Toxic Town: Picher, Oklahoma

Toxic Town: Picher, Oklahoma

This is Picher, Oklahoma, an American exclusion zone.  An acquaintance with an enthusiastic political streak recently told me Picher, Oklahoma is a ghost town because of a tornado.  It’s true, an F4 tornado did strike Picher in 2008 and damaged 150 homes, but it was merely the final straw. From 2000 to 2010, Picher’s population dropped from over 1,600 residents to twenty.

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher is a town destroyed by industrial abuses, specifically, the mining industry.  This former town near the Kansas border dis-incorporated in 2009 and has three real problems.

First, the mining industry disposed of their mine waste, known as “chat,” in huge mounds right on the ground, creating huge artificial hills. The chat is toxic, and the fine grains from the chat piles blow all over town, settle on everything and people breathe them in.

Second, when it rains, runoff from the chat piles gets into the local water supply, as does water from abandoned mineshafts where there are no longer any pumps to keep them from flooding, and the town water becomes hazardous to drink.  The pollution of Picher caused a plethora of health problems for area residents.

Lastly, and most frightening if you ask me, is the undermining of the town.  The lead and zinc mined in this area was gathered from huge caverns excavated underground by the miners.  It was later found the mines had been excavated so close to the surface that tree roots could be seen on the roof of the caverns in  some cases. Portions of Picher collapsed into massive holes which had compromised the ground.  In 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers determined 86% of Picher’s buildings were dangerously undermined and subject to collapse.

Our friend MJ Masilko sent in these incredible photos she shot in Picher in 2010, saying “We were on our way to a wedding and only had about an hour to walk around, not even close to enough time!”  Her comments accompany some of the photos below.

Picher, Oklahoma

“A gas station a mile or so outside of Picher, on the Kansas/Oklahoma border.”

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

“The exclusion zone sign and the line of concrete pillars are also just outside of Picher. The concrete things are everywhere, parts of the old mines. And the taller concrete things, I’ve been led to believe, were smelters for the lead.”

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

“These are all from the town of Picher, I believe all from along the highway that runs through there. For such a deserted town, there’s a LOT of traffic through Picher. The only alternative highway to the turnpike between Joplin and Tulsa runs through the center of town. Also if you’re there taking pictures along the highway, everyone thinks it’s a good idea to roll down their window and yell at you. At least they do if you’re 5 months pregnant and dressed like you’re on your way to a wedding.”

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

“All photos were taken in October of 2010. There are some on here of Main Street, which is a block or two over from the highway where everyone drives through. Somewhere on or next to Main Street was where there was a collapse into a mine, which is what really got the ball rolling on buying out the town. I didn’t see where that hole was, but we only did about 4 or 5 blocks of Main Street, and it was off the side, so could have been by us and we didn’t see.”

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

“More of the buildings that remain along Main Street. We spent a lot of our time over there, because it was quiet and beautiful, exactly how a ghost town should be!”

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Today, Picher is known as the Tar Creek Superfund site and is considered uninhabitable, although a few holdouts remain.  It is one of, if not the worst, industrial environmental disaster in the United States, and one of very few industrial exclusion zones on the planet.  Other notable examples are Fukushima and Pripyat/Chernobyl.

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Even apartment buildings stand vacant in Picher.  MJ told us she wasn’t aware of the risk of collapse until after she visited and shot these photos.  Scary.

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

This one got hit by the tornado.

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

If you went to this church, would you stand for the mining industry piling toxic waste on the ground, right across the road?

Picher, Oklahoma

In the forties and fifties when Picher was booming, it was a different time and people did not guard their treasures the way we do today.

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Look closely at the photo below. To the left of the church, through the trees, a huge chat pile.

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

Picher, Oklahoma

The chat piles look like the Badlands of the midwest.  Unfortunately, these are now really bad lands and Picher, Oklahoma will revert back to nature in the coming century.

Picher, Oklahoma

See also: Picher’s Toxic Twin, Cardin, Oklahoma.

Photos by MJ MasilkoOriginal content copyright Sonic Tremor Media

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116 thoughts on “Toxic Town: Picher, Oklahoma

    1. My father is from Picher, Leroy Harper. He has many pictures of the town when it was a booming mining town and many stories. he still keeps in touch with as many as he can from his graduating class of 1954 as he was class president. I can remember visiting Picher to see my grandmother Edith Harper and great-grandmother Clementine Quiet when I was a kid and sliding down those chat hills. When I initially heard the town was gone I immediately thought it had collapsed not knowing of the tornado. I would be happy as would my Dad to share these pictures of Picher in its hay day.

    2. Yes, it is very sad what happened to the wonderful little home-town of Picher, OK. Most people might look at these pictures, read the subtitles, and be upset about the lead and zinc poisoning of the land, and the dystopia of the buildings. If this is all you will ever know of Picher, OK, I am very sorry for you. The people I grew up with were like me, materially we appeared poor, but once you got to know us, you would realize we were rich. It was a wonderful town, with families who loved each other, understood what being good neighbors really meant, and that hard work was a core value. The people of Picher wanted to keep their town, to keep the closeness and support they had built over many generations. The families of Picher moved to neighboring towns, but have always identified Picher as home, and kept close touch of distance and time. You are not the first to publish pictures of our town, and freely write opinions of what should have been done in the mining days and the aftermath of the 98′ tornado. I just hope when you were enjoying the ghosts of our past, you took time to wonder who we were, and envision our children laughing, and chasing lightening bugs in the warm embrace of summer evenings, us visiting houses of worship singing of God’s amazing grace, and building snowmen at Christmas. If anyone drives through Picher, realize it was a home, it was rich, and even in the state it is today, we are proud of were we came from, we are Chat Rats, and Picher lives in each of our hearts.

  1. This is so sad. I’ve been to Picher several times. The last time as recent as last month. Chat is being sold out of there. Why?

    1. I Lived in Picher until the tornado hit my town and took out my home and many others…. You ask why the chat is being sold out its because they are trying to remove as much of it as possible to prevent anymore toxins to be absorbed by the earth…. they cannot put it back into the ground because EPA states it is to toxic to do so. They are selling it to make asphalt all over the world.. I loved this town and still do…. now I live in the surrounding area of Quapaw which was still part of the mining in Picher.

    2. To be used in the making of roads. It is supposed to be cheaper and actually better quality of the roads. There is an Indian tribe that owns the chat piles now from what I understand.

    3. My mom lived or as should I say,existed ,in Picher before she past away in 2001. .And she lived near a big chat pile.A lady who would go see her everyday told me the chat was sold to Iraq,for the lead. That could be where its going as its being hauled out of there. I know alot of my moms health problems was from living there,,her health went down after 7 years living there, Mom had a water purifier inh er home,,i saw the drinking water people had,it ran brown. And yet,the Indian Government allowed people to live there.The tornado done the town a favor,and everyone who was in it.

      1. You have a right to your opinion, Pamela. And I understand the health issues your mother sustained while living there would leave quite a bitter taste in your mouth. But as someone who spent much of my childhood in Picher, I was taken aback by your comment, “The tornado done the town a favor, and everyone who was in it.” You do realize people died in that tornado, right? And you must also realize the pain and devastation such an event can cause, right? For such a small, tight knit community, where everyone knows everyone, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to escape completely unscathed. Survivors of this horrific event were left to grieve and pick up the pieces. I don’t see how this was a favor to anyone. It broke my heart when I read those words. I hope in future posts you will find a way to be true to yourself, while considering the affects of your words on others, and maybe find another (less brutal) way to get your message across.

        1. I, too, was taken aback by Pamela’s comment. My father was born in Quapaw in 1932. He was raised in Picher as his father and his father’s father were both miners in Picher. My dad met my mom in Long Beach, California in 1951 when he was in the Navy. They married and settled in the suburbs of Orange County. We spent our summer vacations divided between Picher and my mother’s home town of Kennett, Missouri.

          It was a wonderful upbringing in Southern California, don’t get me wrong. But the summer’s we spent in Picher are equally as wonderful. Imagine what multiple ponds and endless fishing meant to kids from the suburbs of Greater Los Angeles, not to mention the fireworks that were so totally illegal where we came from…’Cherry Bombs’ and ‘M80’s.’

          The last time I was in Picher was in 1980 just prior to deploying oversees to Europe. My Aunt Susie Hawkins and her kids and grandkids still lived locally. Watched the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” hockey match between The Soviet Union and the United States right there in my Aunt Susie’s living room. Won the first adult Bingo game of my life at the local Elks. $15.00 Bucks! I was too embarrassed to call “Bingo” as I didn’t need the money and I knew that other’s playing did.

          I was also heartsick at the news of the tornado. Looking at these photographs was a hard thing. As I studied one of those pics of the downtown area, I remembered something my dad had said the first time he took us there to spend time with family. He stopped on Main Street and said to me, “This town hasn’t changed a lick since I was your age.” That was the summer of 1959 when I was four years old.

          It’s changed now…so sad to say.

          The people of the early 20th Century no more knew they were polluting the area than the “Greatest Generation” knew smoking was just as deadly.

          Picher has joined the ranks of fabled ghost towns of North America.

          But, for those of us who were blessed to have spent time in this little town, it is a bygone era to be mourned…not chastened.

          1. Great story. I loved Qwaw Paw and Pilcher, but was not from there. Just was with a lovely girl. Boy was I dumb to let her go.

  2. From looking at all these photographs can I assume it is okay to still walk through the town and take more pictures or was this sort of a one time thing?

    1. There are still roads running through there, so it’s cool to check out as long as you’re OK with the risk that you might fall into a 300 foot deep cavern at any moment. :-/

    2. No you cannot walk through the town anymore… they have blocked off roads, and has tore down buildings and homes now…. I have Family Property still there and you have to have special permission to walk through the town now.

    3. No it is actually not ok to just walk around in picher to take photos. It is privately owned properties not a public park.

    4. I think it’s clear that it’s not safe, but it’s still legal to walk around in Picher as long as you stay on the public road. MOST of the roads are still open.

    5. I drove through Picher recently and I didn’t see a building left standing. My mother grew up there and was high school queen in 1937. I played on the chat piles as a child. There was one across the street from my grandparents.

      1. Joan: Do you know where City Records, Real Estate Records, Birth/Death/Marriage records and newspaper records were moved? i.e. to what town, or city hall, etc. My greatgrandmother moved there in 1916 before the town was incorporated. Her obit was on the front page of the newspaper; she owned property there and a millinery shop but I don’t know what year she died.
        I’d just like to find out more about her genealogy.

        1. Dale, sorry, I don’t know where they are, but I would recommend you start with Ottawa County. If they don’t have them, I would think they could at least direct you to the appropriate place.

  3. Anyone ever consider the fact that this is one tiny town? Why is it contaminated and not all of southwest Missouri and northeastern Oklahoma? They all have the same mines, chat piles, and dirt.

    1. Oh it’s all contaminated, it’s just a matter of degrees and concentration. I was born and raised in Pittsburg, KS, a former mining boom town in Crawford County, Southeast Kansas. The area has high occurrences of cancer and other debilitating diseases as do the neighboring counties of Cherokee and Labette. It’s very similar to what you find with populations in the coal mining areas of the Appalachian Mountains.

    2. My thoughts exactly. I grew up in Baxter Springs, KS, right across the border. I don’t know how they don’t consider the entire area a contaminate. So many people have died from cancer who grew up there, some very young.

    3. Treece, Kansas, directly across the state line north of Picher was also subject to a buy out a couple years after Picher. The feds actually did blood tests of the residents before being convinced the buy out was necessary.

      1. That article is full of misinformation and speculation with a few lies thrown in. I really hate That those are spreading around Facebook. Picher is NOT toxic. If it were an “exclusion zone” then you couldn’t drive through it and the Quapaw tribe wouldn’t have been able to buy the land and sell the chat for profit (think about that…) People wouldn’t have been allowed to continue living there and the Quapaw tribe wouldn’t have been able to establish tribal offices in the area. The exclusion area sign is on a property with an open shaft and has probably been taken down since the shafts have been filled in. The EPA came in to “reclaim” the land but has done more damage to our area than should be ethical. This whole topic gets me fired up because I grew up a couple miles from Picher and played on chat piles growing up. I still live in the area and drive through picher at least once a month. There wasn’t even enough lead in my parents’ chat driveway to warrant the government reclaim it (thank goodness! Because they do an awful job). If Picher is so dangerous to walk around, then why is there a major highway thatt runs through the middle of it? As to cancer incidence, a quick Google search Will show the surrounding counties have an average cancer rate, not sky high and No rare diseases in large proportions Also, the building that is falling in was not hit by the tornado, it fell in after years of being empty.

        1. All valid and good points. I am from multiple generations from the Treece-Picher area. Even though it is 2019, and most of the buildings are gone, when I get to drive through, I picture the way it used to be. I can feel the grass under my bare feet, hear the laughter of people I love, and smell home baked pie. Many of our older generation from our days in Picher are passing on. But the town lives in us. The least we can do is pass the faith we learned there, the respect we developed, the love that never fails, and the hard work of mining hearts to our children and grand children. Long live Gorilla Pride!

  4. Main Street of Picher has been abandoned for years. It wasn’t the Superfund that closed it down, but the closing of the mines that made the town boom in the first place. I remember Main Street being like a ghost town when I was a teenager 25 years ago.

  5. Interesting…this article says chat is toxic. I played in that stuff my whole life! We learned never to walk barefoot on it as it’s so sharp it will cut your feet. Can’t pave roads with it for the same reason. But we played on chat piles as kids.

    This was a town inhabited mostly by “regular people”…farmers, miners, shopkeepers, etc.. and at the time all this dumping was happening, they had NO IDEA it was wrong or bad for them. Don’t blame the residents for not protesting. Mining was a huge industry that “made” several towns in southwest Missouri. It’s VERY sad that Picher and neighboring Cardin fell victim to the toxic waste in the ground. I’m just grateful that people got out before there were mass toxin-related deaths.

    1. Actually, chat is toxic if it’s absorbed into the blood stream. Like mercury. Except I wouldn’t test it by swallowing chat like they did a ball of mercury. Breathing the fumes from chat, if continuously for a long period of time, can also become a hazard to your health.

      1. Do you even know what chat is? It’s gravel. Not toxic. IF there happens to be lead in the chat then it might possibly toxic if you ingest large quantities. Chat doesn’t release fumes and lead only releases harmful fumes when melted.

  6. My family was from picture all us grand kids grew up playing in the chat and all..If all that was so bad then wait til two torrando hit the town(2008) was the last one…the first hit cause they started moving the chat..I have so many fond memories……..As far as the other towns like pitt and stuff that has some of the same stuff why not buy them all out too, cause if its to dangerous for people in a small town like

    1. How looney are the comments in this thread gonna get? Did you just say the tornado hit BECAUSE they moved the chat? Moving chat causes tornadoes? Have you lost your mind?

      1. Actually kinda makes sense in a way.. in if a tornado hit a chat pile it would possibly lift back up into the sky..instead of running along the flat ground.

        1. Next time you see a dark line of clouds coming, climb onto your automibile and stick your finger into the air whilst exclaiming to the lord,”I believe man can change the weather.” Clicking of heels is optional, and do tell us how you fare.

  7. A lot of the information at the beginning of this article and sprinkled throughout is incorrect. The toxicity of the chat piles is not within the chat, it is just like the air during the dustbowl era, the dust causes silicosis of the lungs, a derivative of limestone–not lead or zinc. Yes, the roofs of one or two of the mines MIGHT be nearer the surface than others but the collapses are caused by the illegal removal of the columns that the mines left to support those roofs. When the mines closed down, many miners reverted to removing those columns to get the money from the lead in the columns to support their families. The probability of a collapse is really very slight and was never a concern to us who once lived there. The chat is being removed and sold for asphalt like it has been for decades, some of it also sold to countries in the Middle East and used to clean the interior of oil drilling pipelines. The tornado was only a finishing touch on a town whose demise was a planned orchestrated move of the EPA to guarantee their status as a government superpower agency. The whole process was started by a mayor who abruptly left town afterwards. There are many towns whose major industry was lead mining and yet they still are occupied. Living in Picher is / was no more “toxic” than living in any of those towns, several of which are located within 40 miles of Picher. I personally know of systems that were proven to clean up the rusted waters of Tar Creek that were inexpensive and could have been accomplished in a matter of a few weeks–it had one weakness–no longterm job security. I still drive around over there once in a while just to look at it. I could go on and on, but why bother? The town is dead, so I think we should leave it alone.

    1. Your statements are not entirely true. It is a toxic area due to the mining. Lead, zinc, and more importantly cadmium make their way into the body cause multiple issues such as learning deficiencies and cancer. Secondly the reason Tar Creek was bought out is due to the massive chat piles. No other location even comes close to the scale that lead was mined in picher. Now as for the water, we are still working on a correct and efficient method of remediating the metals. The approach I research is known as passive treatment, which is effective for upwellings, but cannot operate under the huge flow alterations that the primary channel undergoes. I grew up in Miami and am currently pursuing a degree in environmental engineering followed by a master’s degree.

    2. Only a politically motivated person would argue that the risk of collapse is “really very slight and was never a concern” when the Picher/Cardin area is positively RIDDLED with craters from collapses. It looks like a moonscape out there, buddy. Hell, there are a dozen of them in the Tar Creek documentary alone, and more when you visit in person.

      Your tendency to skew the facts in favor of a political ideology makes your whole post suspect. Which is easier to believe, the mining industry ruined this town, or a really convoluted series of nefarious government plots screwed your town? I know what I believe, and I know what the science says. Your mouth says otherwise.

    3. The contaminated soil was removed around structures at a cost of $100 million dollars. The dust from the chat blew back in and recontaminated everything. The dust averaged 1100. ppm lead. 44ppm is not safe to brain development. Took students 300% longer to learn their alphabet than normal.

  8. Sad. Unfortunately the environmental damage cannot not be undone and the town will not return and we need to treat it as an example of what can go wrong. That said, too much time and money is put into romanticizing the glory of some small towns while we forget how many communities have come and gone before this. That’s life. As GC aptly said, “The town is dead, so I think we should leave it alone.”

    1. This toxicity is a result to disturbing the Earth and freeing up heavy metals that were originally bound in the rocks of the mines. When the heavy metals hit the water coming out of the mines, they travel to other areas. This tri-state whole area – Picher and environs – is heavily undermined, Other areas have been contaminated, like areas of Aurora, Missouri, which became super-fund sites closed by the EPA for cleanup. Oklahoma is experiencing daily earthquakes due to fracking, which uses dynamite to blast through the rock to get at the oil deposits bound-up in the rock. Then, the blasted vacuous areas are filled with sand – not exactly stable. So, welcome to tossing everything out the window when the idiocy of making a buck at the expense of life on Earth is the object. So, so short-sighted. So, so obscene.

  9. My family lived in and around Picher for many years. I have a lot of very fond memories of the place. It is very sad to see such a lovely old town die like this.

    To “GC” I have personally seen several cave ins in the Picher area as well as many other lead mining sites. They are not simply caused by the support columns being removed. In many cases the columns have deteriorated to the point they can no longer support the “ceiling” of the mine.

    I have an uncle who was a mining engineer for St. Joe Lead, the same company that did most of the mining in Picher, for many years.

    1. GC is so politically biased that he’ll say anything to avoid speaking the truth — the mining industry destroyed this part of Oklahoma.

  10. During my childhood in the 1940s, Picher was an up-and-running town that offered everything needed to live and shop there. We lived in the eastern edge of Commerce and it was convenient to go to Picher to shop. Most of my shoes were purchased from a shop named Isador’s. We attended movies there. It is extremely sad to not even be able to imagine where the buildings were.

  11. Hey Nick,
    I know you and you know me, I will let you figure that one out. But the lead is pretty much all gone, there is more silver in those chat piles than there is lead. I will agree about the cadmium though. By the way, you have always impressed me with your studies of water so I will defer to you on that issue also.

  12. Can someone tell me why it is “not safe” for the people who worked so hard to provide for their families for years and maintain their homes, but it is okay for the Government to GIVE the schools to the Indian tribes to do training there. What did they do to deserve to stay when everyone else was forced out. Not fair at all!

    1. and in case you haven’t noticed, the county now is using city hall and warehouse for their offices now. as previously stated, this was not really about peoples health nor safety, it was a politically motivated maneuver, in my opinion.

      1. I agree GC. The Quapaw tribe is making a lot of money selling the chat. And the EPA is spending millions upon millions to “reclaim” what nature had already reclaimed.

    2. To ” R “. I am lead to believe that the government never GAVE anything to the Indians but, in fact, the Indians have always owned the land and it was leased to us.

  13. You can still drive thru Picher! Yes, some roads are closed. It isn’t trespassing on public roads! There are still families that live in Picher and no you don’t need to worry about caving in while driving. It’s funny to me that it is so dangerous for people to live but the Indians can set whatever they want there and it’s not so dangerous. If it were that dangerous then it would’ve been condemed and nobody would be allowed there. Once a gorilla always a gorilla!

  14. I lived in Pitcher my whole life til they made us leave. You should really think about what you say before saying it! This was my home! Once a gorilla, always a gorilla!!

    1. You claim to have lived in this town your whole life, but you don’t know it’s spelled P-I-C-H-E-R, without a “T”?

      Sorry, blatant fail. You are not who you claim to be, and if you are, you’re so stupid that your opinion means nothing here.

  15. This article shows Picher at its worst. But it streets were once lined with kids on bike, neighbors helping each other, bonfires before games and the only lights you saw were at the Hayman field on Friday nights. We were not just a town we were all family and we still are! You will never understand the whole situation until you have lost everything you have ever known. Remember that as you comment!

  16. Yeah picher is undermined but where they had the St Johns hospital now the joplin elementary school is nothing but undermined the mines ran from picher and follow the lead and zinc veins past joplin mo quapaw ok commerce ok Cardin ok and many other towns that have had a hell of a lot more cave ins than picher has ever had

  17. The building you said was hit by the tornado was not hit by the tornado. The roof collapsed on its own over time. I lived in Picher for several years and was forced to leave (I was not a part of the buyout). I wish I still lived there. It’s great to be a Picher Gorilla!

  18. Right on SISTER we was football state champions in 1984 I have awesome memories of my town it just kills me how all you people want to talk about it like nobody lived there!!! met their friends there play with their dogs there graduated there went to parties and to school dances……I have a tattoo on my forarme PicherGirl1969!!!! my name is Jennifer Perry. … We had PicherGirl reunion’s every year and people would ccome from all over the world back home to see their friends I have a tattoo on my arm that says PicherGirl. … PLEASE take in consideration there are grandmothers grandfathers fathers and mothers sisters and brothers very best friends and our sweet animals grew up here it was our home and it will always be our house please have compassion when talking about it all you can talk about is the chat and the lid in the contamination and the danger and the cave ins think about the peopleonce a gorilla always a gorilla go look up dates zinc’s onlinewhich was are year books at school!! My mother was the first woman drum majorette for N E O A&M college Patricia Ann Osborn.she was football queen in our little town basketball queen the drun major for the band my father was Patrick W Perry my grandfather Albert Perry my grandmother was floy Perry my very first dogs name was socks

    1. This website is about abandoned places. It’s not about how wonderful they were before they were abandoned, and I don’t think the guys started this website to tell your rosy version of how wonderful Picher was. You wanna remember Picher fondly and gloss over all the shittiness, start your own website — is available. Personally, I think the guys have done a great thing here, telling the story of Picher as a cautionary tale so it doesn’t happen in the future.

      What you’re really doing, Jennifer, is something called “othering.” Because you’re from Picher and the photographer and writer aren’t, you’re making the case that they don’t have the right to photograph or talk about your town because they’re those “other” people who didn’t live in Picher. Unfortunately for you, that is incorrect.

  19. It’s a sad situation. There were families, businesses, and hard working people in this town. Due to a series of rather unfortunate circumstances- the same circumstances that allowed this town to thrive for many years- this sweet little town ultimately faced its demise. Cap that off with a tornado, and it’s fate was sealed.

    No one neglects to remember that there were families, with kids and pets and football games on Friday nights, who will never again get to go home to their town.
    No one doubts that the condition of this town is poor and sad and something should be done to improve it from an ecological standpoint.

    I don’t think much else constructive can be said. Let’s not battle over this.

    1. As soon as you stop sugar-coating it, Katie. Can’t you say it? Can’t you just say the mining industry destroyed your town? You characterize the willful destruction of more than one town by a corporation who’s only motivation is profit, as “a series of rather unfortunate circumstances.” Then you cap it off with that darn TORNADO again. If it weren’t for that darn tornado.

      I’ve seen a lot of former area residents in this thread, and I haven’t heard ONE PERSON, NOT ONE mention the learning disabilities the kids suffered with or the lead poisoning. All I’ve read so far is comments from people who A) don’t want this story on the website at all, and so they come here and say shit like “Watch what you say, man, that’s my hometown,” or B) people who think Picher was some big government conspiracy or C) people who weave race-baiting into their comments claiming Picher was given away to Native Americans.

      All of this denial and sugar-coating is despicable and it does a disservice to future generations who might befall the same fate because they believe the fucking idiot lady above who claimed the tornado happened because they moved the chat. And although it’s clear you were trying to be sensible with your comments, you’re still as guilty as anyone, putting the emphasis on a tornado.

      I’ll tell you what, you all can go *edit*. This town was destroyed by the mining industry, plain and simple. Take your politically motivated BS elsewhere.

  20. The road through Picher is NOT the only alternative road between Tulsa and Joplin. In fact, if you go this route you have to turn off the main highway to take this road which, by the way, does not go to Joplin. If going through Miami, OK, you stay on the highway and arrive at Baxter Springs, KS, and turn on a major highway leading directly to Joplin. This route is only one of several leading from Tulsa to Joplin.

  21. I also spent some time in Picher as a child. My great grandmother Alma Burke lived there for years! I remember playing on those chat piles too and spending many afternoons visiting her. 🙁 It’s so sad that it ended up this way.

  22. I grew up in Picher and it is really sad that I basically no longer have a home town.
    Thank you for posting the pictures they bring back a lot of memories. When we were kids we played on the chat piles. There was one right next to our house. we drank the water and swam in it.
    No one ever thought anything about lead in the water or toxins in the air. I guess for the most part we
    all came out okay. I can’t speak for anyone but myself and my family on that though.
    I will miss my home town.

  23. The highway through Pitcher is really out of route between Joplin and Tulsa. It is not the main highway between the two Cities or Miami for that. Baxter Springs KS and Quapaw OK are the towns on the main hwy.

  24. My Aunt Grace Cornog and my great grandfather Edward owned and operated a grocery store in Picher for many years. My mother Virginia and my uncle John both lived with them and grew up there. I spent a lot of time visiting there as a child. I miss the town.

  25. I grew up there lived out by the high school. Have been gone for many years. Played on the chat piles, waded in the water. If it is so bad then why did the Quapaw tribe move every thing over to the school? Ambulances etc.?

    1. Because they are also in denial? it has been proven to be unhealthy…

      .I grew up in Welch and it is really beyond belief to me that people are trying to say that there are no known health problems in this area. The whole tri-state area has more cancer cases, etc. than they should have. Nevermind the cave-ins. People need to think about the children, etc. and quit sugar-coating it. It is sad but it was necessary.

    2. Hi Norma: I happened to read your comments about Picher. I graduated from PHS in 1952 and you and I were classmates. I am C.E. Heatherly. I now live in Wickenburg, Arizona.

  26. I grew up in the Quapaw area, northeast of Miami. I have been on those chat piles. I have been to Picher many times. I went to school in Miami where Tar Creek flowed (and still does) through town. I am 45 years old and recently went through triple negative breast cancer treatment. I know 2 other girls who lived in the area that I went to school with who went through this. One of them is no longer with us. All three of us had the same triple negative status, which is very rare. I’m not going to say the lead mining industry was to blame, but I worked a Eagle Picher in Seneca MO for a couple of years, making lead battery cells. My mother worked there almost her entire adult life and she passed away from Lymphoma in 2012. The town of Picher was a very hearty community. However, aside from the tornado, it really did need to be shut down for the safety of the residents. Not only because of the cave ins from undermining, but because it was/is a toxic wasteland. It’s not the fault of the residents. They were hard working people. That very same lead contamination flows into Spring River and the Neosho to this day and downstream into Grand Lake, which is not only contaminated by chicken plant runoff , but the lead from the superfund site as well. Sooner or later it will be so contaminated it will also be a health hazard, and I work in Grove. It’s scary. Just my 2 cents.

  27. I have two pictures of my paternal grandfather. One is of him in a miner’s hat. He worked the mines in Picher. The other picture is of him in the hospital before he died of cancer. He was only 56 years old. He died 4 years before I was born or 58 years ago. Interestingly my dad and grandmother lived on into their 80’s and 90’s.

  28. All You can do is remember picher the way it was during the time you were there it is what is and will be missed : ( ….. and yes Mr. Rafe stormy is from picher as is most of the people commenting think of auto correct

  29. Some of us wouldn’tuse the word “beautiful” to describe these pics… those photos made my heart hurt. Maybe be more sensitive to the fact that some of us grew up near Picher and mourned the deaths of those killed in the tornado. You were likely yelled at because thus isn’ta tourist aattraction… it’s a painful memory to a lot of people.

    1. It’s understandably painful
      for someone from Picher to see, but also understand that beauty comes in many forms. Many people find cemeteries beautiful but to others they are a reminder of loved ones lost. Growing up in Vinita I remember Picher well in the 1990s and had a few friends in that town but I do see, after the dust off loss and tragedy has settled that somehow beauty can be seen in the now quiet stillness of a modern day ghost town.

  30. I didn’t live in the area long but did love right along tar creek. The trees were orange, I had an orange ring around my bathtub and the water came out orange. My son has been plagued with learning abilities ever since. I always will hold fond memories of the area but the health impacts last forever.

    1. Ran the chats from Prosperity to Picher. Worked in Picher. Got married there. Chat piles were the mountains when I was growing up. Later I sold chat to the railroads and highway departments. Joplin, Carterville, Baxter Springs, Galena, Treece, Cardin, Quapaw, Webb City, slid down the chat piles in all of them. One grandad died in the mines.

  31. I grew up in Picher and so did my dad and his parents. I loved that town and we use to always sled down those chat piles when it snowed. My dad was the high school quarterback (Kevin Morrison) and that town was our home. To see it like that makes me sad and hope someday it will come back in all its glory.

  32. my husband is from oklahoma and he tells me about this town al the time we are gonna move back to ok and he wants to take me there i feel so bad for all the ppl who lost their homes and belongings oklahoma is a very beautiful place sad this has happened

  33. I was born in Picher. Like others that have posted, my cousin and I played on the chat piles. My father, John Williams, Uncle Denver Hudson all worked in the mines. My Grandfather died in his prime years of miners TB. While young in years he looked much older than his years. The men in our family knew they needed to get out of the mines so we left and went to California as many did. I must say that Picher is not the only area sitting on disasters waiting to happen. I now live is Kansas in a town sitting on land riddled with salt mines. Disasters have already occurred. Now in Mid-America gas and oil company are using a method golf drilling called fracking. We had 1 earthquake in a 28 year period. Now in the same county they have experienced 60 earthquakes in this year to date. The lake is contaminated. Just saying, Picher may be the picture of many cities and towns in America.

  34. Kind of funny the county barn and office moved to the area and the tribe had purchased property to such a danger zone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! they must not be scared

  35. All of ypu have a valid point. Memories, concerns etc. Fact is we need to stop raping our earth, what we think is helping us is actually killing us.

  36. What happens when a tornado blows through town again stirring up all that toxic chat. Won’t the tornado carry that stuff in the air for possibly hundreds of miles?? What about the surrounding communities ? That’s my concern. Not one tiny area affected… what is being done to remove the chat? This is tornado alley for crying out loud!

  37. i live back and fourth from pitcher and cardin oklahoma i live there with my mother and step dad in the mid 70s i rember the stores the gas station that was right on the stae line one side was in okla and the other side kanas it was a town where you didnt really need a car you was within walking distance of everything my mother live in cardin in a little house next to the church there she died in january 1982 they had her service at the picher funeral

  38. My Great Uncle was the last mayor, Sam Freeman. Most everybody in Picher knows my family, & I definitely still call it home even though we moved when I was younger to Kansas because of the lead levels in my blood. It makes me sad driving through Picher & seeing all the damage. Its hard to picture the town as it used to be, I can barely make out the houses where my family lived or the gas station, Picher express. My grandma was Bert Freeman & most of my fondest memories of her are in Picher.

  39. I read all this mostly because I am interested in Oklahoma Ghost Towns and what made them that way. I am upset by the vicious attacks made to these people that simply want to remember there childhood. Yes it is horrific what industry can do to our land and water and a lesson is her to be learned. The whole thing is very sad and I am sorry for all that have lost there home

  40. Thank you for sharing these pictures. You are a fabulous photographer- pictures are amazing! Looking at them, its as if I was right there in person.

  41. This town can be saved fairly quickly…. The problem is removing the chat piles and filling in the old mines to prevent cave ins… It is a fact that they use chat as a component for flow able fill… If they bore two 6″-12″ holes 3′-4′ apart from one another they can pump the chat base flow able fill into one of the holes and use the other to release any built up gasses or oxygen… Not only will this fill the mines but it would be a localized operation to remove the piles… Logic would have me assume that if the chat piles are the tailings from the mines that’s there should be enough room to move ALL of the chat deep beneath the surface were it originally came from so it will be a safe distance away from the beings on the surface…why has this not been done???

  42. I’ve looked at the pictures and also read all the comments on here, to me I think this would be a place to his it to stand and look at all the abandoned buldings, the empty church and grown up fields. To reminisce what life was like for you all that lived in this once populated town. Everyone has said such great things and have shared such fond memories, memories that still live on in this once bustling town

  43. Hi everyone. Here’s a bit of trivia for you. I had never seen photographs of this old mining town before but I know of it and I live far away in NSW Australia.. How do I know of it you may well ask. ? Well, I am an amateur mineralogist and it so happens that I have two specimens of lead/zinc or in the form of a mixture of galena & sphalerite that came with a label saying “Lead Ore from Picher/ Tri State region. These specimens are quite attractive, especially the galena which is well crystallized however now somewhat dulled because of tarnishing. I purchased them from a local mineral specimen dealer who visits the Tucson Mineral Show every year. So there ya go. There’s an Australian guy who has two nice pieces of ore from Picher.

  44. I don’t believe people didn’t guard their treasures back then. I think people valued what they had…very much so. Remember, many if not all of these folks had survived the Great Depression and were still feeling the effects. The issue with people back then was they had a trust in government and their fellow Americans in general. After all, in a normal person’s mind, what kind of monster would allow something like this to happen?

  45. Is it not the problem remaining for us all to remedy given that by far the vast majority of the lead was mined and purchased for the U.S. Government munitions, ammo and bombs, in fighting 2 world wars? Made for lots of good jobs, but a bad joke on the populace without forewarnings of known hazards. Environmentalists take note.

    1. My Grandpa grew up there as a young boy. I’ve heard of this place my whole life but have never been there. I am going to be traveling through there on a motorcycle ride in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully we can still drive through this town. If anyone knows for sure that we can’t I’d appreciate a heads up. Thanks.

  46. Hey well it sure is interesting yet very sad to read about how life once was in this city that unfortunately there’s not much left anymore just makes me think of my childhood and growing up in my own hometown so many memories some good some bad can’t even imagine how it must feel to not be able to see everything you once knew first hand my heart goes out to all of you but yes I understand this has happened before and will continue to happen to other cities if precautionary measures aren’t taken to keep history from repeating itself and tmrand did you end up taking that bike ride hope everything turned up well I always been fascinated by how it must’ve been growing up in towns like these so tight net mine not being as small since where I grew up and still reside in is Burbank California even here once kinda felt like these cities back in the eighties but now it’s just tremendously more populated

  47. My family went there in October 2016 sadly theres not much left. I got a pic of a old white church just outside of town and a couple of buildings off the highway that leads threw there. and some of houses that looked like a housing addition duplexes maybe. there was one truck by one of those houses. there was a school building but not for sure what grades it held causes couldn’t get close enough to take a pic. the town looks government owned but really cant say it is cause I don’t live there or own land there if anybody knows would like to know. the town still smells bad. when driving around we came across 2 young man and a little boy fishing they said theres really nothing left of Pitcher. I went there to check it out cause I had heard so many stories about it and videos it breaks my heart to see what it looks like now and for the people who grew up there and still have family living there. im guessing people still live there cause of the people we ran across. I got out to look at a sign in the ditch and a man watched me to make sure I wasn’t stealing it. Nice to see people still care about the property of the town that’s still left. By the way the people fishing were real nice to us.

  48. I haven’t read all the replies yet but I couldn’t help but notice some of you grew up there. I have a question does anybody remember the good-bye night I think it was in the school if so do you remember a man named Hoppty a long time resident is what was said on a different sight about Picher and if so do you know how I can purchase one of his books I think the book is called just call me Hoppty chronicles his memories of a pre toxic Picher. I love to read real stories about history of towns. someone please help me find this book if possiable.

  49. People still stop and walk around Picher and Cardin all the time. We go by on our way back to Missouri from Miami. There’s lots of ponds there, and fish swimming around in the water.

  50. Sad, but the beautiful little picturesque Christian Church on the edge of town in Picher was burned to the ground this year. My daughter Jenny Long and her husband Keith were visiting our family in nearby Miami, OK and she decided to take him and their kids to Picher to see what was left of the abandoned town. When they first arrived they stopped at the Christian Church building and started taking pictures of the old building when Keith noticed smoke coming out of the side door. They called 911 to summon local fire departments and Keith (a retired firefighter himself) did what he could to try to contain the fire until help could arrive, but with no water or fire extinguishers for miles there was no way to slow it down, so they just decided to take pictures to document the poor old church’s last moments. By the time local volunteer fire fighters could arrive the building was too far gone to save. To my knowledge no evidence was ever found to determine how the fire started, but with no power to the building and no recent storms it likely was human mischief of some sort.
    Fire Destroys Abandoned Church In Picher –

  51. I also heard the town was abandoned after the EF4 and left by the residents . The government refused to clean up the Tornado damage due to the lead in the town and let nature reclaim the area. Apparently you can still view the tornado damaged area of town as it was left untouched after May 2008 Thanx for sharing

  52. my family moved from there in 1955 after doctor told my family I would not live 6 months due too commotion in my body my blood was yellow and I was very weak after leaveing there got better over a couple years and upon my asking ther epa put up the chain link fences after I turned in a couple qt bottles of chat and the y came back and asked where I got that stuff used too live on south river st

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