Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if you fast-forwarded into the distant future only to find yourself standing in the middle of post-apocalypse? Set aside a main road in Clairton, Pennsylvania, this strange world actually exists, sitting quietly on each side of a cracked and forgotten neighborhood street. So what exactly happened on Lincoln Way that made everybody abandon their homes in such a mad dash? What kind of stories sit buried in the remnants left behind by each family previously inhabiting these 16 houses? Was it a matter of fear as urban legends state, or simply the environment? Asking local authorities, or even the locals surrounding town, you can never exactly get a straight answer, while most will avoid answering completely.
A long section of coke piles spans the foreground where a US Steel plant sits, stationed directly across the forgotten neighborhood street of Lincoln Way. I know I use the word forgotten a lot, but perhaps this space wasn’t as much forgotten as it was intentionally blocked out of people’s minds. A very strange silence filled the atmosphere as I walked the entire street examining each and every one of these dilapidated homes. Treacherously wandering through the snow, unaware of what sat beneath a blanket of white powder; nails, needles, glass and holes, I made my way up to one porch after the other, taking a journey inside and attempting to find any remaining pieces of past lives. I was completely FLOORED by what I had found in each one, or at least in most of them, since some of them were lacking any floors at all. As I walked a broken snow-covered street with wild wreckage leaning overhead at either side of me, it came to my attention that there were small sinkholes scattered through various parts of the land.
As I walked along avoiding holes, I continued to find my way up to one porch after another, each time looking back and staring down a strange, quiet neighborhood. What’s even stranger is the fact that inside it’s as if everyone had left in such an insane hurry, as beds were left made neatly, food was scattered, dishes still in cabinets, some in the sink, family photos hung, books remained on shelves and clothes were still picked out for the next day, which sadly never came for them. In one house, even a car remained parked neatly in the garage, now covered in years of dust.
Some homes have been rotting years longer than others. A few of the homes on this block housed elderly people, some of whom ended up passing away with little to no family left and for whatever reason, nobody bothered to clean out any of the houses. One particular structure has sat vacant since 1972, after the final remaining tenant; a woman by the name of ILem White died, leaving behind all furniture and other belongings, much of which is still sat to this day. After 40 plus years of nature taking over, floors and foundations can grow very weak, and should not be taken lightly…no, they should not be taken at all, because even lightly can end up quite horribly. As my friend attempted to stand atop a bookshelf to get a shot on the second story, both bookshelf and floor below it began to give away falling into the basement. Thankfully my friend jumped back and remained unharmed. I had experienced a folly of my own when climbing a bed to take a photograph. I thought it would be incredible looking down at how the room had completely collapsed right at the beds edge viewing from atop the mattress. As I attempted a very awkward hop up to the bed, my boot caught bed sheets and became entangled, pulling me back and shifting my weight as the floor bowed beneath the bed and myself. Thankfully, I was able to catch myself, because I was not in the right mood to fall 3 stories into a basement that day. I got the photo and quickly made my way back to the stairs along what could not have even been a foot length worth of floor to work with looking over the edge.
Standing at the entrance of this neighborhood street was like facing the frontlines of post-apocalypse, staring down what the world has become after most of us have gone. Toxic fumes poured from the US Steel plant behind where I stood. Some believe that the fumes may have aided in creation of these sinkholes, while others believe it to have been a combination of a gas leak alongside the fume-contaminated soil below. A gas leak is a good place to start, considering there were gas leaks reported on October 11, 2006 at 6:30pm – these were reported only shortly before the entire block had become completely abandoned. Upon confronting some of the structures burned, it had become obvious that there had been quite a few fires over time, one fire in particular occurring on November 7, 2006 at 2:16 am. The final unit was cleared at 2:35 am.
An urban legend remains stuck to the crushed and ruptured asphalt of this eerie neighborhood, and considering how incredibly quiet everybody is about its history, it might not even be far from truth. Though it is not my own story, I will do my best to retell the legend in my own words.
It’s hard to truly conclude what is fact or fiction with Lincoln Way, but the legend tells of a creature; something not human, but unlike any animal that it could be compared to. People claimed that this creature would torment residents, while pets would go missing, later found disfigured and maimed at the forest’s edge surrounding town. Aside from mangled pets, gardens would be found torn to shreds by bigfoot-size paws, far too large to belong to any animals native to Pennsylvania. People would sometimes talk of the creature thumping, rattling and scratching at the sides of their homes.
In one incident, a young man and his friend ventured to the neighborhood at night in an attempt to debunk the legend, only soon finding that they had made a horrible mistake. Parking their blue pickup truck at the beginning of the street, they set out determined to explore and prove the legend wrong. As they ventured through each house, noticing how all items from family photos to neatly made beds remained, the sun slowly went down outside. Suddenly, right upon their exit, they heard three long scratching sounds followed by a loud ‘BANG!’ Noticing it was coming from behind a house, one of the two decided it would be worthy of checking out, still wanting to prove everyone wrong. Sneaking to a backyard where the noise was coming from, he inched his way, back against the house’s side, slowly making his way toward the noise. He could hear something large creeping towards him through the tall grass, when suddenly a deep and hellish growl brought him to full attention. Now staring at the wicked beast, he could see that it stood on all fours, as big as a horse with what seemed to be thick black hair covering it’s entire body. Noticing that the beast had razor sharp claws longer than fingers and a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, all he could do was stand completely silent in horror. Becoming suddenly spooked by one more growl, he dropped the flashlight and immediately began a sprint back towards the truck, diving in as fast as he could.
Legend says that the beast is not alone. When they had turned their truck around, for a moment the headlights faced the forest and pointed into the trees, revealing numerous sets of blood red shining eyes in the darkness of night.
This story led to the belief that the street was abandoned out of pure fear. As the creature’s torment began to escalate, a very dark terror began to sweep in and the numbers began to drop. At first, only a couple of people left, one other dying from what was thought to be just old age. Pretty soon, fear became far too great and the entire remaining community decided to pick up and leave as fast as they possibly could, without saying a word. When you’re scared to near death, faced with what seems like a demon spawned from hellfire, it’s kind of difficult to pack your Kudos bars and Spongebob DVDs, let alone couches and chairs.
We may never be quite completely certain as to why Lincoln Way was left the way it was in such a blind hurry, but it makes for a very eerie, interesting mystery. Who knows why the city won’t say a word, and who knows why neighboring areas are so shy about it? Is it out of fear, or something else?
– Johnny Joo
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