsylvania.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Wow, truly creepy!

    • sierradawn lm profile image

      sierradawn lm 

      5 years ago

      What an interesting but sad demise of a city!

    • qikey1 lm profile image

      qikey1 lm 

      5 years ago

      I would LOVE to check this place out! What an interesting story!

    • KamalaEmbroidery profile image


      5 years ago

      Too bad, poor town. Another disaster!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Very interesting story of the town.

    • Grifts profile imageAUTHOR

      Devin Gustus 

      5 years ago

      @CaztyBon: Thanks very much! I am very glad you stopped by!

      I would certainly like to visit Centralia, but I would never want to live there.

    • CaztyBon profile image


      5 years ago

      Wow I feel for the people that lived in the town. Nice story on the town. I really like your writings!!

    • profile image


      5 years ago


    • Magpie Feathers profile image

      Magpie Feathers 

      5 years ago


    • sweetpressuk profile image


      5 years ago

      Time for me to visit I think.

    • nickylv profile image


      5 years ago

      I had heard about this, Great story. Thanks for telling it.

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 

      5 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Interesting and mysterious!

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 

      5 years ago

      Fascinating story. I used to live in PA and need to visit a map to see where Centralia is located. In Alabama, we have a lot of coal mines and I imagine this spooky kind of thing could happen here.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      @LoriBeninger: The church photo is a perfect setting for a horror movie.

      It's a place you wouldn't want to visit at night.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      very cool. I did not know this place exist.

    • LoriBeninger profile image


      5 years ago

      Whoa! Spooky is right.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Wow, it's like a sad drama movie come true. I never think of places like this existing. Thanks for sharing this story with us.

    • E Andrew Brandon profile image

      Ean Brandon 

      5 years ago from United States

      So crazy to see a place like this!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      It's always amazing how modern day settlements can become ruins. Makes you wonder if the ancient ruins discovered in recent years had the same fate, that would be spooky..

    • Cloudspotting profile image


      5 years ago

      Troublesome..good lens.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Wow. Interesting but very sad. And that fire - what a waste of coal and how polluting!

    • Grifts profile imageAUTHOR

      Devin Gustus 

      5 years ago

      @rhubarba: Thanks for stopping by!

    • rosaceasufferer profile image


      5 years ago


    • mindtrip88 profile image


      5 years ago

      I love the creepy places that look like Silent Hill.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Is it the true story behind silent hill?

    • KerryVor profile image

      Kerry Voronoff 

      5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Wow, what an amazing story and to think, it's true. Creepy.

    • notsuperstitious1 profile image

      Edith Rose 

      5 years ago from Canada

      Heard about it, but did not know the whole story. Nice read

    • DawnRae64 profile image


      5 years ago from Maryland, USA

      I'm new to squidoo. But i am finding many lenses that are interesting and fun. This is one of those. thank you.

    • rhubarba profile image


      5 years ago

      Ooooh... good read!

    • stuartym91 profile image


      5 years ago

      That's Crazy

    • Grifts profile imageAUTHOR

      Devin Gustus 

      5 years ago

      @Coffee-Break: It is amazing that it is going. Early on maybe it would have worked to cut off the oxygen supply, but there were many shafts full of oxygen. Now the fire self-ventilates.

      As far as being an experiment, I don't believe (hope?) they would put a huge fire under a town, if only to avoid negative attention.

    • Coffee-Break profile image

      Dorian Bodnariuc 

      5 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario Canada

      That's very interesting, and nobody tried to extinguish the fire? Hard to believe that we cannot put out an underground fire which doesn't have enough oxygen anyway... What if all this is just an experiment?

    • boneworld profile image

      Jackson Thom 

      5 years ago from West of Left South Lucky

      I heard about this when the Silent Hill movie came out. The fact that it's still burning just blows my mind.

    • Judith Nazarewicz profile image

      Judith Nazarewicz 

      5 years ago from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

      What an interesting spooky story! Loved it!

    • Diaper Bag Blog profile image

      Stanley Green 

      5 years ago from Czech Republic

      Spooky story... I think I wouldn't decide to move there...

    • MandyGardner LM profile image

      MandyGardner LM 

      5 years ago

      This is the craziest story ever! Love it!

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      5 years ago from Colorado

      You just never imagine something like this happening where you live. Very interesting feature.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      nice as visit

    • verymary profile image


      5 years ago from Chicago area

      What a nightmare! Interesting stuff.

    • Grifts profile imageAUTHOR

      Devin Gustus 

      5 years ago

      @anonymous: Nope :) The church is almost exactly the same as the movie though.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Volkenvania! From nothing but trouble! I knew it was a real place! Do they have Mr Bonestripper?

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 

      5 years ago from France

      Fascinating! It just shows how careful you have to be with fire - and garbage.

    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 

      5 years ago

      Very interesting I had no idea!


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