On March 4, 2011 I purchased a .1 acre lot in the borough of Gilberton, Pennsylvania. It is located in a depressed coal mining region in the anthracite-rich, northeast part of the state. In 2006 a flood devastated most of the area. On my property remains the foundation of the house that used to be there.
I began digging at the back of the lot which borders an alley next to a creek. An elderly couple up the street showed me photographs of what Gilberton used to look like, including one of their ancestors floating down the street in a canoe when the mines flooded during the early 1900s.
While digging, artifacts like railroad spikes surfaced. Neighbors surfaced, too, curious and suspicious of my activity. I met two men gathering old soda cans in a wheelbarrow. They told me not to accidentally bury myself alive.
Soon after that I met Richard who lives two doors down. He told me the man who previously owned my property was named Alex. He also told me the abandoned property between ours belonged to a man who used to keep it as neat as a pin, "if you can imagine that." He said the man was found dead in the decayed garage beside the hole I was digging. He died of old age.
Once the hole got deep enough that it reached ground water, another neighbor accused me of defacing the property, not believing I owned it. I gave him my name and contact information as he requested.
I wasn't able to visit Gilberton for several months. When I returned, the hole was filled with gravel. When Hurricane Irene hit that summer, the garage in which the old man died had collapsed on top of the surface where I'd been digging.
Between 2011-2012 the property and its surroundings changed. Neighboring homes were demolished, including the flood-damaged house next door. The foundation on my property was torn away and the ground was leveled. (No one, I think, knew I owned the lot except Richard.)
In November, 2013 I bought a trailer for the lot.