home of the Gorillas since 1918
(photo credit: zendogpictures.com)
Ghosts aren't unusual for this area. Once, close to here, Mary saw a man with a green face walking by the side of the road. Spook lights (mysterious floating orbs) haunt the woods. But the condemned town of Picher is particularly scary; not for its ghosts, but for what happens when industry destroys the environment with mining, in this case, lead. The town which lies between Miama (pronounced My-a-muh), OK and Baxter Springs, KS, is virtually deserted. On Quapaw Tribal land, the town became the center of lead-zinc mining in the early 1900s. In 1981, the EPA declared Picher a Superfund site, the most toxic in the US.
Good citizen Gary Linderman was the only pharmacist in town. When the government offered to buy everyone out in 2006, Linderman refused. Who else would help the 40 or so remaining residents when they got sick, he asked, so he stayed on. The Ole' Miners Pharmacy is a neat little shop, with shelves full of prescriptions and some old timey benches for sitting. People come from miles away, picking up scripts, wanting to talk. No one mentions the empty streets outside, the collapsed buildings, the dust in the air.
It's eerie walking here, like on a deserted beach, but you're in a land-locked state, so maybe a better analogy would be the moon, you're walking on the moon.
The EPA wanted the town cleared because of the network of underground mines threatening collapse, but the real tragedy here is lead, how it seeped into the water, into the ground, into people's blood and tissues. A third of the children had elevated levels of lead, and that was enough for most people to get out of dodge. The Quapaw tribe hopes to reclaim this land as wetlands after the last person standing gives up the ghost... or moves on.
(The Creek Runs Red, an Independent Lens documentary, tells a more complete story of the tragedy of Picher.)