While the history and interesting facts are outlined quite well in the main overview, I would like to add a brief timeline of various events that happened before the mine fire...after learning about, and exploring, this town I became fascinated with it, traveling to Wilkes-Barre to get some local history books written about the fire, and Centralia in general.
What once was a peaceful mining community was made so through the strength and perseverance of people who had little, and who faced adversity (and often just horrible luck) in ways that seem unimaginable today. To begin:
-Originally named Centerville, the town is renamed by mining engineer Alexander Rea in 1842. Before having officially becoming a town, the area was known as 'Bull's Head', for a tavern on the property that had opened in 1841.
-In 1866, the borough of Centralia is officially established.
-Founder Alexander Rea is ambushed and murdered on his way home one night in 1868, allegedly by the Molly Maguires; an Irish secret society who fought against Irish oppression (usually with acts of terrorism).
-In 1869, Father Daniel McDermott of St. Ignatius Church, rails against the town for harboring the Maguires during his Sunday service. He was allegedly beaten severely, then at the following week's service is said to have cursed the town, saying that, "One day this town will be erased from the earth.". In truth, is seems he only laid a curse on two people; Mollies that had been found guilty of Rea's murder.
-Strikes within various mining companies begin in and around 1902.
-In December of 1908, a fire devastated Centralia, destroying one whole block, consuming 42 buildings and leaving over 100 people homeless.
-In 1918 Spanish Influenza claims the lives of 10% of Centralia's population.
-In 1948, the second worst airline disaster in US history (before 1950) occurs, when a DC-6 crashes in nearby Aristas. All 43 people on board are killed, their bodies interred in Centralia's St. Ignatius cemetery.
-In July of 1961, 13 year old Jane Benfield was brutally murdered when, after getting in a car with a traveling salesman (Frank Earl Senk) to help him find an address, he abducted her, tortured and killed her, and dumped her in an old strip mining pit. Senk would eventually be captured and charged with many sexual assault/murders, and sentenced to death. While he was never executed, he would die in prison in 1992. Jane Benfield now rests beside her parents in St. Ignatius cemetery.
-And as we all know, in May of 1962, the mine fire starts in an abandoned strip pit east of Odd Fellow's cemetery, when trash in the landfill is burned for Memorial Day, and finds its way into improperly sealed tunnels, to the anthracite veins below. Lack of response and government bungling will for the next few decades split the town in two while the fire spreads, leaving the town to the perils of subsidence, fire, toxic gases, and spoiled land. The nearby village of Byrnsville will become completely abandoned by the mid '80s, and by 2018, only a handful of people remain in what was Centralia.
Thanks for reading! While some of this info comes from Google, I feel I should acknowledge journalist/author David DeKok and author Deryl B. Johnson, from whose books I learned of some of this information.