I had a great time at Bloomsburg this past week. Poet Jerry Wemple was a fantastic host, and I loved meeting his colleagues and students. My reading went well, and I was surprised (but pleased) to see people attend who lived in the surrounding areas. JoAnne was a wonderful reader — so much so that now I have to go back and re-read her book, Red Has No Reason.
After the reading, about 10 people (faculty, community members, students) went out to eat and conversation turned towards the surrounding areas. Bloomsburg University is in the middle of Anthracite Coal Country, and I was surprised to learn that I was only about a half hour away from Centralia, a place that has been a subject of both my poems and more importantly, my academic work in working class poetry and history. (Centralia is a subject of many Pennsylvania poems and works of fiction that take place in coal mining countries). Centralia is the famous Pennsylvania “ghost town” that was destroyed by an underground mine fire. Now, destroyed by a fire makes this particular event sound sudden and tragic. Well, the events surrounding the fire were tragic, but the event actually lasted decades, and the town itself was surrounded by more than an underground fire. Centralia was a hotbed (no pun intended) of politics — and its history is very complex. You can read more about this town here.
So of course, I had to go exploring. So the morning after my reading I went looking for Centralia. And I have to admit that in spite of Centralia’s presence in such books as Weird Pennsylvania, there was really nothing strange or spooky about Centralia. In fact, if I hadn’t actually been looking for what is left of this town, I would have passed right through it. There’s a few foundations and dead end streets. A few wooden signs marking past street names are nailed to trees. There are some homes there, but I didn’t want to pull over and gawk. I did travel down a few gravel/dirt roads and was greeted by some cracks in the earth and the smell of sulfur, but no open flames and very little smoke.
I can’t say that I was disappointed at what I saw. That would be the wrong observation. Instead, I have to say that I was amazed at how the earth reclaims what we have built. Some may disagree with me, but I believe that in a few more decades people traveling on this stretch of road won’t even realize there was a town there.