The Republican Herald
Centralia documentary to debut at Pottsville’s Majestic Theater
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.