Ghost Town in Pennsylvania – The Centralia Mine Fire

When I was first forwarded the Wikipedia page for Centralia, Pennsylvania, I was a little confused. The page cited Centralia as the town that inspired the horror movie, Silent Hill. But I thought Silent Hill was in West Virginia…isn’t there where all creepy horror films are set? Wrong. Centralia, PA is, in fact, the town that movie was based off of and surprise surprise, the movie was (kinda) based on a true story:

Centralia was a quaint little American town with thousands of residents not all that long ago. Then, in 1962, the coal mines in the town caught fire. People are still disputing how exactly this happened, but the most popular notion is that trash burned in abandoned strip mine caused a vein of coal to start burning. It has never stopped, in fact, it has only spread since then. Things started unwinding in Centralia from there. The families didn’t move out right away. But then dangerous gases from the fire started polluting the air, the amount of carbon monoxide spewing out of the mine began to reach dangerous levels, a kid fell into a HOT sinkhole (he survived!), and families generally started to worry about raising their families above raging mine fires. I can’t blame them. As cool as the idea of living directly above Hell is, I’d probably move out, too.

From a site devoted to the Centralia mine fire: “An engineering study concluded in 1983 that the fire could burn for another century or even more and ‘could conceivably spread over an area of approximately 3,700 acres.’” No one really knows how far it has spread, or how deep, or where new, hell-hot sinkholes could appear.

But not everyone wanted to go. SO what happened when good citizens didn’t want to leave a town deemed too dangerous to live in? The government stepped in and starting buying out families to relocate to a nearby town. Most families couldn’t turn down the money—in fact, almost all of them took it. There are only 5 families holding out in Centralia today, a town that, may I remind you, had thousands of citizens just a few decades ago. Their rationalization is the the gummint knows there’s rich coal deposits under there and is forcing them to move and give up their mineral rights.

This is all Scary Shit! Sinkholes swallowing up entire homes, steam and smoke billowing up from cracks in the earth; it is said that you can hear Satan joking around with Beezlebub just by putting your ear to the ground.

I just couldn’t resist that! I decided to go to Centralia myself. On the way to Centralia, I was already getting the feeling that I was being stared at. Maybe because the locals didn’t recognize my car. Or appreciate my giant Lyndsay Lohan sunglasses. There may have been zombies lurking in the shadows, too, I couldn’t really tell. I drove on anyway.

Imagine any suburban neighborhood you’ve ever been in. You make a left a Cherry Lane and a right at Oak Road and these small communities go on like this, with quaint streets squaring off the corners of the community, one evenly paved road at a time. I drove down roads that were once these roads, but they weren’t named. No homes existed in the overgrown lots of land. It was an empty grid of cracking, paved residential streets, sans houses. Nature had reclaimed the tar and plants burst out from the cracks in the streets. All that remains is a charred skeleton of a town.

Just beyond a graveyard, I climbed over a rock and dirt pile that had been built to keep people out of the area just beyond it. Not surprisingly, as I walked on past this dirt pile, the air started to smell funny.  Noxious, even. There was an attempt to prevent sinkholes from form by relieving the pressure of  the gasses building up underground by placing pipes in the ground for ventilation. A couple pictures later and I had enough of that.

Curious about the giant crack in old Route 61 that I’d seen pictures of online, I climbed over another barrier and ventured down the now feral highway, complete with graffiti from the local teens. Some disturbing graffiti at that. I left my car, which had just been inspected by my  mechanic days ago and which was, he said, in “perfect condition”, on the side of the road in the care of the recently ankle-sprained fellow TAT editor and photographer Ben Britz.

I arrived at the crack in the road. Not seeing any smoke or smelling any gas, I leaned in closer, and: Heat. I felt heat on my face. “What the hell,” I said. “This town certainly is on fire!” Sweating now, freaked out, I headed back the mile or so to my car to find a bloody scene. Ben had died at the hands of zombies.

But also, transmission oil was everywhere! The car would start, but it would not go. “Great”, I thought. “Frickin’ zombies in in frickin’ Zombietowne USA gnawed through the transmission line!” And I wish I could say that with another attempt to start the car that all was fine…but all was not fine.

Not that I had to battle zombies or anything. A tow truck from the nearest town (SHOCKER:  Centralia does not have a tow service or mechanic) came to my rescue, towed my cursed car away, and dropped me off at a Holiday Inn Express. The driver was a little funny, but probably not a zombie, I think. The mechanic ate Ben, though.

I don’t regret going to Centralia—it’s spooky as Hell (haha!). But I do kind of think Silent Hill was at least partially responsible for my car troubles. Be warned. The spirits of fire-demon town may not want you there. Go anyway. But maybe ride your bike.

By: Ben Britz and Elizabeth Seward

13 Summer Travel Ideas: USA

It’s too early for me to be awake. I was watching my nephew shoot off bottle rockets next to a raging bonfire in BackWoods, USA last night (Greensboro, Pennsylvania). To nobody’s surprise, that lasted all night. But I’m up and I’m happy it’s July 4th. I’m in Morgantown, West Virginia for it, getting ready to embark on an afternoon of one of the most American things out there: a BBQ. I’m either feeling groggy or generous or both, but I want to help you plan your travels this summer across the USA if you haven’t already done some planning. Here are some summer travel ideas, straight to you from The Anti Tourist.

1. Spokane, Washington

Go biking, kayaking, wine-tasting, live-music-watching, or out to eat in this city that surprised me last summer. I had a blast in the blazing heat and you will, too. The Davenport is the main hotel downtown and I swear on my life that it’s haunted.

2. California (Santa Cruz and farther north)

SoCal is gorgeous in its own right, but during the summer, head north–preferably on a road trip up the 101. Between Santa Cruz, The Redwoods, and all that is offered in San Francisco and San Mateo County, you’ll keep yourself busy and wonder why you hadn’t explored more thoroughly before now.

3. Maine

Maine makes for a great summer getaway. You’ll hit a lot of cities on the east coast, but once you hit Maine, you’ll get some much-needed peace and quiet. Try out The Cliffhouse for top-of-the-line oceanside rooms and a rockin’ spa. HINT: you can also bring your dog(s).

Need more ideas? OK. Here you go. 10 more USA summer travel ideas:

4. Pamper yourself at NYC Spas.

5. Visit Asheville. Stay in a B&B in Asheville.

6. Go ghost hunting in Texas, stay here, eat at the Mighty Cone (serious about that last one–FRIED FOOD in ICE CREAM cones, what??).

7. Speaking of ghosts, go to Dudleytown in Connecticut.

8. Colorado is good for more than its slopes. Check out the state in the summertime. Stay at the Boulder Canyon Inn, check out the Bat Cave!

9. Hit the streets of DC. From cool clubs with caves for basements to bed and breakfasts that will give you way too much wine, DC is a sweet city that comes alive in a way we like during the summer. Worship both Jehovah and the Gods of Rock and Roll at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue/Music venue!

10. Go zip-lining in Hocking Hills, Ohio. While you’re there, go Hot-Air Ballooning too, because, why the hell not? How about a Lunchbox Museum? How about flying lessons from a crazy (crazy AWESOME) man?

11. Hike, ride horses, and do other country thaaangs while staying at a B&B in Pennsylvania.

12. Turn off your phone and check into a cottage in Oregon.

13. Go caving. Anywhere. The caves will keep you cool during the hot summer months. Tennesee and Kentucky are full of ’em, but check out a full list of USA Caves to map out your underground route.

Now quit talkin’ about getting away this summer and just do it.

By: Elizabeth Seward

Gabriel Brothers: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio

Your typical tourist delights him or herself in strip malls. This person loves kitschy figurines, Hawaiian prints, bad perfume, Celine Dion, and thinks they’re slumming it when they shop at T.J. Maxx or Marshall’s. That was probably the rudest, likely inaccurate, assessment I could conjure up after only three cups of coffee, but one hidden point rings true: your typical tourist doesn’t know about Gabriel Brothers–a deal-grabbing store that puts T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s to shame.

Growing up in Marietta, Ohio, an arm’s length from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Gabriel Brothers was a super secret lifesaver for me and my siblings. Having a mother who clips coupons for already on-sale store-brand cereal, there wasn’t any shot in Hell that my sister and I would ever be allowed to order clothes from catalogs like Delia’s. Which was oh-so-cool back then. We’d drive the 30 minutes to Parkersburg, West Virginia and sneak into this giant store, cramming our carts with Delia’s shirts marked $1.00 a piece and our mouths with cherry ICEES and soft pretzels simultaneously. Mom always gave us a limit and we always knew we could go at least $20 over that limit. “Girls, I’m serious, you get $25 each” meant “Go ahead and pack your cart with $45 worth of shit each because for every dollar I spend, I’m saving ten.”

The trick to Gabe’s is this: you have to carefully look at your clothes. All clothes are rejects from a store/warehouse/factory, but not all rejects are bad. Sure, some will have gaping holes exposing your arm pits to all of your office, but more often than not, the size is simply marked incorrectly. Or a tag is missing. Etc. And they don’t just sell clothes. Home furnishings, shoes, toys, and snacks I’d be skeptical of also make the cut.

To this day, Gabe’s is a stop-point each and every time I find myself back in the homeland. Without Gabe’s, I’d be that creeper walking around the slick streets of Manhattan in men’s sweatpants and a Michigan hoodie. Which is exactly what I’m wearing right now…

By: Elizabeth Seward

Photos by: http://www.glazer.net, http://www.flickr.com (gwdexter)

A Perfect B&B–in the country, near the city: Sun and Cricket, Gibsonia, Pennsylvania

Straight out of a storybook, the Sun and Cricket bed and breakfast is tucked beneath crisp and colorful falling leaves on a private lane named after the owner, Tara. Tara stands outside of the carriage house with me at dusk detailing the development of the grounds over the years. Tara Lane lies on a recycled foundation. Her husband and co-owner, John, salvaged what he could use from the old Highway 80 while working in construction. And the couple’s pioneering resourcefulness doesn’t stop there. Tara motions to the tall white barn beside her black horses—a juxtaposing landscape imprinted in my memory. An Amish barn stood miles away years ago that provided the materials for this build. A dance hall for women, opened in the 1930’s, also contributes to the property’s structures where hand-collected rocks are woven together to form walls and libraries of audio books, evidence of Tara’s past life as an audio book reviewer, pop up frequently enough to make you wish you still had your old Walkman.

There are only two places to stay at Sun and Cricket: the fabulous log cabin suite, complete with a lofted bedroom, fireplace, and downstairs which can be rented for an additional fee or the cozy and charming carriage house suite at the far end of the grounds, also equipped with a fireplace.

There’s something uncharacteristically warm about Sun and Cricket, especially in an increasingly cold B&B industry wherein many B&Bs have become more concerned with achieving the stale hotel aesthetic than with continuing the long tradition of intimacy found only in a B&B. Feeling slightly under the weather, I wrapped myself up in the plush spare blankets on the carriage house bed, eating popcorn and sipping on hot chocolate—both of which are standard amenities to the room—along with dvds , audio books, wine glasses and dishware, and even a Checkers board with wooden red and green apple pieces (fitting since they have apple trees on the property).

In the morning, Tara does what I’ve yet to see at any other B&B: she offers a 3 course breakfast to guests, which comes at no additional cost. Sweet and spongy bread paired with coffee and cider prepared my senses for her mouth-watering baked Granny Smith apple which left me drooling just enough to ravenously devour her ‘Baked BLT’ when it was brought to the table (local bacon atop homemade bread with local eggs and cheese and homegrown tomatoes and herbs. One of the most delicious breakfast meals I have yet to try).

With 35 acres to its name, Sun and Cricket boasts hiking trails, horses for riding, an in-ground pool for use during warmer seasons, availability of a masseuse in room, beautiful countryside scenery—and all of this less than 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh’s boisterous downtown. Sun and Cricket is the perfect way to seclude yourself in nature while still in reach of the city.

By: Elizabeth Seward, Photos By: Ben Britz

Drinking in Church. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Nestled in the working class borough of Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, Church Brew Works is a must for beer lovers and foodies visiting Pittsburgh. Built in 1902 as a Baptist church, the building now pays homage to barley and hops.

The brewery/church is adjacent to a football field. Ironically appropriate for a city where beer and football are a religion and names like Franco Harris and Lynn Swan are mentioned with the reverie reserved for deities.

The building is incredibly maintained, and when walking in through the giant church doors, my eyes immediately scanned over the rich wood floors, down the center isle, to the alter. There, glimmering in the light cast by the original stained glass windows, right where some Irish-American preacher used to give Sunday sermons, are the giant vats full of the restaurant’s unique brews.

Since we had a short wait for a table, we decided to go ahead and order the 8 beer sampler which permits you to taste a collection of permanent and seasonal beers brewed right there on sight. With names like Celestial Gold, Burly Friar Barley, and Blast Furnace Stout, the beers play on the unique heritage of the building and the city itself. The rich flavors and variety of the beers stand up to their creative names. My personal favorite was Pious Monk Dunkel, a dark sweet brew, almost like the Belgian beer Leffe.

When we sat down and perused the menu, it was the first time in some while that I had looked at a menu and honestly been overwhelmed with appealing choices. Everyone I was with also had a hard time deciding so we settled for a bit of everything to split amongst ourselves.

For the first course I enjoyed an Israeli Couscous salad with shrimp and pine nut crusted goat cheese. Damn. What a light and delicious dish. I have to admit I am quite partial to chevre and it went perfectly with the lightly seasoned couscous and fresh shrimp and spinach. My companions got the smoked spinach and Gouda cheese dip and the featured seafood bisque. The bisque was creamy and delicious, but the cheese dip was a clear crowd favorite. We all concurred that this was the most pleasurable visit we had ever had to a church as we washed the delicious dip down with Pious Monk Dunkel.

After such an incredible start to the meal I couldn’t wait to see our server emerge from the confession box turned servers’ stand with our entrees. We indulged ourselves with a filet, exotic mushroom ravioli, fafella shrimp pasta, and a Pittsburgh tradition: perogis.
Perogis are analogous to giant ravioli, stuffed with potatoes or meat, and sometimes in a tomato sauce or just a butter sauce. While they aren’t anything extraordinarily exciting or adventurous, they are rather particular to Pittsburgh and pretty tasty.

In fact, everything we ate was wonderful. However, the exotic mushroom ravioli, stuffed with four types of mushrooms, covered in a rich tomato sauce and melted parmesan cheese, was by far the star. This dish was incredible, and although the beers are obviously the featured drinks, Church Brew Works has a decent wine selection which allows you to pair a bold Argentinean or sun kissed Spanish wine with your entrée.

After filling our stomachs with wonderful food and several glasses of beer, there was no hope for dessert. But we will most definitely be back to try their famous pizza cooked in a rustic stone fire oven and the new beers. If ever in Pittsburgh this is an absolute must. Check out their website at http://www.churchbrew.com/

By: Austin Price