Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Oklahoma's Lost Town

Most Oklahoman's are familiar with the story of Picher, Oklahoma.  Picher was formed around 1913 because it was rich in lead and zinc.  During it's peak it employed over 14,000 miners, some of whom commuted from other states.  It eventually became clear that the ground and water were heavily contaminated.  The town was surrounded by giant mounds of chat and everywhere you looked, there were reminders that something went horribly wrong there.  Then in 2008, Picher was struck by a major tornado.  Eight of the remaining residents were killed and fires started that burned many of the structures.  The government offered to do major clean ups but even that was determined not to be enough.  Residents were bought out and eventually the town was officially closed. 

In the last couple of years, there were a couple dozen hold outs who refused to leave.  You could drive through town and see people just hanging out together outside.  They were very friendly and didn't seem to mind folks coming through to take pictures of the abandoned structures.  It was eerie when you would drive by a home that looked completely untouched and hear wind chimes that were left hanging, but when you looked in the windows and doors, there was nothing left but rotting furniture, clothes and other items that were sitting there just as they had been left.

All remaining structures were supposed to be demolished last month.  I heard that a photographer has been arrested for going in and trying to take pictures.  So I wanted to post the photos that I have taken.  I look at them often and wonder about the people who's lives used to fill this town, lived in the houses, attended the church.

Please know that I had permission from the folks there to take these pictures and I took them with utmost respect and dignity.  My hope is that many people were able to get photographs, videos and even interviews so that Picher, Oklahoma and it's citizens won't be forgotten.

Jar of buttons upturned in tornado
Picnic bench where miners used to take breaks and eat lunch.

Break area for miners

Beautiful church
Plaque outside of churh

Chat Pile

Birds built nest in the chat piles

Abandoned Home

Abandoned Home
Inside this house was a table with a card game
set up as if the tornado hit, the people ran for
cover and never came back.  Everything was
just as it should have been, except that it was
fading and smelled of mould.

Abandoned Home

Every once in a while we came across bright
pops of color like this red tree in the photo above.  It was a little unsettling.  Was there life here or not?  It was as if life was trying to hold on.

When I came across this blue house,
I wondered about the people who lived
here...people with the personality to paint
their house bright blue.  Where ever they
went, did they paint their house a nice  
bright color?


If you look closely in front of this house, you can see a handful of jonquils growing in the midst of all the brown.  There were those little pops of life and color again.

House with branch through the roof.

This is one of the very few homes that was still occupied.  They took very good home of their home and yard.  You could sense that they wanted to show their pride in where they lived.

Occupied Green House

Abandoned Store

Abandoned Store

There was a long street lined with empty stores and businesses.  I tried to imagine little cafes and general stores.  There were some items in the buildings that, just like the homes, were left in a moments notice (probably during the tornado) and you could tell that no one ever came back!

                                                     I think this house intriqued me more than any of the others.  I came
                                                     back to this one every time we went back to Picher for pictures.  A boat
                                                     had been thrown into the yard by the house and the blue and white
                                                     curtains were blowing in the windows.  It looked as if just any minute,
                                                     someone would come walking out of the house and down the walk to
                                                     get their mail.  I had my son take my picture in sitting on the front step.
                                                     I remember feeling overwhelming sadness as I sat there.  This is the
                                                     house that had the upturned jar of buttons in it and I can remember
                                                     sifting through those buttons for a long time.


Abandoned Home

                                                                    Another sad empty house that only left me wondering
                                                                    who used to live here.  Some photographers went
                                                                    inside and looked all through these homes.  I didn't
                                                                    have the heart to do so.  Something inside me wanted
                                                                    to be so respectful, even though the people who lived
                                                                    here were long gone and they were never coming

Boys and Girls Club

I think these areas where the kids and teens
spent their free time were the saddest for me.
What must they think about everything that
happened to their town?  Were they sick from
the metals in the ground and water?  Were
they able to go to other towns and make friends
and be happy?

Girl's Softball Park

Abandoned Home on the Outskirts of Town
Abandoned Trailer With Pink Stove


Wind Chimes
  This was one of the eeriest things  of all.
  This odd assortment of chimes was the
  only noise that you could really hear all
  over town.  We walked up and down
  every street and all we heard were these
  chimes blowing in the wind.  I have always
  loved wind chimes, but there was some-
  thing very unsettling about these.
Chat Pile

Abandoned Home

The handwritten sign over this front door reads "If
you come in and steal from us, you will be filmed
and arrested."  Note the branch in the roof.

I have so many more pictures from the town of Picher, Oklahoma, but I think you get the idea.  It's so hard to imagine that a bustling community can just disappear like dust in the wind.  I hope that every single resident
who left Picher found a bright, cheery and healthy place to live.  I know to the onlooker, Picher appears to
be drab and devoid of life, but there was once a lot of life there and those lives matter!


Anonymous said...

Erin, W O W !!!!

I love this. You did extremely well!


Erin said...

Thank you, Brian! I would love to hear happy stories about where they all ended up!

Toyin O. said...

Very nice pictures, thanks for sharing.

Erin said...

Thank you, Toyin. It was a sad place to visit.

Grandma Bonnie said...

I love the photos. They really tell a story.
Thanks for following. I am following back.

bluecottonmemory said...

There is something about an empty house that makes me feel like it is desperately wanting to tell me a story but cannot get it out, like somebody suddenly struck mute. My uncle gives tours of a historic house and tells the tourists: this house will remember you. Your photos remind me that a house is a blessed gift, designed to hold God's children and their stories! Beautiful,haunting, poignant photos!

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