Visiting an abandoned town

The old abandoned Route 61 up from Ashland to Centralia, Pa.  is littered with color. Spray-painted tags from countless visitors reveal messages from the profane to the sublime. For guys on quadrunners, it's not a bad place to play. They wheelie and rip up and down the mile-long stretch of abandoned pavement.

Centralia is abandoned, has been since the '80s. Long story short, the coal mine running underneath the town caught fire in the '60s and burned for years, creating sinkholes, rupturing roads, and making the town unlivable to the point where the state had to step in. Most of the houses the state bought out were demolished -- there are only a couple left.

The municipal building is there, the old firetruck collecting dust in the garage, and a bumper sticker in the window of the old cop shop says "Keep Centralia on the Map."

The flag flies at half-staff, perhaps in mourning for itself. The town that once was home to 1,000 people now has less than ten, but it's not as though it's empty. There's a steady flow of people for whom an abandoned town and a buckled highway (that's now a public art project) holds a certain level of fascination. "I think it's really interesting that everybody transformed the burning highway into their own ... everyone's making a memory here," said one young woman visiting with friends from the Philadelphia area.

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