In 1962, a trash fire ignited a seam of anthracite coal beneath Centralia, Pennsylvania, a once thriving mining town of over 1600 people. By the mid 1980’s, 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 a half a billion dollars, the government opted to raze the town and relocate its residents.
Today, 11 die-hards remain.
Filmed over a period of five 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.