small town

10

Centralia, Pennsylvania
Population: 10

“Analysts disagree about the specific cause of the Centralia fire. Writer David Dekok concluded that it started incident to cleanup of the town landfill. In May 1962, the Centralia Borough Council hired five members of the volunteer fire company to clean up the town landfill, located in an abandoned strip-mine pit next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery just outside the borough limits. This had been done prior to Memorial Day in previous years when the landfill was in a different location.

On May 27, 1962, the firefighters, as they had in the past, set the dump on fire and let it burn for some time. Unlike in previous years, however, the fire was not fully extinguished. An unsealed opening in the pit allowed the fire to enter the labyrinth of abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia.  According to a legend, the Bast Colliery coal fire of 1932 was never fully extinguished. In 1962, it reached the landfill area.

Few homes remain standing in Centralia. Most of the abandoned buildings have been demolished by the Columbia County Redevelopment Authority or reclaimed by nature. At a casual glance, the area now appears to be a field with many paved streets running through it. Some areas are being filled with new-growth forest. The remaining church in the borough, St. Mary’s, holds weekly services on Sunday. It has not yet been directly affected by the fire. The town’s four cemeteries—including one on the hilltop that has smoke rising around and out of it—are maintained in good condition.”

i want to run away. it’s not that i hate this place, or that something particularly horrible has happened. i feel the never ending need to go and run and see new things and breathe different air. i feel the need to go somewhere where i know nothing and learn absolutely everything about it until it could be my hometown.

i want to go start over and find new friends and new family. maybe, sometime after all that, i’ll come back here. maybe i’ll apologize for leaving so abruptly without any goodbyes, and maybe i’ll find my old friends and we’ll catch up.

but, in all honesty, if i leave, that’s it. even the people that would miss me will slowly move on and will probably hate me for leaving without a word. this place wouldn’t be the same when or if i ever chose to come back. it would never feel like “home” again.

but maybe that’s okay.

5

What does it mean to lose your land, your language, and your heritage?

For Alaska Natives, these are existential threats.

On a trip to Southeast Alaska, I traveled to one village that is finding new ways to survive: Klukwan, ancestral home of the Tlingit tribe.

Nestled along the banks of the Chilkat River, Klukwan is quiet and tiny, home to about 90 people.

The Haines Highway runs through town, but on the day we visited, you could walk right down the middle of the two-lane road without worry of passing cars.

On a tour of the village, we pass by small homes and trailers: some abandoned, some with rusted old trucks out front, sinking into the soil.

“It’s a struggle,” says tribal president Kimberley Strong. “You see the buildings, some of ‘em are falling down and dilapidated. But we’re working at it. We’re working very hard at trying to keep the village alive.”

By doing that, they’re also trying to preserve the heritage of the Tlingit people, who have lived in Southeast Alaska for thousands of years.

Looking to the future, the tribe has great hopes for the new Jilkaat Kwaan Cultural Heritage Center, a soaring, light-filled space that opened in Klukwan last spring. It’s an $8 million investment in the tribe’s future, funded through grants, as well as state and federal money.

A Native Village In Alaska Where The Past Is Key To The Future

Photos: Elissa Nadworny/NPR

5

Luray, Missouri
Population: 99

“The source of the name Luray is obscure; according to the State Historical Society of Missouri most likely it is Native American in origin. A post office called Luray has been in operation since 1841. After 170 years in operation, the Luray office closed on November 4, 2011.”