Centralia doc­u­men­tary to debut at Pottsville’s Ma­jes­tic Theater

The Republican Herald - - LOCAL - 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.


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.

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