Picher, the ghost town in Oklahoma

Mar 12, 2016 | written by:

A ghost town is an abandoned city. Abandoned due to social causes such as the failure of the local economy creating the exodus of the population to more favorable economic zones. Abandoned because of a war, a natural disaster or an environmental disaster by man. They are not just science fiction film scenarios, but they really exist. All continents have a few, there's also a one in Cyprus and some in Italy. Over time, some of them became tourist attractions, others only a black spot in human history, a symbol of disaster preferably to delete from memory rather than remember.

One of these is Picher, in Oklahoma, completely evacuated in 2006 by a mandatory evacuation of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) cause of the high danger of lead poisoning and also known as the most toxic city in America. Since the beginning of 1900 it was dedicated to mining, dedication that was, however, its ruin. Lead and zinc were the main elements extracted to supply the factories of US armaments; 50% of lead and zinc used during the First World War came from Picher. To ensure similar figures, the extraction was carried out without control and excessively. Picher’s miners still remember in their stories of how tunnels were dug till trees roots. Moreover, to reach deposits, miners dug inside aquifers, so that often the tunnels were flooded, contaminating water. Contaminated water and materials from over 14,000 mines spread to the ground, buildings, and people, and in 1996, 34% of the town’s children had lead poisoning.

American photographer Seph Lawless, specialized in works represented urban areas abandoned and industrial declines, managed to photograph a previously restricted area of Picher thanks to a special permission, showing scenarios of post apocalyptic visions. Picher’s main street is deserted for over the last thirty years; initially it was closed for the opening of a chasm due to uncontrolled extraction in place and excavation system used, but when the population was drastically reduced and many other chasms opened up on city streets, it was not made practicable anymore. The ghost town is completely abandoned: the territory does not allow to live there due to lack of drinking water and for the condition of the subsoil, devastated by the work of extracting implemented.

Photos of Picher taken by Seph are available on his Instagram profile and are part of the investigation book "The Prelude: The Deadliest City in America".

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