Photos by Erin McCann
What was it Joni Mitchell sang? “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”? Let’s just say that it took growing up and moving away from Central Pennsylvania for me to realize the true greatness of the place. Amish quilts and baked goods? Rolling hillsides? Whatever. What I’m talking about is the sort of tourist spot that only my homeland can create: an abandoned mining town that’s been on fire for nearly 50 years.
In 1962, Centralia was a small town just like any other, populated by miners and the descendants of miners. There were streets and houses and bars and churches and people. Today? Today there are streets. The houses and bars and churches and people are gone. In their place you’ll find the oppressive smell of sulfur, and steam spews from the ground constantly. It’s a post-apocalyptic wasteland that serves as a symbol of stubbornness, conspiracy and the decay of the American dream.
And it’s three and a half hours from D.C.
(And when you’re done, there’s beer.)