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The end of the Graffiti Highway

April 2020

An accidental tourist attraction in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region is no more.

The infamous “Graffiti Highway” in Centralia has been covered over and buried with around 9, 000 tons of dirt, trucked in by Fox Coal Company Mining, on behalf of the property owner Pagnotti Enterprises of Wilkes-Barre.

A coal mine fire that has been burning under Centralia since 1962, lead to the near-abandonment of this once bustling borough.

Among other destruction caused by the fire, a three-quarter mile section of Pennsylvania Route 61 leading out of the south end of town, was ordered closed in 1984 by PennDOT (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation), due to cracking and buckling from the heat of the fire.

Route 61 was re-routed along the Byrnesville Road, before re-joining the original section south of Byrnesville, a smaller village that was completely abandoned because of the fire.

Over the past four decades, the abandoned section of Route 61 has become an unlikely tourist mecca. The multi-coloured graffiti covering the deteriorating asphalt of this former roadway has attracted visitors to Centralia from all over the United States and Canada.

Some of these visitors come simply to see the highway, but some came bearing spray paint cans so they can leave “their own mark.” Most would toss their spray paint cans into the gullies and wooded areas on either side of the highway. Others use the same places to dispose of unwanted items; everything from household trash, to furniture, to tires. Some have been known to start “camp fires” on the highway.

ATV and dirt bike riders also used the car-free road as their own private race track, creating noise and occasionally injuries that would have to be attended to by emergency services.

PennDOT retained ownership of the abandoned road until 2018, when it was sold to Pagnotti Enterprises. While police patrols of the highway had been increasing the past couple of years, even the ticketing of trespassers on this now-private land didn’t keep away the crowds of “sightseers.”

However, what seems to have spurned on the current action was the current Wuhan coronavirus crisis. Despite the order by Pennsylvania Governor Wolf restricting movement and shutting down non-essential businesses, more visitors than usual have descended on Centralia and the “Graffiti Highway,” angering the remaining Centralia residents.

Centralia Fire Chief and emergency management director Tom Hynoski advised the media that Pagnotti was concerned about the increased liability this placed upon them and decided it was time to put an end to the trespassing problem.

Hynoski also advised there had been an increase in spray-painting and other vandalism in the nearby Centralia cemeteries.

While some may mourn the loss of the “Graffiti Highway,” the remaining Centralia residents and Pagnotti Enterprises won’t be among them. Future plans call for the planting of trees on the newly-laid soil.

Read my other articles on Centralia, starting with my first article: https://militarybruce.com/the-town-that-was/

Sources: https://www.dailyitem.com/coronavirus/graffiti-highway-to-be-closed-by-owners/article_c40c0166-781d-11ea-9dc6-f30fecce8def.html?fbclid=IwAR1hyArO-3AW7zEw5aDrRkUDAGSC6OpKCnlM0NXumByKguACO_u4rnT1uck, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8201643/Pennsylvanias-abandoned-Graffiti-Highway-Centralia-ghost-town-permanently-shut-down.html, https://www.skooknews.com/2020/05/graffiti-highway-completely-covered-in.html?fbclid=IwAR1kaSgpEae1ZH_qS1cmFTiGXqmCTAIBmOctoGfD88Z9wPFGFq-QFte-fsA.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/the-end-of-the-graffiti-highway/

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