Yesterday I took a road trip in search of ghost towns. I went to Afton and took a few pictures, but the town didn’t fit my definition of ghost town. There was a lot of activity and even more traffic traveling through the heart of town. Throughout my 20 years of living in this great state, I had often heard about the Tar Creek Superfund site of Picher. How this small booming mining town of the early 1900’s had all but dried up because of the toxic chat piles surrounding the city limits. And how the government was buying up all the homes before they disappeared into the many deserted underground mines left behind. And how the town’s children were thought to have had large levels of lead in their systems, leading to cancer and brain malfunctions. And of course, I had heard and seen pictures of the May 2008 F4 tornado that ripped through what was left of the town killing 8 people. Picher, Oklahoma, was on my bucket list and sounded like a promising modern day ghost town. So, I headed up Route 66 and found my way to Picher. The chat piles loomed larger than life the closer I got to town. I had no idea they would be so large, almost mountain-like. They were huge!
I spent the next couple of hours driving around, stopping for photos and all the while, this feeling of sadness came over me. This was once a thriving town, full of people and bustling businesses. There was a school full of kids and a football field where a small-town team won a state championship. On Sunday mornings, the churches were full of grace and gospel. Not anymore. Now there is just dust, debris and the ever hovering chat piles. Most of the buildings have been demolished by the government. The few left standing are there for posterity, I think. The school is boarded up, but is still there as is the mascot, a gorilla, proudly declaring that state football championship won back in 1984. The city water tower stands tall and straight, untouched by that deadly tornado of “08. The Christian Church is still there, although it is full of dust, dirt and decay.
Strangely, a For Sale sign sits in a field adjacent to that church. Not sure why the government would want to sell it or if someone just stuck it there as an ironic joke, but there it is.
The only houses left standing other than one next to the football field that still looks to be inhabited, are the low-income housing units. I stopped near these buildings to shoot a few shots and I could almost hear the sounds of children laughing and playing in those yards. It saddened me.
I drove on down the street that once housed many homes. The concrete pads and driveways were still very evident. I came across a storm shelter with no door. The huge chat piles loomed behind it and I thought, how ironic is it that this storm shelter may have saved a family from the tornado, but could not save them from the inevitable doom looming behind their now gone home. Again, that feeling of sadness swept over me, like the never-ending Oklahoma winds.
I continued on down the street and saw a blue rain barrel still lodged in a tree, no doubt flung there by the F4 winds of 6 years ago. Then I saw a bright yellow patch of daffodils tucked into a corner lot, now forgotten. Again, the irony. Life after death.
It was then that I decided that I had had enough. Enough of the emptiness, enough of the decay and enough of those ever present chat piles. It was time to go. To get back on the road and back home to a place full of life. I may return someday, just to see if anything has changed. But, for now, I am content with knowing that Picher, Oklahoma, will forever be in the history books and off my bucket list.