Picher Oklahoma abandoned church

Picher Oklahoma: A modern American ghost town

by Michael on April 22, 2013

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Picher, Oklahoma is a harsh example of the effects mining can have on an area. Once a major producer of lead and zinc, the town is now a ghost town as the lead came back to haunt them.  The air, soil and water around Picher became contaminated with leftovers from the mining operations known as chat and tailings.

A 1996 study revealed that a third of the children suffered from lead poisoning. By 2009, Picher Oklahoma was a Superfund site and was virtually abandoned.

Picher Oklahoma ghost town drive in (575x402)

The D & D Drive-In still advertises burgers in its window. It later became G & J’s Gorillas cage and was the last place open in Picher.

Picher Oklahoma abandoned town Main Street (575x436)

Main Street thrived during the 1940s, when mine operations in the area produced most of the lead for bullets issued to American soldiers in World War II.

Picher Oklahoma high school track

Picher-Cardin high school’s track and gym remain, along with the Coca Cola sponsored scoreboard.

Picher Oklahoma abandoned town

The high school mascot was the Gorillas, as seen in this statue which also proclaims that Picher was the 1984 state football champ; which is a big deal in Oklahoma. It’s sad that this symbol of school spirit was left behind.

Picher Oklahoma abandoned water tower and car wash (575x470)

The Picher Gorillas water tower rises over an abandoned “Car Bath.”

Picher homes with lead pile (575x431)

The source of Picher’s troubles, piles of toxic mine waste, looms over abandoned homes. The lead waste blew over the town, causing birth defects and learning disabilities in children. A chalky grain covers everything in the town.

Picher church head on (573x575)

This abandoned church looks like something from a Gothic horror movie set.

Picher church and water tower (575x456)

The modern churches had to be abandoned too.

Picher Oklahoma burned out building

The writing on a burned out building on Main Street proclaims that Picher is a drug-free community.

Picher Oklahoma abandoned bus

Even the church bus was left behind.

We also visited the abandoned town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. In the 1960s an abandoned coal mine caught fire, it still burns today, causing the evacuation of the town. For more go to: Centralia, Pennsylvania: The Unforgettable Fire.

Here’s our story about the 10 spookiest ghost towns in America.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam April 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Amazing pictures. It’s quite haunting.

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Michael April 26, 2013 at 11:31 am

Sad that it went on so long to affect the children.

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wandering educators April 23, 2013 at 10:35 am

That’s so very sad. What can anyone do to clean up this toxic pile? YIKES!

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Michael April 26, 2013 at 11:32 am

I’m not sure if it’s being cleaned up. It’s more than just the pile in the photo. There are many more such piles on the outskirts of town.

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Becki | BackpackerBecki April 25, 2013 at 7:39 pm

I love ghost towns and find them really fascinating, although I am surprised this has been left so intact! Fantastic shots though – really spooky. Did it feel grim when you were there?

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Michael April 26, 2013 at 11:32 am

Hi Becki,

It felt unsettling to see so many people’s homes just abandoned.

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Bethaney - Flashpacker Family April 26, 2013 at 6:30 am

I have to say, I’m fascinated by ghost towns too. I visited an old mining ghost town here in NZ as a child and I still think about it today. It’s interesting, spooky and sad all at the same time.

There’s something very “Walking Dead” about these pics!

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Michael April 26, 2013 at 11:33 am

We didn’t know about that one when we were I New Zealand. They exist all over the world for various reasons.

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Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com April 28, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Nice decision to use B&W photos for this one. I haven’t seen a ghost town yet. I don’t think there’s one in the Philippines. Would love to visit one though!

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Michael April 28, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Thanks Aleah. You’re right, I can’t find any ghost towns in the Philippines, but there may be some abandoned World War II sites.

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Cheyenne July 17, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Did you get out and walk around the town? What was the atmosphere like?

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Michael July 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm

HI Cheyenne,

I did get out and walk around a bit but it was kind of odd. The town was not totally abandoned, still a few houses occupied, but the stores, schools and churches are vacant. It’s a spooky feeling.

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Abby October 30, 2013 at 3:51 pm

My husband and I were traveling from Texas to Kansas a few years ago and went through Pitcher. Very spooky at 11 o’clock at night!

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Michael October 30, 2013 at 6:44 pm

That must have really been something.

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Angela January 8, 2014 at 2:53 am

I live in Norman Ok. And just found out about this town I think it is sad But I don’t understand why there is some people still living there if it’s a ghost town I would move Because I have kids and where would they go to school,and how would we live if the water is toxic and there is no open stores around what about jobs these people are crazy I couldn’t be there I wouldn’t want my kids sick or my self or anyone.

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Mike Ellington August 6, 2014 at 7:19 am

Hi Angela,
Most of the remaining people are still living in the past and don’t like the idea of relocating. The Federal Govt. gave everyone a sum of money that the citizens could relocate, however the average house in Picher and Cardin was worth $25k to $40k. With that sum of money you couldn’t buy another house that was as nice as what you had. Most thought that some households were treated with favoritism and were rewarded more for their house. Most decided to stay in the same area of NE Oklahoma. Me on the other hand wanted to start fresh. I picked up stakes and moved to Moore/Oklahoma City. The few that still live their do primarily because they’re older folks that are too stubborn to leave the inhabited ghost town. It’s hard to give up what’s been home for all your life, and be told you have to leave, especially by the Federal Govt.

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Anonymous February 13, 2015 at 10:35 am

Plus lead poisoning actually affects the brain’s processes. So if they weren’t continually being poisoned by the lead, they might have made a wiser decision.

I think the way to fix Picher is to ‘Fern Gully’ those piles. Coat them with dirt, then vegetation. That will help keep the piles contained and the vegetation should help with the air quality as well. I’m not sure how to fix the water, though.

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Michael February 14, 2015 at 7:26 pm

It does seem like the piles should be capped somehow and vegetation may be the answer.

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Patrick Bailey February 5, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Was security an issue here? I imagine a set up robbery is not out of the question. . . Did you feel this was an issue? Did you go in armed?

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Michael February 5, 2014 at 11:10 pm

I was armed with just my rapier wit.

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Johnny Boy March 19, 2014 at 10:19 pm

Just got back to MN from a road trip down to Arkansas. Stopped by Picher, OK on the way down and it was a pretty erie feeling. feels like the people that are still there are there for security? had the feeling we were being watched while we were making multiple stops around the town to get some photographs. I wasn’t too worried tho as had the glock 40 side arm if any trouble came up. Cool place to see tho. There is ALOT of cool abandon places around the south. I love exploring em. wish i had more time to do it.

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Mike Ellington August 6, 2014 at 7:09 am

This town of Picher now a ghost town once was a thriving lead and zinc mining town. It was also where I grew up as a child and graduated from Picher-Cardin High School. A lot of great memories growing up in that neighborhood, playing on the piles of chat..

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Michael August 7, 2014 at 2:00 am

Thanks for the insight into Picher, Oklahoma.

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Cindy June 18, 2016 at 9:34 pm

We drove through Picher in June 2016. Definitely quite an experience. It looks like there is at least one family with horses living on the north side of town.

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Michael July 4, 2016 at 4:14 am

Thanks for the update.

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ED September 1, 2016 at 6:55 am

I grew up here it used to be a great place with very little crime and lots of friendly people. Just another small town in America.

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Michael September 3, 2016 at 2:20 am

Looking at the mascot outside the high school it seemed like a place with a lot of spirit.

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