The Republican Herald

Centralia documentar­y to debut at Pottsville’s Majestic Theater

- BY MARK GILGER Jr. STAFF WRITER mgilgerjr@republican­herald.com 570-628-6023

CENTRALIA — A new documentar­y on “Pennsylvan­ia’s Lost Town” will premiere in Pottsville next week as state police continue to cite trespasser­s in the area.

“Centralia: Pennsylvan­ia’s Lost Town” will premiere at 7 p.m. May 6 and 2 p.m. May 7 at the Majestic Theater, 209 N. Centre St., Pottsville. Tickets are $10 and a portion of the sales will go to the Centralia Legion Post 608, Wilburton. A full list of showings is available online at www.centraliap­a.org.

“I was just fascinated with the story,” Joe Sapienza II, Philadelph­ia, executive producer and director of the new documentar­y, said Saturday.

The 1 1/2-hour film details the history of the borough and the undergroun­d coal fire in 1962. It also includes interviews with a former and a few current residents.

“Every time we went there, we interviewe­d tourists out there and they always asked us about Graffiti Highway,” Sapienza said. “That was the main attraction. Personally, I don’t get it, but it is fascinatin­g over the past five years how much graffiti has been added to that road. It’s one of the major attraction­s.”

Graffiti Highway is featured on the poster for the film.

In February, state police were asked to cite any trespasser­s, especially those walking on the closed road. The state Department of Transporta­tion closed the 0.74-mile section of Route 61 in 1994 when it

became unsafe for vehicles. About a decade after it closed, the road became a tourist attraction due to its warped pavement and the amount of graffiti covering it. Dirt mounds block the roadway and Route 61 now bypasses the area through Byrnesvill­e Road.

PennDOT owns all the surface rights to the highway right-of-way and has the right to limit access to, and use of any part deemed necessary, David Thompson, PennDOT community relations coordinato­r for District 3, said Friday. The department no longer monitors the conditions of the abandoned road.

While interviewi­ng a few of the residents still living in the borough, Sapienza said some of them have grown frustrated with tourists trespassin­g. However, Sapienza said he believes “Pennsylvan­ia’s Lost Town” will always be a tourist attraction because of its unique history. The Centralia documentar­y is Sapienza’s third film, but is his most popular.

“This one just seems like it is getting more press because it is local and Centralia has a following,” Sapienza said.

Although just outside of Ashland, Centralia and the surroundin­g Conyngham Township are part of Columbia County. Cpl. Corey Wetzel, a patrol unit supervisor with state police at Bloomsburg, had said PennDOT contacted state police about increasing their presence in Centralia after learning about a “Barbie Jeep Racing” event on Facebook planned for Feb. 11 on Graffiti Highway. The event, which would have featured adults driving batterypow­ered children’s vehicles, had about 1,000 people “interested” in attending. It was later canceled.

Police cited eight people that day for driving ATVs and other vehicles on the road and told about 30 people to leave, he said.

“We have been increasing patrol,” Wetzel said April 21. “There is always an increase (in tourists) in the summer time. As the weather gets nicer, we expect there will be more, but hopefully word will get out we are patrolling the area. We are still keeping an eye on it and citations are being issued.”

According to Magisteria­l District Judge Craig Long’s office in Catawissa, eight people have been cited for trespassin­g in Centralia since April 6. The $50 fines actually totaled $216.50 due to additional state fees.

The Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau removed the Centralia section from its website in February.

A mine fire has been burning under the borough since 1962. In the late 1980s, a $42 million federal relocation program bought most of the homes and tore them down. The state took control of all property in the borough in 1992 through eminent domain, but a handful of residents sued for their right to stay and in 2013, eight people were given permission to continue living there.

There are now fewer than five people remaining in the borough.

 ?? DAvID MCKEOWN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ?? Route 61, left, wraps around the closed portion of Route 61 in Centralia, which was closed due to the Centralia mine fires, and now is covered in graffiti from one end to the other.
DAvID MCKEOWN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER Route 61, left, wraps around the closed portion of Route 61 in Centralia, which was closed due to the Centralia mine fires, and now is covered in graffiti from one end to the other.
 ?? DaviD McKeown / Staff PhotograPh­er ?? Route 61, which was closed due to the Centralia mine fires, near Centralia, is covered in graffiti from one end to the other.
DaviD McKeown / Staff PhotograPh­er Route 61, which was closed due to the Centralia mine fires, near Centralia, is covered in graffiti from one end to the other.

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