Halloween in Picher, OK

Even though I spent a big chunk of my long-weekend vacation sick, I did get to check out Picher, Oklahoma*, one of the biggest superfund sites in North America.

Out on the sprawling plains, out of nowhere, huge mounds of chat rise up, towering like great dunes of toxic gravel. An abandoned blue building proclaiming to be the “Picher Mining Museum” tells part of the story of this doomed town. Most of Picher is simply gone, so what is there is even more disturbing. One of the best-preserve/newer neighborhoods is a small block of what looks like they were once apartment style duplex bungalos. While they’re structurally sound, having brick frames, all of the windows and doors and a decent amount of the drywall is all torn out. I’ll admit that when I first saw these houses, my first thought was the Door Thief.

A handful of other homes are still semi-standing in dilapidated states, but many of Picher’s houses are long gone, leaving only their concrete foundations to be overgrown by weeds and tall grass, obscure among the several completely empty blocks of narrow, unmarked streets spreading in a grid through the land between the highway and the giant mountains of toxic gravel. On the more overgrown west side of town, the remains of the highschool and athletic facilities still stand with several Quapaw Nation security vehicles parked out front, though these were empty as the rest of the town. The highschool mascot, a gorilla, still proudly beats its chest in defiance of the fate that has met his team, while but a few blocks away the little white church stands with its facade crumbled and blocking the entrance as though to say ‘God’s blessing has left this place’.

Highway 69, which serves as the town’s main street, gives some of the only indication that this cursed patch of earth was once a thriving town. A few storefronts are on a corner stand, smashed and ruined, all but their concrete frames, but all is not dead. Gary still runs the Old Miners Pharmacy, serving the surrounding area. Many of his customers are those who were bought out and moved into neighboring communities like Baxter. Once you’re in his shop, you’d never imagine that you’re in the middle of nowhere surrounded by bombed out buildings and toxic waste. Other than the niche corner where he’s posted a collection of newspaper articles and laminated photos of the good ol’ days, there’s nothing to distinguish Gary’s pharmacy from any other bare-bones (no point in being overstocked when you’re store is in a ghost town) country pharmacy. No gimmicks. Nothing for tourists. But since it was halloween, there was a bevy of candy which I bought. The only souvenirs to be had in Picher were one of Gary’s business cards, a complimentary fridge magnet calendar, and mason jar of toxic gravel I scooped up (and, no, dude from Quapaw Nation who posted all the signs everywhere, I did not get it from one of the piles on the other side of the no trespassing signs and fences).

Unfortunately, I spent most of the weekend sick and holed up. But it did give me the opportunity to rewatch Do the Right Thing what with USA making a big to do out of its 25th anniversary. I was wondering how I’d feel about it some 15 years after having first seen it in a highschool civics class. To this day, it remains one of the most confusing movie experiences I’ve had. Short version: 15 years later, I still feel bad for Sal, Buggin’ Out is the real villain of the movie and Radio Raheem is his Dragon, the neighborhood maybe proves Pino right, and Spike Lee is a shitty dude for doxxing those old people when he thought that George Zimmerman lived there. It’s still a powerful movie, but damn, it’s got a wonky moral message that leaves you thinking “this is why the inner city can’t have nice things.”

On a final note, all I’ve got for gamergate for now – gamers are finally seeing what conservatives have known for a decade: Stephen Colbert is a media apparatchik. While I haven’t gone viral or anything, I’ve noticed that my thoughts on Gamergate’s politics tend to be frequently shared and cited in various discussions on the political leanings of gamergate. Don’t know if I’m all that helpful a source for your arguments, but thanks for all the clicks!

Edit: I’d like to share one of the referring threads, because it’s actually a pretty great discussion.

*: Picher doesn’t look half as nice as those wikipedia pics from 7 years ago make it look.  In that first picture, those first few buildings are gone and there is nothing on the left side of the street.  The Mining Office/Museum no longer has that blue warehouse looking thing behind it,

11 responses to “Halloween in Picher, OK

    • I know, right?
      I was going to pull up a google-map picture of the Devilliers Circle neighborhood, but they’re from just before the town was abandoned (which is even creepier, kinda!)

      • I like how the one “park” in the city limits is just a giant mountain of toxic waste. Funny in one of those sad sort of ways, From the documentaries I’ve seen, the populace initially doubled down on partying on toxic mounds and in toxic pools when it came out that they were toxic. Jingoistic town pride overcame sense. It really wasn’t until the population was literally suffering from obvious severe mental deficiencies caused by constant exposure to high levels of lead and zinc that people started taking the threat seriously.

        One strange thing to me is that the road through town is still fairly heavily traveled, as it’s a major thoroughfare (despite a “bypass” route being setup). Quite the contrast to Centralia, where they threw up the barricades and wait for it to be forgotten. Then again, maybe the collapsing mines in Picher don’t go under the highway.

      • I didn’t see much of anything in the way of wildlife. Some birds, but not (m)any small furry creatures. Even though I drove across Tar Creek, I didn’t stop to get out and poke around in the water any.

      • Yeah. Most of the water we did see was pretty gross and brackish looking, all of it this dark copper-green. My girlfriend was wondering if we should have even been there. Fortunately, most heavy metal toxicity requires longish exposure. Doesn’t make me not glad that it wasn’t windy that day, though.

      • “Doesn’t make me not glad that it wasn’t windy that day, though.”

        Oh, a rare triple-negative! Almost as good as a three-eyed fish! 😉


    • In fact, there is way less there now than Google Earth’s out of date images imply, but you can still get a decent idea of just how dominated the town is by those giant mountains of mining waste…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s