CENTRALIA — Despite calls from President Donald Trump to avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people to slow the spread of coronavirus, hundreds of people descended Wednesday to “Graffiti Highway.”
Individuals and groups of at least 10 people from throughout central Pennsylvania snapped photographs and left their marks with spray paint on the former four-lane state highway in Centralia, which has dwindled to a single-digit population since 1962 because of a deep-mine fire.
A resident of Conyngham Township, who wished to remain anonymous, estimated that 250 people on Wednesday visited the three-quarters of a mile stretch of cracked and sunken asphalt, which has increased in notoriety since closing to traffic in December 1993.
PennDOT vacated the property in February 2018, allowing ownership to revert to adjacent property owners. The majority of it is now owned by Pitreal Corp., a subsidiary of Pagnotti Enterprises, of Wilkes-Barre.
The resident planned to call the Pennsylvania State Police, citing concerns over the possible spread of coronavirus.
A man in his 20s laid off last week from a bakery in State College visited “Graffiti Highway” with a friend, but did not have concerns about contracting coronavirus from another tourist.
“People are staying in their own pods and keeping to themselves,” the man remarked. “The bakery closed last week. We make custom cakes, but there are no weddings or graduations. Since everything is shut down, I thought visiting an abandon town would be a good spot to visit.”
The people visiting “Graffiti Highway” Wednesday afternoon included parents with their children, a group of 10 young adults, seven high school students from Williamsport and four high school students from Jim Thorpe.
“You are OK as long as you’re not touching something they’re touching,” one of teenagers from Jim Thorpe said while painting the road. “When we got here it was really crowded, but we really didn’t talk to anybody, either.
A motorcyclist from Chester County, which recorded its ninth coronavirus case on Wednesday, ventured into Centralia to scout the area for a future ride with friends.
“You got to protect yourself,” he said through a motorcycle face mask. “All the businesses are closed. That’s why I am here. My business is closed.”
The motorcyclist snapped a few photographs and left the area after about 10 minutes, but only after borrowing a can of spray paint from a group of three adults.