Oklahoma is Home to an Abandoned Town Most People Don’t Know

Picher, Oklahoma, once a bustling mining town, now stands deserted, its residents driven away by environmental contamination and natural disasters. This blog delves into the history, hazards, and ultimate fate of this forsaken place.

A Boom Town Gone Bust

Founded in 1918 as a crucial mining hub for lead and zinc during World War I, Picher experienced rapid growth, boasting a population peak of over 14,000 in the 1920s. It earned the moniker “buckle of the lead belt” and was renowned as one of the world’s most productive mining regions.

However, the prosperity came at a cost. The mining operations left behind vast piles of waste rock, known as chat, laden with toxic metals like lead, cadmium, and arsenic, which seeped into the environment, contaminating the soil and water. The extensive excavation also created underground voids, causing land subsidence and fractures.

A Superfund Site and a Disaster Zone

In 1980, Picher was designated a Superfund site by the federal government, indicating it as one of the nation’s most polluted areas. Residents faced significant lead exposure, posing severe health risks, particularly to children, affecting the brain, nervous system, blood, and kidneys. Symptoms of lead poisoning included learning disabilities, behavioral issues, anemia, and kidney damage.

Efforts to remediate the pollution began, involving chat removal, water testing, and resident relocation. However, progress was sluggish and expensive, and many inhabitants opted to stay due to attachment or limited alternatives.

In 2008, Picher endured another catastrophe when a devastating tornado struck, claiming six lives and injuring over 100. The tornado ravaged buildings and compromised the water infrastructure, delivering the final blow to Picher as remaining residents chose to depart.

A Ghost Town with a Few Souls

Today, Picher stands as a desolate ghost town, inhabited by only a handful of individuals. Most structures lie abandoned, their windows boarded up, while the streets echo with emptiness. The ominous chat piles still dominate the landscape, and the water remains unsafe for consumption. Picher lacks essential services, educational facilities, commerce, and any semblance of a future.

Nevertheless, some visitors are drawn to Picher, driven by curiosity or nostalgia. Former residents return to revisit their past homes and memories, while tourists are intrigued by the eerie spectacle of a modern ghost town. Researchers also flock to study the environmental and societal ramifications of mining.

Picher may be unfamiliar to many, but it recounts a poignant tale—a narrative of prosperity and ruin, of opulence and devastation, of optimism and disillusionment. It is the story of a town once teeming with life, now silenced—a poignant reminder of the toxic legacy left by mining.

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