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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Nobody Lives in Centralia

From Dave Brigham:

I first heard of Centralia, PA, in the late '80s, in a song of the same name by the band Nice Strong Arm. I was haunted by the lyric, "Nobody lives in Centralia."

I don't remember when I found out there was a town with a tragic story behind that lyric, but it was several years ago. I'd forgotten about Centralia until reading Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. The book is Bryson's account of walking parts of the Appalachian Trail, and is an excellent read.

He spends several pages covering the history of Centralia, a former mining town in east central Pennsylvania, under which a fire has been burning since 1962. Bryson drives to the town, and finds a spooky scene out of an end-of-the-world movie.

Bryson cites an article that states that there may be enough coal under the town to burn for a thousand years. Think about that.

Much of what we write about and take pictures of here is decay and abandonment. Much of the time, amidst the rust and overgrowth and collapse, it is possible to see a new future, a day when developers buy and clear a property and build a new office park or residential community.

In Centralia's case, unfortunately, the future is beyond anybody's view. Much of the town has been bulldozed and there are few residents. Below is an embedded trailer for a documentary about the town, "The Town That Was." I had embedded the movie here, but for some reason it's not working.

One of the guys in the movie nails it when he says, in essence, we know how to build a town, but we have no idea how to end a town.

The main source in the movie is John Lokitis, who at the time the movie was made (it was released in 2007) was 34 years old. I was struck by his genuine love of the town, concern for its upkeep (he refurbished old municipal Christmas decorations and hung them although few are around to see them anymore), and sense of the history of both the doomed burg and his family and fellow residents.

After watching the movie (it's 70 minutes long) I did an online search for Lokitis. He has since moved out of his house, so apparently nobody is taking care of the town any more. Very sad, and cautionary tale.

Here is the trailer. If you want to watch the whole film, go to this Hulu.com link.

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