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4.5 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In 1962, a trash fire ignited a seam of anthracite coal beneath Centralia, Pennsylvania, a once-thriving mining town of over 3,000 people. By the mid-1980s, giant plumes of smoke and deadly carbon monoxide gases billowed from fissures in the ground, the local highway cracked and collapsed, trees were bleached white and petrified, as the fire continued to rage unchecked. It wasn't until a young boy nearly died after falling into a smoldering mine subsidence that the government was pressed into action. After estimating the cost of extinguishing the fire at over half a billion dollars, the government instead opted to raze the town and relocate its residents. Today, 11 die-hards remain. Filmed over a period of four years with interviews ranging from former residents to Congressmen, The Town That Was is an intimate portrait of John Lokitis, the youngest remaining Centralian, and his quixotic fight to keep alive a hometown that has literally disintegrated under his feet. His unbowed determination and steadfast refusal to acknowledge defeat reveal a man, a town, a region, and a way of life abandoned and forgotten.


Gosh, what an amazing real world mystery: in 1962, Centralia, Pennsylvania, was a thriving mining town when a trash fire ignited a seam of anthracite coal. The fire continued until the mid 1980s when the landscape of this sleepy little hamlet looked more like a war-zone than a place where families lived and prospered. What happened to the town that was? Chris Perkel and Georgie Roland s fascinating little documentary, The Town That Was, answers that question through interviews with former and present residents. Yes, amazingly some 11 die-hards still live in the smoking town that sits atop some of the purest coal in the world. One resident, John Lokitis is the youngest remaining Centralian and continues to fight to keep his literally burning away town alive. Living in his grandfather s home, he takes us on a tour of the place. And he says that it is as it has mostly always been. But while it may be the same inside, the outside is nothing like it was. Lokitis commitment to the spirit of the town is made very personal and touching by filmmakers Perkel and Roland who smartly intersperse great old home movies from the town s folk. One old film shows a large group partying in what looks like a bar or recreation center. They re all dressed like pilgrims, with the hats and everything, happily they drink beer from ornately shaped brown bottles (perhaps, a local Pennsylvania brew popular at the time). It s like something straight out of The Deer Hunter. Against the backdrop of what happens in the years to come, this scene is so very poignant. But Lokitis desire to keep living in the smoking environment is kind of disturbing. His pupils look to be the size of pin-points and his statements about there being no danger in the area doesn t square with the reality that s all around him. In one scene, Lokitis says something like the government won t let those remaining sell the land and restart the town even though it is safe. He s saying this as the field behind him continues to belch smoke! And experts warn that the very ground below him could ignite at any second! But there is a larger tragic point here. These people have lost their tangible sense of home, which is more than just the structures themselves, the land itself no longer available to them. The concept of being a refugee in the United States is unique to American citizens. While we see an influx of immigrants and are debating these issues on Capital Hill, most Americans have little personal connection to the plight of those forced from their home. The former residents of Centralia know what this is like. And Chris Perkel and Georgie Roland s film, The Town That Was, gives us a glimpse of what it is like to be a refugee in the most free country in the world. --Entertainment Insiders

Having served as inspiration for several fictional spooky settings, Centralia, a real life ghost town, finally has its true story revealed and we discover that it s not very spooky at all. In fact, it s actually kind of lonely as the town is inhabited by eleven remaining residents, one of whom has taken it upon himself to keep Centralia alive as much as one man can. Filmmakers Chris Perkel and Georgie Roland give us the skinny on Centralia, the town that was. In 1962, the local fire department in small mining town Centralia, Pennsylvania set an annual controlled garbage burning in preparation for Memorial Day festivities. The fire grew out of control and spread down into the mines where the coal has continued to burn over the last 40 plus years (oops), ever traveling beneath the town, spitting plumes of smoke up from the ground. Over those years, Centralia has slowly seen most of its inhabitants leave for safer pastures. Mass exodus finally came in 1981 when fears of carbon monoxide poisoning and other fire safety issues reached an all-time high. Buildings were condemned and destroyed and today the only remaining sign of Centralia are several paved roads, some houses, a church, a few cemeteries and its eleven remaining residents. A few of these residents are interviewed for the documentary and they detail the tragic fate of Centralia as film footage of the town s good old days fade into it s current state of dreary lifelessness. Through these stories and imagery we are fed a fairly in-depth history lesson, but the heart of this doc lies with the stories of the remaining residents themselves, especially the town s youngest inhabitant, 33 year-old John Lokitis, who refuses to leave his hometown even though the government has since claimed ownership of what remains of Centralia, making John and the others squatters in their own homes. Some of the residents fear the government will swoop in any day and boot them out of town, while others figure they ll just be left alone until the whole place dies out. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, Lokitis does his best with the local upkeep, mowing lawns, painting park benches, even lighting Christmas lights during the holidays. To many, including those living outside of Centralia in nearby Ashland, Lokitis is a hero, but to others he s a crazy eccentric who s unable to see the writing on the wall. Lokitis serves as tour guide of this film, detailing daily life and duties as well as various struggles such as the post office wanting to wipe Centralia off of the map. Through it all, Lokitis exudes love and loyalty to his home and he makes it clear that he ll do whatever it takes to stay where he feels he most belongs. Hero or crazy eccentric? The filmmakers let you make up your own mind during the documentary s course, but whatever you decide, you can t deny the inspirational draw of this Hell no, we won t go! story. --FilmThreat.com

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Various
  • Directors: Chris Perkel, Georgie Roland
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: CINEVOLVE
  • DVD Release Date: May 19, 2009
  • Run Time: 71 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00208GJ14
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,475 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Plazek on July 31, 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
First the "pros" of this DVD ... excellent footage is included of the town (or lack thereof), the re-routed PA Route 61, the damage the fire continues to do, and the scenery around the area. Watching the elderly mayor of Centralia and one of the last remaining residents gives a good feel for how attached some people were to the town and why they still will not leave. The home movies from the 1960's that are briefly shown on the DVD add character and a real personality to the town that has a way of getting lost when you just read about the history of the town.

Now the "cons" of this DVD ... I have two complaints. First, the video is very shaky for extended periods of time. For a professionally recorded and edited DVD, the camera operator(s) really should have used a tripod! I found myself looking away from the screen a few times because of the shaky camerawork. The second complaint is that the story of Centralia is told through the eyes of one of the very few remaining residents. Nothing against him, mind you. He did a good job of explaining his family roots and what makes him stay on in a town that no longer has any ownership of property. However, to be honest about it -- I wanted to see more of a visual history of the town and the mine fire. The producer(s)/writer(s) spent too much camera time on one person. While his story is interesting and I am not knocking him, I would have enjoyed seeing a lot more fully-factual information in it.

Lastly, having read the book "The Day the Earth Caved In" as well as currently reading "Unseen Danger", the DVD missed a lot of key parts of the story: how did the fire truly begin? Who is Todd Domboski? (he is shown in the DVD without an explanation of who he is and how he directly relates to the panic of 1981) Also ...
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I have actually taken a trip up to Centralia a few months ago, to see basically a massive meadow with smoldering hillsides. Once you see this video, you get to see what WAS there, and how that strange place was once a massive and thriving town. It is truly amazing.
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Recent local news says that the last resident finally moved out. This is an excellent account of a small town, lost to a man made disaster and the few loyal people who hung on until the very end. Covers Pennsylvania history, coal mining history. Answered all of the questions that came to my mind over the years since I first heard about it. Well done independent film.
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I have read 2 books on this tragedy so far - and watched this DVD. The books tell more about the stupid political bickering that allowed this tragedy to happen - a fire that could have been easily put out in the beginning, allowed to grow slowly and destroy an entire town - and develop into something that make take billions to put out - and destroy more towns such as Mt. Carmel PA eventually.
The DVD does need some more added features - the extra's are also a must to watch - but one extra that is needed is to document how the people were lied too about the health effects of CO2 poisoning - before the days of the internet. People concerned about how they were suddenly feeling ill, as well as their family - had to drive to a library and look up the effects of Co2 poisoning - as the government was acting as if they had nothing to worry about - when furnaces wouldn't stay lit (pilot lights not having enough air to stay lit), people falling asleep and not being able to be easily awakened - sick, tired, etc.
The missing part that is really needed though is with todays technology, can anything be done to rebuild Centralia in honor of the people who went through such hell for so many years, trying to get the government to quickly supply assistance to prevent this tragedy from developing. Today, can the fire be mapped by infrared and other means - then the mines filled in under Centralia and bring a few homes and businesses back? As one person stated in the DVD - I have no hometown to go back too - when we gather at the cemetery for our yearly celebration - we can't go to a restaurant nearby, or anyone's home - it would be so nice to bring back a few homes, and a few businesses.
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Very well done ! Excellent story !

I have lived in close proximity to Centralia my entire life. I have witnessed the heydays of this forgotten town during my childhood in the 1970s. I have visited often since its demise in the early 1980s, doing my best to photograh and document the tragic loss of a community's life for my own personal record.
This film brought tears and visceral emotion..realizing that what I had experienced as a "local" were merely just pictures and newspaper clippings. The true meaning of this film is of one man's hope..hope to preserve and save the true legacy of a small town and the people who once called it home. His continued unselfish, un-rewarded efforts to keep what is left of his hometown alive.
I write this while listening to the DVD's soudtrack, feeling, once again, emotion. Trying to understand the emotions of the residents of this town, past and current, and my own...wondering how this could happen. An entire town..full of life,love and spirit.. vanished.

This film not only can be important to people from this area in NE PA, it also can be enjoyed by anyone interested in the love of life, the undying determination of hope, and memories.
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