Closing of exhibit wipes town’s existence

Baylee Bates

All that remains of Picher, Okla., are the memories of its nearly 14,000 former residents.

In remembrance of the town, the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art showcased an exhibit, “Picher, Oklahoma: Catastrophe, Memory, and Trauma.” Photographer Todd Stewart collected artifacts and photos of the town to recapture memories of the town.

The exhibit concluded on Sept. 10, making the exhibit just another memory for the residents.

In the early to mid-1900s, Picher was a town with a massive mining industry, supplying lead and zinc to World War I and II, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. In 1967, the mining operations shut down. The area became dangerous from the large amounts of lead and zinc remnants contaminating the town’s water, potential cave-ins under buildings from the mineshafts and the enormous piles of chat covering the town.

A toxic amount of lead found in a high percent of the children’s bloodstreams further caused threat to the town’s existence. The Environmental Protection Agency decided to buyout the inhabitants of Picher because of this and the probable cave-ins across the town. Residents could no longer call this place their home by 2009.

“I will always view it as my home,” said Paula Suman, who lived in Picher for 42 years and now lives in Quapaw, Okla.

With 1,400 mine shafts throughout the town, the EPA’s concern over the mine shafts collapsing forced them to take precautions for the safety of the residents. The agency added the town to the nation’s “Superfund” list of uninhabitable places.