In its peak, the nearly-deserted town of Picher, Oklahoma boasted a growing population and booming little economy. Today, it looks more like an American Chernobyl…
East Oklahoma swelled with new work and new wealth as mining moguls realized the area was rich with lead and zinc. No area was richer with these mineral riches than Picher, OK. Soon, the wealth of the mines was showing up all over the area like the 1929 Coleman Theatre in nearby MIami, OK, built with George Coleman’s mining fortunes. The boom, however, would eventually turn bust. When it did, no town busted harder than Picher…
Through the middle of the 20th century, the mines’ production slowed and the population slowly began to leave Picher in search of work elsewhere. Soon, lack of work wasn’t the only issue… Picher had become a poisonous town.
The EPA eventually took action and declared Picher to be the “most toxic town in America” and worked to both relocate residents and dig several feet of topsoil from the yards of their residences.
When the EPA studied the area, the results were frightening… The 14,000 abandoned mines and 36 million tons of mill sand have rendered the entire area’s water completely undrinkable. If while in nearby Miami, OK we saw billboards that read “5 Second Rule. A rule not to follow.”- attempts to keep children from ingesting lead.
By the time the school in Picher shut down, other teams wouldn’t even set foot on their playing fields, and a 1996 study of Picher claimed as much as 34% of the children living in Picher suffered from lead poisoning.
The final straw for what few residents remained was a 2008 F4 tornado that left six dead and over 100 injured. A year later the town voted to close the school and 4 years later the city was officially dissolved.
Like several ghost towns in America, not everyone abandoned Picher. Today, there are said to be roughly a half dozen families still in town and the Old Miner’s Pharmacy is said to still be open making it the last business to remain.
The owner of the pharmacy, Gary Linderman, tries to keep this last business in operation to support the remaining folks in the area, most of whom suffer from lead poisoning.
Most of the structures around the town have been torn down, but some still remain. You can still visit Picher Oklahoma, but explore at your own risk as the 14,000 mines present a significant risk of you finding yourself in a cave-in. Stay on the roads and stay in your car.