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.