Rich Howells

Centralia’s Graffiti Highway is closed and covered with dirt to drive away visitors during coronavirus pandemic

Centralia’s Graffiti Highway is closed and covered with dirt to drive away visitors during coronavirus pandemic
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In the past month, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a stay-at-home order and closed non-essential businesses due to the coronavirus, so many people are looking for ways to spend their time.

Centralia fire chief and EMA director Tom Hynoski told The Daily Item that large groups have been visiting the Graffiti Highway, a stretch of Route 61 that was abandoned because of the famous Centralia mine fire that has been burning underneath the borough since 1962. It became a tourist attraction because of its fascinating history and bright graffiti, but it will soon be covered with dirt to drive away trespassers on the land currently owned by Pagnotti Enterprises in Wilkes-Barre.

“They got sick of the complaints and the liability,” Hynoski said. “People steal stuff, they spray paint in the cemetery; it’s about time something gets done.”

The project is expected to completed within three days after state troopers increased patrols and chased away at least 50 people on Monday morning, he noted.

“It’s ridiculous,” Hynoski told the Sunbury newspaper. “Oh my God, it’s crazy.”

The Morning Call reported that heavy equipment arrived today to begin dumping dirt on the colored pavement and bury what is regarded by some as public artwork.

“The number of visitors has increased during the coronavirus pandemic. On March 25, several people started a bonfire, prompting The Aristes Fire Company No. 1 to head out, and subsequently, call the Wilburton Fire Company No. 1 to the scene with its brush truck,” the Lehigh Valley paper wrote.

“Fire officials said at the time that there were about 30 ATVs and side-by-sides in the area of the bonfire, along with four-wheel drive vehicles. About 200 people were in the area, not all in connection with the bonfire, according to officials who said some came from as far away as New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Delaware.”

The smoke still rising through large cracks in the asphalt contrasted with the colorful spray paint contributes to the strange and eerie atmosphere that draws visitors to the area where an underground mine fire turned Centralia into a ghost town. It only has a handful of residents left who refuse to leave, and when they pass away, the properties will be seized by the state through eminent domain.

After constructing a new road, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation cracked down on Graffiti Highway trespassers before vacating the three-quarters of a mile section of Route 61 in 2018 and returning the land to the adjacent property owners, according to

“The largest of these owners is the Pitreal Corporation, which is part of Pagnotti Enterprises in Wilkes-Barre,” the website posted in 2018. “It is also entirely possible that one of the landholders may choose to fence off or dismantle the abandoned road.”

That seems to be what is happening now, leaving Pennsylvania residents, travelers, photographers, and more disappointed to see this historic site disappear virtually overnight. The story of Centralia will likely live on, however, continuing to inspire entertainment like “Silent Hill” for years to come.

To learn more about Centralia, watch the full-length 2007 documentary “The Town That Was” for free below:

Photo by Scott Kucharski Photography