RIP Picher, Oklahoma 1918 – 2011
Located in the northeast corner of Oklahoma, the town of Picher was once home to the world’s richest lead and zinc mining field. After decades of mining, towering piles of mine waste covered 25,000 acres, devastating Quapaw tribal lands and local economies. Acid mine water burned nearby Tar Creek and stained it red. An alarmingly high percentage of local children were found to have toxic levels of lead in their blood, along with high rates of cancer and other diseases among the populace.
In recent years, Picher has suffered from sinkholes that threaten to swallow the community into old mines below. Then three years ago, a tornado destroyed about 150 of the remaining homes.
The area was declared a Superfund site in 1981 and in June 2006, after studies found most churches, homes and the school were in serious danger of caving in, a federal buyout was offered to Picher residents.
And then there’s Jesse Orval “Hoppy” Ray, born June 7, 1925, in Picher. He remained stalwart in his defiance to leaving his home town. Until June 2009 when Hoppy’s son moved him out of Picher 10 miles south to Miami, Ok. There he would lie awake at night, the TV on a country-music station blaring familiar songs to try to lull himself to sleep. He remained bewildered by the whole situation until passing from this life only 6 months later on Dec. 14, 2009.
Now it’s all history, last week crews demolished a funeral home, restaurant, thrift shop, apartment building and other structures, with more to come. For historic significance, only a church, mining museum, auction house and a building where mining equipment was sold will remain standing, although abandoned.
Rest in peace Picher, Oklahoma. The sad thing is the lesson you have taught us tends to fall on the deaf ears for the ones who needs it the most – the powerful industries. Lord help us all….