In withered Pennsylvania town, time capsule opens wounds

Sun Oct 5, 2014 2:12pm EDT
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By David DeKok

CENTRALIA Pa. (Reuters) - The contents of a half-century-old time capsule buried in Centralia, Pennsylvania, were bound to stir up bitter-sweet memories for those forced by a still-smoldering underground fire to abandon the town decades ago.

But the official unveiling of the artifacts on Saturday is likely to be a lot more bitter than sweet, even for the people of an old coal mining town that has seen its share of hard luck.

Severe water leakage destroyed much of what was inside, especially books, paper documents and old photos, leading the organizers to schedule the presentation two years earlier than the 50-year anniversary of its burial, when it was originally planned.

"Over 48 years, the stuff was totally ruined," said Ed Lawler, president of the Centralia chapter of the American Legion, a veterans organization that now meets in the nearby village of Wilburton.

The capsule was buried in the yard of the group's old building in Centralia in 1966, about 200 feet from the coal mine fire which began in 1962 and still burns today, releasing steam into the air.

"We want to give what's left back to the original donors or their children," Lawler said.

Centralia, about 115 miles northwest of Philadelphia, was home to about a thousand people before Congress decided to fund a $42 million relocation of the town that began in 1984. It would have cost an estimated $600 million to put out the fire which geologists say could keep burning for decades, fueled by the large underground coal deposits.

Today, Centralia has fewer than 10 residents. Of the 400 to 500 buildings, perhaps five remain.   Continued...

A time capsule buried in Centralia, Pennsylvania, in 1966 is noted by this marker in the yard of the Centralia American Legion post in Centralia, Pennsylvania November 17, 2007. REUTERS/David Dekok