The Town That Was

Published on 30th March 2017 by

In 1978 the town of Centralia in Pennsylvania had a population of more than 1500 people, by 2007 the town had just 11 permanent residents. The reason was due to a coal mine fire which had been burning beneath the town since 1962. The town had a railway station, an elementary school  and a high school.

The coal companies operating in the area moved out when several attempts to extinguish the fire failed in the 1960’s, although bootleg mining continued until the 1980’s and there is still some small scale open pit mining nearby. The largest exodus from the town occurred in 1984 when congress allocated $42 million for relocation efforts, most of the residents accepted buyout offers and moved to other communities in Pennsylvania. A small number of residents refused the offer however and remained in the town.

The Town That Was is a 2007 documentary about the town which tells the story of the fire, the remaining residents, and focuses heavily on the fight of the 11 residents that remained in the town at the time of filming and their long fight to save the ghost town which was burning beneath his feet. It evolves primarily around John Lokitis Jr., who had assumed the role of the towns mayor and become the de facto spokesperson for the other residents whenever the town attracted press attention. Lockie, who was in his early thirties by the time filming had finished, had lived in the town since birth. After a long fight he was finally evicted in July 2009.


Anybody wanting to gain a fuller understanding of what happened in Centralia and the war that was waged between the citizens and government should consider buying the book Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire, last revised in 2009. It is available in paperback, kindle, and audiobook formats.

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