Wow! What a title! A town that belongs in a graveyard?? Yes, that would be Centralia, Pennsylvania. The town with a fire underneath it. The town that was once a thriving community, with schools, Churches, stores, diners and pubs. Now there are a few scattered homes, an empty police station, one church, a few empty lots, but mostly trees. Streets lined by nothing, with a four way stop in the middle of what once was Centralia.
Having never seen the town, or what is left of it, we decided it warranted a road trip and set off on Wednesday morning to see Centralia. Our first stop was south of town for this shrine.
We had to stop to see what this was. We are used to seeing crosses with plastic flowers along the side of the road, and I’m sure everybody has seen those, but a shrine? with a power pole in the back of it? real flowers on either side? and absolutely no building anywhere around it! There was a flat building lot just below it, and a part of an old driveway that we pulled into, but that was the only evidence that there had ever been any house around this spot! and there was no name in the shrine! A Mary Mother of God Statue, some roses pinned to the wall, a school picture of a little boy and a couple of other things, but no name or date.
Our next stop was St. Ignatius Cemetery, seemingly in the middle of no where. It was well kept and had very early stones in it. Many seemed to be homemade, but still standing. This one was tiled and the only one like it we saw, no dates, simply a name. There were many cement crosses, all the same size, some with names and dates, some without. Some had the names as they were known in their home countries. It was a diverse cemetery, Irish, Portugese, Polish, and many other nationalities.
The cemetery was well kept and we saw why. When we entered there was a man clearing the dead flowers from some of the graves, putting them in a trash can. Later we saw a lady with a push mower, mowing the area around several graves. We went up and talked to her and she seemed eager to tell us about Centralia.
Some of the things we learned:
- She was simply cleaning up around her parents, grandparents and cousin’s graves. She had been a resident of Centralia and had been “relocated” to Mt. Carmel.
- She told us where we were had once been a thriving area with St. Ignatius Church, Catholic School, Rectory and row of homes on either side of the street. There are nothing but trees and weeds today.
- She had attended the Catholic Church and School, but had to graduate from Mt. Carmel after the fire.
- She showed us the path of the underground fire. You could see the difference in the color in the landscape. She also pointed out the pipes the were in the area where the government tested the temperatures beneath the earth.
- We asked about the Memorial down the hill and she explained the people who had once had a home there came back every day to clean the site of the memorial and put fresh flowers. It was simply a memorial to Virgin Mary.
- We learned that as soon as the State bought the residents home they destroyed their old homes. According to her, the residents didn’t actually see any money. They found a new home and the State then bought it for them, taking their home in exchange. No money ever saw the owner’s hands.
- We learned the fire started behind the Odd Fellows Cemetery, right across the highway, our next stop.
Today this tire is all that marks the St. Ignatius Church site. The cemetery can be seen in the background.
Want to know where the Winners from Centralia are buried? Why, it’s in the Odd Fellows Cemetery, of course!
Every so often I come across these “Blue” headstones. They are some sort of metal and have weathered over the years. Those three little rosettes hold that family shield in place. The headstones are four sided with room for either a design or more family information on each side. This one had names on the front and back and a religious design on each side.
On our way to the hill on the other side of the valley to see St. Mary’s Catholic Orthodox Cemetery, we saw a Memorial which was “dedicated to those who served their country in all Wars.” We had to stop. The bell on the Memorial once belonged to Trinity Episcopal Congregation. The Memorial is on the former site of the American Legion.
The Borough Hall and Police Station were empty, however, there was a flag on the flagpole ~ interesting! Notice the peeling paint ~
Streets leading to virtually no where are still existing. They now have trees and weeds where families once had homes. Driving down one we came across this lot, beautifully mowed and seemingly marking the spot that once had been somebody’s home. Where children had played in a backyard and adults had sat on a front porch. Somebody still had those memories and wanted to keep their family’s memories alive. They still had pride in their little piece of Centralia.
Our next stop was the Cemetery for St. Mary’s Orthodox Catholic Church. It sat on hilly, rocky ground and was serene and quiet, seemingly tucked away from the world, accessible only by a road hidden from the road that wraps around the trees that shield it from view.
A lot of the headstones are in Russian and we were fortunate to have a friend along who could read Russian! How many people do you know can do that?? We had not a clue that Martha had that knowledge . . . until we got there.
This Cemetery is built on the side of a hill. The ground is covered with rocks and the wall around the cemetery and Church was built with rocks. The assumption is the rocks came from the surrounding area. These are huge rocks, and not ones easily moved by one person! The picture below shows the walk behind the Church leading to the cemetery.
The stairs leading to the front door of the Church are steep and narrow. We were wondering how the elderly made those stairs or if there was a back entrance! The next picture was taken from the road and shows more of that stone wall.
Since this was our last stop in Centralia, I took one final picture of the town from the top of the Church steps. You can see the trees that once lined the streets and faint lines of the streets. The St. Ignatius Cemetery is behind the row of trees at the top of the hill in the picture. I did zoom in to get the shot. It was an awesome view.
Our time in Centralia came to a close and we had seen what was left of the town. What was once a town of over 1500 people has been reduced to a few scattered residences with most of its allure now in its history of the last 40 years! Real families had once had real lives in this town and its former residents are still proud of what had once been the center of their lives!
We know, we had met one of them!