Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York


11 April 2011 - A night of an i-n-t-e-n-s-e headache and being sick followed, but bar tiredness the following morning all seemed okay.

We had breakfast with Alex at the college and headed towards Centralia. Centralia is, or was, a mining town.

It wasn't the easiest place to find and we popped into a local Deli for to ask for directions and get some food. We'd only been through the door for a few seconds when we were asked; "What are you selling?". "Nothing" I replied. He'd seen my camera bag and assumed we were selling stuff. Goodness knows who would come here to sell things. The owner was a font of stories. His son had been accepted to play professional football (a big deal over here) but had declined because "there were all on lots of drugs". His son also owns a dog who's parent was Beethoven from the film of the same name. He chatted on quite happily and we listened whilst chomping on our sandwiches.

Getting back in the car we noticed a woman walking down the street with a live snake coiled round her neck, so we assumed we were getting closer to crazy town. After a few wrong turns we found Centralia.

Wikipedia: "It is not known for certain how the fire that made Centralia essentially uninhabitable was ignited. One theory asserts that in May 1962, the Centralia Borough Council hired five members of the volunteer fire company to clean up the town landfill, located in an abandoned strip-mine pit next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery. This had been done prior to Memorial Day in previous years, when the landfill was in a different location. The firefighters, as they had in the past, set the dump on fire and let it burn for a time. Unlike in previous years, however, the fire was not extinguished correctly.

Other evidence supports this theory, as stated in Joan Quigley's 2007 missive, such as the fact that a trash hauler dumped hot ash and/or coal discarded from coal burners into the open trash pit. The borough, by law, was responsible for installing a fire-resistant clay barrier between each layer, but fell behind schedule, leaving the barrier partly incomplete. This allowed the hot coals to penetrate the vein of coal underneath the pit and light the subsequent subterranean fire. Quigley cites "interviews with volunteer firemen, the former fire chief, borough officials, and several eyewitnesses, as well as contemporaneous borough council minutes" as her sources for this explanation of the fire. Another theory of note is the Bast Theory. It states that the fire was burning long before the alleged trash dump fire. However, due to overwhelmingly contrary evidence, few hold this position, and it is given little credibility.

The fire remained burning underground and spread through a hole in the rock pit into the abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia. Attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful, and it continued to burn throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Adverse health effects were reported by several people due to the byproducts of the fire, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and a lack of healthy oxygen levels.

In 1979, locals became aware of the scale of the problem when a gas-station owner and then mayor, John Coddington, inserted a stick into one of his underground tanks to check the fuel level. When he withdrew it, it seemed hot, so he lowered a thermometer down on a string and was shocked to discover that the temperature of the gasoline in the tank was 172 °F (77.8 °C). Statewide attention to the fire began to increase, culminating in 1981 when 12-year-old resident Todd Domboski fell into a sinkhole four feet wide by 150 feet (46 m) deep that suddenly opened beneath his feet in a backyard. Only the quick work of his cousin Eric Wolfgang in pulling Todd out of the hole saved Todd's life, as the plume of hot steam billowing from the hole was measured as containing a lethal level of carbon monoxide.

In 1984, the U.S. Congress allocated more than $42 million for relocation efforts. Most of the residents accepted buyout offers and moved to the nearby communities of Mount Carmel and Ashland. A few families opted to stay despite warnings from Pennsylvania officials.

In 1992, Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey claimed eminent domain on all properties in the borough, condemning all the buildings within. A subsequent legal effort by residents to have the decision reversed failed. In 2002, the U.S. Postal Service revoked Centralia's ZIP code, 17927. In 2009, Governor Ed Rendell began the formal eviction of Centralia residents."

Half an hour walking round in the heat of Centralia was enough and we got back in the car, drove briefly to Scranton (the setting for the US version of 'The Office' (much nicer on the face of it than Slough).

Leaving Pennsylvania we entered New York and whoosh the motel prices went up. Trawling through quite a number, we decided to head further North to Rochester as we'd been reliably informed they'd be better value. Finding a relatively cheap one we checked in. A hotel room that can be book in three-hour blocks was never going to be the classiest place to stay. The signs were all there, but we were too tired to find anywhere else. Who doesn't want to wake up in the morning and see themselves reflected in a mirror above the bed?