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Trespass – Exploring Centralia, Pennsylvania

When I found out I would be taking a trip up to Pennsylvania to shoot a few locations, one of them that immediately popped into my mind was Centralia (not spelled Centrailia, the sign above is misspelled for some reason). For those who don’t know of this place, Centralia is a borough in Columbia County, PA. who in 1962 had a population of around 1,100 and as of now has only 10 residents who refuse to leave. It has been stripped of a zip code, mail does not run, buildings and homes have been demolished and roads now lead off to nowhere. There are no stores, no schools… nothing. It is a ghost town with a few exceptions.

So what happened here exactly? Centralia is a coal mining town, and back in 1962 a fire broke out in one of the underground mines. It was believed to have been started from a landfill, which they were burning, that was not fully extinguished and the fire entered into an unsealed opening which lead to the abandoned coal mine beneath. There have been a few attempts to extinguish it but none even close to successful, there are no current plans to stop it. The fire is estimated to have now spread over 400 acres to date and has enough fuel to continue burning for another 250 or so years in it’s 8 mile mine. It was the direct inspiration for the Silent Hill video game series, and later the movies. This is how it looks now.

In 1979 a gas station owner, and then town Mayor, was checking the fuel levels in one of his underground tanks and noticed the gas was hot at about 172 degrees Fahrenheit – 55 degrees is the ideal temperature for stored fuel. A few years later a 12 year old boy fell into a 147 foot deep sinkhole that just suddenly opened up beneath him. As if that wasn’t enough cause for alarm, a section of highway 61 – which lead into Centralia – began to open up and buckle from the heat of the fire, and was then repaired in 1983. These things combined with the fact that the carbon monoxide was beginning to have harmful health effects among the locals, almost all of them decided it was time to get out of there and accepted a buyout from the government. In 1984 the exodus began, mostly to neighboring towns of Ashland and Mount Carmel which are still very much alive and well with everything you’d expect from a normal town. You would never know anything had happen only a few minutes away.

Some time later the highway started to open even more, when they decided it was too expensive and unsafe to repair again. In 1994 that section of highway 61 was permanently closed and blocked off with mounds of dirt, a detour was built around the condemned area and now runs in Centralia as the only highway, all others have been closed and completely bypass the town.

The closed section is still accessible by foot if you’re willing to take a little hike. People now refer to it as “graffiti highway” because of all the spray paint left by kids. Around town you can see smoke coming up from cracks in the road, and in one cemetery, it did not come out in the photos but it’s easily seen in the area of the highway which is now closed off because of sinkholes where the ground is unstable, probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but I jumped down in there for some shots from the inside of the massive crack. The smell… the smell coming from inside that thing was repulsive to say the least, any longer and I would’ve vomited. Once I came to my senses and realized I could sink into the earth and be incinerated instantly I got out of there. Someone had left a bunch of spent shotgun shells in the crack, what were they shooting at? Whatever it was, I hope they got it.

Walking around here was eerie, very quiet, like when you get up in the middle of the night and everything is turned off and it’s dark, only Centralia has no on switch. It was a very cold day at around 38 degrees Fahrenheit, which to me being a southern boy is not ideal, and rainy. Then the rain turned to a misty sleet adding a more ominous vibe to the already creepy atmosphere courtesy of the grey sky and smokey white backdrop in the dead leafed bare treed mountains. The cemeteries were surprisingly well kept, more so than most living cities and there was smoke coming from one of them, THAT ladies and gentlemen was wild! The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church overlooking the borough known as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary which stood out from all the grey with it’s bright light blue top and large gold Greek Orthodox cross was so out of place here it was beautiful. It looked like someone had used selective coloring on a panoramic photo how everything was so bland except for that.

The few remaining houses were in very good shape, they were nice, well kept and one even had a swimming pool. Only each one was next to a field of dry, dead grass and bare trees which were planted by the government in place of were the houses used to be on empty lots. It was strange seeing these roads go off to nowhere and stop at a empty field, made me think that the town was being put up instead of taken down. I hear the people are pretty unapproachable so I didn’t bother trying to talk to anyone, but after I left and posted one of my pics I was told about a crazy old lady who drives around in a red pickup truck who tells people she’s the police and makes them delete their photos, I actually remember seeing a person sitting in a red truck on the side of the road next to a stop sign near the center of town when I was leaving and wondered what they were doing. Crazy. I wonder why she didn’t say anything to me.

After getting back home and deciding I should write something about my experience, I started researching a little bit more and learned that the fire has also extended to the town of Byrnesville, PA. and as of 1996 it has been completely abandoned as well.

All photos were taken with an iPhone 5 using Hipstamatic and further edited in Snapseed. When I processed the photos I added the gloomy look which I saw and felt, hopefully it was effective. Thanks for reading.

Oh, and the little boy who fell in the sink hole – he lived ;)


  1. Amazing story Mike, I love how you walk us through this ghost town visually and literally. Thanks for sharing, my Hysband has played Silent Hill, so it’s cool to read about the original town. :-)

    • Thank you so much, Paula! I used to play them too, very cool to see the real place… sort of ;)

      • Omg we went here last night I was soooo scared we got there around 2am we were there for and hour. You talked about the lady in a red truck which I find amazing because last night we were about to leave to check out the highway and we came to a stop sign we were going to turn right well I look to my left and there is a red truck just sitting in the middle of the road at the stop sign with all the lights on I’m like why are they just sitting there the place is awsome we plan on going back but during the day. I can’t wait to take pictures it’s scarier at night

      • Mike are you on Facebook?

  2. This is awesome, Mike!! Great story and images. You make me want to take a trip up there. Glad you didn’t get sucked in!

    • I am so glad too! Thanks Jen!

  3. What a great story.
    The photos themselves look fantastic but with the spooky story it just adds so much to them.
    Would love to have places like that over here in the UK.

    • Thanks a lot, Steve. I appreciate ya stopping by!

  4. Incredible story, Mike!!

    • Thank you, Marie!

  5. Crazy to read about – can’t even imagine what it felt like to actually see it in person!

    • It felt COLD!!! I had to keep taking my gloves off to use the touch screen on my phone, fingers were numb :o

  6. Great place for a picnic.

    • haha yea, just what I was thinking!

  7. I’m glad there was some good news (the little boy). An amazing story and wonderful images. You’re brave to go there – just the idea of a sinkhole freaks me out! Well done!

    • I couldn’t pass it up, I’d heard of this place a long time ago from playing the games. So once I found out I’d be near, I had to go finally see it for myself.

  8. Road trip!! I’m hooked!

    • Awesome Maddy!

  9. Hi Mike,

    First, great story. I really enjoyed reading it. Second, the photography is beautiful. The images have some really nice tones, rich blacks and vignettes. It looks like you were using Hipstamatic. Was it the Jane lens and Rock & Roll film? Just curious. You definitely did a good job of creating a gloomy mood in your editing process. So is the smoke coming out of the ground very faint? Also, what exactly is it that your smelling that almost made you vomit, is it the burning coal? Does the whole deserted town smell or just that area with the cracked cement? After reading this story, I really need to get off my ass and work on my photo essay of my home I grew up in Chicago. I’ve been sitting on it for almost a year now. oye vay!

    • haha so many questions! I used claunch72 monochrome and gsquad as my combo, but I edited it after. The smoke was faint in a few spots sometimes, but at times it was heavy as well. Yes, it was the burning smell in the cracked cement, and no the whole town doesn’t smell bad, but you can definitely notice a difference.

  10. this place is so wild mike! man I have read so much about I really enjoyed the first hand account

    • Thank you, Anna :)

  11. Planning on going there soon, it is about an hour away from home. Was it fairly easy to get to and where abouts did you leave your car, just trying to get an idea of distance as it is getting warm here, need appropriate footware, clothes etc.

    • It was raining when I went so I mostly drove from spot to spot, with the exception of walking down graffiti highway. It was easy to get to, I programmed the town in my GPS, it still shows up. The town is not that big.

  12. Nice story, I loved reading it and the pictures fit perfectly.

    • Thanks a lot dude

  13. Was looking at “Desolate Ghost Towns” this was not on the list, but someone had mentioned it on a comment, had to look it up and found your story and pictures. You captured my interests right from the start with a great story and pictures are awesome, thanks you for the fabulous free entertainment…

    • Thank you very much for stopping by and reading! I really appreciate it.

  14. These photographs are amazing! I am thinking about taking a road trip up there sometime in the future. This town always caught my eye and I’ve always wanted to see it in person. You’re so lucky you got to see it. Great job with the story and the photographs. Looking forward to more posts. (:

    • Thank you so much, Makayla. I hope you get a chance to go, and be careful!

  15. Hi!! Love your pics!!! We just came back today and really only found the graffiti road. Where is the actual town?? Any help would be appreciated as we plan on going back.

    • Hi Selena. It is just around the corner from the spot where the highway is blocked off, but it’s not much of a town anymore, mainly just empty lots and roads that go off to nowhere. If you post your pics anywhere please add a link here so I can check em out!

  16. We live a couple hours away and plan on going there in the next few weeks….have lived in PA my whole life and never heard about Centralia till Silent Hill….your story and pictures are amazing….can’t wait to visit and have our own experience of this place before its completely gone!

    • Thank you so much for stopping by and reading, Laura. Have fun and be careful out there!

  17. Thanks for the amazing story/experience you had there… I just find this place fascinating. While I have heard the few locals that have stayed are unapproachable as well, I also heard that the State Highway Patrol frowns upon visiting this place as well. I was just wondering though all this time if you had heard from anyone or anything? Also, How long did you spend there? Thanks again for everything on here.

    • Sorry I’m just now seeing this comment. Thank you! No I never really came across anyone, it was pretty cold out and it was raining, so there really wasn’t many people even on the roads. I was there total about 3 or 4 hours I guess.

  18. Amazing story Mike. I first heard about this town on the History channel show Life after people and this make me want to play the Silent Hills games now to experience what this town is like

    • Amazing story! Really interesting to hear about this place! And great pics bringing it to life. I never even knew silent hill was based on a real town. Love the games and movies though, so very intriguing to hear and see what it’s somewhat based on :D

      • Thank you, Shannon!

    • Oh nice, I’ll have to look for that episode. I know there is a show called America Declassified on the Travel Channel that is doing a piece on it this Sunday (12/1/13). I really need to play the last Silent Hill game, the only one I haven’t played yet.

  19. I think it’s very interesting even though it’s haunted. I want to stay there for 1 weekend just to see if anything happens or not. I’d say it’s Silent Hill but in another name. Idk if you could get trapped there either but it’s worth visiting and finding out. What does this is where she appears in the dark of night mean?

    • I don’t think it’s haunted really, it just has a strong history. I have no idea what that means, haha.

  20. Great post. I’m planning on visiting there next week, and your pictures gave me some great ideas. Thanks.

  21. The pictures and the story were amazing! I’ve always loved abandoned places and I think that Centralia looks like a great place to explore. Do you have any advice for people who want to visit and take pictures? It seems like there might be a few places to avoid so as not to come across danger. (:


  1. Introducing Centralia . . . A Town on Fire | MIKE DELLOSSO - [...] You can read more about the town and the fire and see some excellent photos here. [...]