Posted by: lisareen | June 9, 2010

Vacation Post #2 – Jim Thorpe and Centralia

Our next adventure starts at a tiny mountain town called Jim Thorpe. It was originally named Mauch Chunk (meaning “sleeping bear” in Lenni Lenape) but was renamed Jim Thorpe after the famous athlete from the 1920’s. He didn’t live in this town, but was buried here and they changed the name to commemorate him. I prefer to think of it as Mauch Chunk though – what a cool name!

This town is tiny – I mean really tiny. It basically has 2 roads – one leading in and another leading out. We parked our car at the bottom of a really big hill and didn’t we go and forget to grab the camera! So unfortunately I don’t have any of our own pictures to show you but thank god for the Internet!

That’s Jim Thorpe – on the left of the picture is the parking lot where we parked the car. You can’t really see it but there’s a street that goes to the right and it was on a pretty steep incline. You can understand then why we didn’t go back for the camera.

Jim Thorpe has a lot of history. It’s a coal mining town and I almost had a heart attack when I saw they offer tours of the coal mines. Touring a coal mine is something I’ve wanted to do ever since reading the book October Sky and I was disappointed when I realized I wasn’t wearing the correct clothing. (Yes, I looked cute in my skirt and sandals but that probably wasn’t the correct attire to go tromping through a coal mine. James promised we would go back sometime though, and I’m holding him to that.)

We walked all over that tiny town and ended up at the Old Jail Museum.

The jail was built in 1871 and is best known as the place where 7 Irish coal miners were hanged. They were accused of being Molly Maguires and although they were convicted and sentence to hang, most historians today think they were falsely accused. The men insisted they were innocent but were jailed anyway, and were forced to watch from their jail cells as the gallows they would be hanging from were built.

Inside cell 17 is an anomaly – one of the convicted miners placed his hand in the dirt and pressed it against the wall, proclaiming that if he was indeed innocent of these charges, the hand print would never go away.

Despite many attempts to wash it off or paint over it, the hand print is still there. A little weird, huh? It was chilling to look into the cell and see the hand print on the wall – you can’t help but wonder how the hand print has lasted this long but I guess it proves the poor man’s innocence.

They say the Old Jail is haunted but unfortunately we didn’t see anything. Maybe if we hadn’t forgotten the camera we might have caught something…

After a few hours of walking around we decided to head back to the car and go to our next stop – CENTRALIA!

James and I are a little obsessed with Centralia. This is our second trip there in less than a year and I wouldn’t mind going again soon.

If you’re not aware of the story of Centralia, I’ll give a little bit of background history. Centralia is another coal mining town in Eastern PA. The town was built right on top of the coal mine and in the 1960’s a fire was started accidentally in the mine and it’s been raging ever since. Scientists think it could continue burning for another 100 years.

At first it didn’t seem like a big deal to be living on top of a mine that was burning away but once a hole opened in the earth and almost swallowed a boy who lived there, the government bought out most of the houses and the people left, leaving a ghost town behind.

This isn’t one of our pictures, but I love this one – when you’re there it’s hard to imagine what the town looked like, and this picture really gives you a good image of it.

A very lonely road that was once filled with houses, stores, cars, mailboxes … people.

It gives you kind of a weird feeling to see the sidewalk with no houses.

Once upon a time this road used to go straight but they had to block it off because it started caving in and breaking apart.

There are still a few houses there though. The first time I went I thought it was funny that the house above was so long and skinny. I didn’t realize that it was a row home until I saw pictures of what the town used to look like.

Abandoned towns and houses are always so sad and a little bit creepy. But it’s such an adventure to go check them out.

Check back soon for the GRAND FINALE – Vacation Post #3 – World War 2 Air Show!



  1. Lisa, I grew up in the coal region of PA. I used to go to a speed shop that was in Centralia for some parts for my 69 Camaro. That was on the corner at the stop sign where Rt 61 turns to the left. The part of rt 61 that is blocked off is so buckled that there are 3 foot gaps in the road. You can look into the hole and see it glowing. I think the fire started in 1961 on Memorial Day weekend. All the towns had their own dump at the edge of town. In most of these coal towns the trash was put into old stripping pits. This dump caught on fire and no one thought too much about it since that was how they kept the pit from filling in the first place. In this case the coal vein was exposed an ignited. In the mid 80s when you would drive on Rt 61 the ground on both sides of the road glowed at night. I looked surreal.

    • Oh and I if I remember right, when I looked at a USGS map of that coal vein, it runs to just north of Ashland PA….1 1/2 miles away. It does not seem to be burning toward that direction (south) any longer.

      • I wondered if Ashland would be affected at some point. That would suck to have to close down that town too. There’s a lot of people living there.

    • James and I walked down that road that’s blocked off and it’s so eerie. I wanted to look in the cracks but James wouldn’t let me – I’m so clumsy I think he was afraid I’d fall in. Wish I could have seen it glow – it’s just a weird situation.

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