The Immortal Flame
Marcus Hook, population 2400, lies 20 miles south of Philadelphia, where Pennsylvania meets Delaware and New Jersey. Entering the town, the first thing you notice are the towers and smokestacks of the refinery. This huge industrial park used to be Delaware County’s economic engine, its perennial flame burning oil and illuminating the houses of Marcus Hook. As a source of employment for its citizens it was a symbol of prosperity and security. Throughout the Cold War Marcus Hook was a postcard expression of the economic boom and the realized American Dream. It was a gear in a machine that, fueled by the power of petrol, seemed destined to work forever. New houses sprung up around the refinery, and then churches, schools, and shops. A tight knit and proud community grew around that seemingly immortal flame.
The spell lasted half a century and was finally broken in the spring of 2012. Sunoco Inc closed shop, firing all of its employees and extinguishing the refinery’s flame forever. The refinery's shutdown has affected the town profoundly, leaving hundreds unemployed and depriving the borough of a fundamental source of revenue. But the problem goes beyond the economy: Marcus Hook is facing a full scale identity crisis. Where there used to be an infrastructure of support and protection intrinsically tied to the town's fate now there is only the barren landscape of a dying industry, and for the people of Marcus Hook this represents the loss of the town's distinctive feature.
In spite of all this, the discovery of an unexpected treasure has given the town a glimpse of new hope. It all started when Michael Manerchia, an ex refinery worker and heavy machine operator, decided to buy the house at 221 Market Street, intending to eventually move in with his family. During the first days of renovation however, he accidentally smashed one of the living room walls, exposing behind it a second wall made of old wooden planks. Manerchia quickly realized the importance of this discovery. What he saw in front of him was certainly no secret chest of pirate gold, but it could be equally precious. Those planks in fact belonged to a house built in the 18th Century, a plankhouse believed to have been torn down long ago, that according to local lore had belonged to Blackbeard’s mistress and was favored by him and his crew as a base between raids on the American East Coast. The plankhouse attracted scholars and historians from all around. A team of archaeologists, lead by professor Dave Orr of Temple University, began the digs in and around the house. As these works progressed a different history began to resurface: that of Marcus Hook as an important commercial port for ships (and pirate ships) sailing the Delaware River, an identity that had been almost completely lost during the industrial years.
The Return of Blackbeard the Pirate.
This series of events encouraged Mr. Manerchia to found the Plank House Crew, a pirate re-enactment group that in collaboration with the Marcus Hook Preservation Society organizes the yearly Pirate Festival, an event featuring a wide variety of food stands, games, live music and even cruises on a historic sailboat. It is still too early to say whether the rediscovery of a pirate past and an emphasis on tourism can lead Marcus Hook away from the brink of the void, but the recent recovery of the town’s historical memory has certainly reawakened the hope that there exists an alternative to the refinery and that a future is still possible.
The Turning Point
Marcus Hook is not an isolated case. Many other American cities and townships, along the so-called “Rust Belt”, are in similarly dire situations. These are communities that grew hand in hand with heavy industry but were then left to fend on their own as the sector slowly collapsed. That the rebirth of a refinery town could spring from pirate legends may seem almost bizarre, but the Plankhouse Crew’s passion and dedication reveal a deeper purpose. It’s clear proof that as long as there is a community that loves its town and a will to survive even through the darkest night, there is still hope for the cities of the Rusty Belt. If the Plankhouse Crew's plans of renewal come to fruition, Marcus Hook could be an example capable of inspiring other cities to make this difficult postindustrial transition to a new identity and a more sustainable and participative economic model. It may seem an impossible feat, but a sense for creativity and a dash of self-irony can help you along the way. Perhaps sometimes the treasure map leads right back home.
This film does not have a large budget, and we have a small team of only three people. However we do need your help to continue filming. We've already made one three day trip Marcus Hook, and we plan to make at least two more trips, of three days each, in order to collect the material necessary to do justice to this story. Your pledges will be be used exclusively to cover the production costs for 9 days of shooting, including:
• Transportation to and from Marcus Hook (3 people/bus and train) = $165
• Accommodation in the neighboring town of Claymont (3 people/8 total nights) = $775
• The rental of a car during our stay there (9 total days) = $620
• As well as the rental of camera equipment from a New York studio (9 total days) = $440
Director: Valerio Ciriaci
Director of Photography: Isaak Liptzin
Sound Recordist: Janna Kyllästinen
Music (in order):
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) - Lithium
Agathe Laforge - Gymnopedies - La 1 Ere
Kevin MacLeod - Faster Does It
Nicholas Hunt - Strumming Song
- (30 days)