“Fun with a side of sad and creepy” is how one TripAdvisor reviewer describes the Graffiti Highway, a popular tourist attraction in Centralia, Pennsylvania about two and a half hours northwest of Philadelphia.
The nearly one-mile stretch of Route 61 is a profusion of color in a mostly abandoned ghost town.
The story of the Centralia Mine Fire begins in the spring of 1962, when, according to Ripleys.com, the residents were preparing for their Memorial Day festivities.
Thinking the best way to clean up a sprawling, 300-foot landfill would be to set it on fire, they did just that, having no idea the blaze would continue for more than 50 more years. The smoldering fire “latched onto an old coal seam from the mine,” explains Ripleys, “and slowly spread throughout the mines under the city.”
Over time, a pattern emerged: Fires appeared and then would be doused. But nothing could stop them from coming, and the stench of burnt trash filled the air. Eventually, the town was condemned and now only a handful of residents remain.
In the early 1990s, after the coal mine fire threatened the integrity of Route 61’s structure – “subsidence was leading to uneven surfaces and steam poured out through cracks in the asphalt,” says the local site Centraliapa.org – the roadway was closed.
Artwork and visitors’ names began cropping up just south of the town around the mid 2000s. “No one knows for sure exactly when the graffiti began on the road,” says Centralia.org, “but it appears to have accelerated sometime around 2007.” By 2010, most of the highway was covered.
Today, it’s possible to drive around the area and explore it on foot, though many sections are closed.
You’re likely to spot several groups of people, despite rumors of No Trespassing signs, and you may see steam curling out of nearby caves.
Print directions, as cell phone reception is hard to come by. And keep tabs on the local news since the state Department of Transportation no longer owns the property. As recently as fall 2018, trespassing citations were still being issued.