Sometimes, you let the photographs speak for themselves.
I love this skinny, what-was-a-row house, on South Locust Avenue, in that elusive town of Centralia. When I drove by on Route 61, over Thanksgiving, it was gone. Which means that whom ever the house belonged to either passed away or moved out.
I went back in early January to re-take the photograph. There was absolutely nothing there to signify that a house had stood in that spot. The grass, even in the middle of the winter, had grown over the lumpy dirt where the foundation was ripped out. It was as if the earth wanted to forget it quickly and healed over as fast as it could, despite the cold, wet winter.
One of my favorite books about Centralia is Slow Burn: A Photodocument of Centralia, Pennsylvania by Renee Jacobs. Jacobs lived with a family in Centralia as the issues in the early and mid 80’s started to develop. An intimate look into the lives of the former residents, it portrays the huge divide between those who wanted to stay and those who wanted to leave. The book documents the fight for and eventual loss of the community. It is powerful and well-written and stands as one of the few sources about the town of Centralia and what was lost to the fires.
David DeKok’s Unseen Danger is currently sitting on my book shelf. It is an in-depth, text-only look at what really happened there and how the people of the town came together to secure a future that didn’t involve gas alarms in their kitchens and bedrooms.
I still think that, in context to where Centralia is, the story is unsurprising. The weight of being in Centralia is no different than the weight of being in any other part of the Coal Region. It blends into the strip mines and culm piles, a mere blip on the screen of your windshield if you’re not paying attention to road signs.
It is no secret that I am totally obsessed with the Pennsylvania Anthracite Coal Region. I’ve posted about it before and talked about it at great length, but I thought this would be a good place to start this blog.
Miner’s Memorial, Route 209. Coaldale.
In the high rounded Appalachian mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania, anthracite coal lies in diagonal and vertical veins in the rock strata under steeply pitched, dense woods. This 484 square mile area, known as the Hard Coal Region, is home to one of the largest deposits of anthracite coal in the U.S. The history of the area is rich and violent, staggering and disturbing. In 1930, the industry employed nearly 200,000 people and the area was home to 1.2 million. Today, the population is approximately 800,000 people; 954 men and women work in the Anthracite industry.
Here, history stands on front stoops, brushes past on narrow, cracked sidewalks, peers down from working coal breakers. Little has changed since the mid ‘60’s, as the economy has very little room to grow or expand. It is easier to strip mine here, as the pitch and the depth of the coal veins make underground mining dangerous and difficult. Mountains turn into vast holes in the ground and are later filled in, creating a landscape that is unnaturally smooth and unnerving. The land is stripped and bare.
All of this, the mountains, coal and economy, creates a culture that is unique to the area. At the same time, it is typical of working class areas in the United States that had experienced massive growth in the early 20th century and economic decline post World War II. The landscape shapes the industry and towns, which in turn shapes the people, the culture as well as private and public spaces.
Coal Hunkie examines the remnants of a social landscape that outwardly suffers from little economic support from it’s industrial past. This body of work quietly investigates what it means to stay despite of the ruin, why hold onto such a deep pride in the small towns and that history, and to be of the Anthracite Coal Region.
To see a larger cross section of the images from Coal Hunkie with more commentary, please refer to the The Coal Region tag.