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Dying Embers

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abandonded house abandoned house (road_less_trvled/flickr)

Mary Lou Gaughin was drawn to Centralia, Pennsylvania when it had the energy of a city--it was a thriving, happy community. But, 40 years ago, a fire broke out deep underground and changed everything. Joan Quigley, author of The Day the Earth Caved In, wrestles with the question of when a town really dies. And Tom Dempsey brings to life the pain of letting go of a place that's always been home.

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece indicated that the Dow Jones Industrial Average originated in the 1920’s.  In fact, it originated in the 1890’s; during the 1920’s it was expanded to include 30 companies, the number it includes today.  The audio has been adjusted in consideration of this fact.

Guests:

Tom Dempsey, Mary Lou Gaughin and Joan Quigley

Comments [11]

Seth Gilbertson from Harpers Ferry, WV

The first time I heard about this town was in Bill Bryson's book about the Appalachian trail. I think I remember reading that the fire was unable to be put out because of the type of coal that is present in this area. It is really interesting to hear so much more of this town's strange story! I listen to radiolab pretty much every weekend and have used it in my classroom! Thanks for being so awesomely entertaining and informative!

Nov. 17 2013 03:33 PM
Ravin' Dave from Lincoln, NE

The story of Centralia is even more bizarre than you realize. That whole area of was the cynosure of Mollie Maguire activity up through the 1870's. The reverend of St. Ignatius RC church made his displeasure known -- even speaking out from the pulpit. This earned him a savage beating from the Mollies. The stories goes that he cried out to the townsfolk for help, but they ignores his pleas. And he cursed them ... to eternal hellfire.

Dec. 09 2012 04:20 AM
Steve Giovinco from New York, NY

Another great show, especially hearing about Centralia, the odd burning town in Pennsylvania. I've visited there and photographed in Centralia, and one of the strangest things was to feel the heat on the ground as you walk and seeing smoke come up.

Nov. 24 2012 12:48 PM
JWHOLT from Detroit

In the Story, The only place in Centralia that is growing is the Cemetary...... The Cemetary is St Ingnatius, and that, if you know Latin, means "to Ignite" or "firestarter".

Eponymous...........

Nov. 23 2012 06:43 PM
Alex from Michigan

I love that that lady moved from Burnsville...now Centralia is "Burnsville"!

Jul. 25 2012 05:08 PM
Susan from Williamston, MI

My grandfather was a retired mining engineer from that area. I remember him telling us kids about the fire under ground in the early 1970's. It was hard to believe until you saw smoke coming out of the ground when you drove through town years later.

Jul. 16 2012 07:04 PM
Chris from Los Angeles

For can find the documentary The Town That Was here:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Town-that-Was/dp/B004YNE3KM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1330823152&sr=8-2

Mar. 03 2012 08:06 PM
David DeKok from Harrisburg, Pa.

Nice production, if somewhat unbalanced in certain respects. As the author of Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire, I can tell you that (a) the fire was started accidentally by the town itself, to clean up the landfill, and (b) that Concerned Citizens Action Group Against the Centralia Mine Fire were the good guys in the story. The relocation was handled humanely, and Centralia residents received generous payments for their homes, at least in the main relocation. The Mayernicks, the tragic murder-suicide couple mentioned in the piece, lived in a rental that the owner had sold to the Redevelopment Authority.

Jan. 20 2011 09:44 PM

The idea of a city in part never dying because of generation after generation coming home to rest eternally kind of blew my mind. I really enjoyed all the stories on what makes cities tick...great job radiolab!

Dec. 03 2010 12:15 PM
Darlene from Altamont, NY

I grew up in Millville, PA and I remember traveling through Centralia. I still tell people about it but they don't really understand. Great job on this piece!!!

Nov. 19 2010 02:09 PM
Jeremy from Aristes, PA

So I'm a huge Radiolab fan, and I'm listening to "Cities," and next thing you know I hear Centralia being mentioned. That has to have been my coolest moment as a listener, considering I live literally 30 seconds away from Centralia.

Keep it up everyone at Radiolab!

Nov. 09 2010 10:39 PM

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