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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Sandwiches are one of the universal foods, they’re cheap and convenient. We ate way too many of them on our trip and offer up the 11 best sandwiches in the world.

1) Shawarma in Jerusalem

Shawarma Jerusalem

A shawarma is a Middle Eastern sandwich made from meats (often lamb or chicken) that are cooked while rotating on a vertical spit. While it may look like a human leg spinning around, the spiced meat is delicious. It is shaved off and placed in a pita bread with a choice of toppings; usually hummus, tahini, tabbouleh, cucumbers and pickled vegetables. The flavors meld together into an incredibly tasty combination. The shawarmas pictured above come from side by side stands in Jerusalem.

2) Ham sandwich in Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland French Market ham sandwich

At the Saturday-only French Market in Auckland, you can try one of the great Kiwi bargains; $4.25 USD gets you a freshly carved ham sandwich on a crispy French baguette with lettuce and dressing. 

Auckland French Market Ham sandwich

3) Chopped rib on weck in Saratoga Springs, New York

BBQsa Saratoga rib sandwich weck

PJ’s BAR-B-QSA is one of our favorite barbecue joints. It’s a road trip of American barbecue offering regional specialties from all over the country. The rib sandwich is served on a weck roll, a western upstate New York specialty that is topped with kosher salt and caraway seeds. 

4) Kapana in Namibia

men eating kapana in Namibia

Part of the fun of kapana, the popular street food of Namibia, is how it’s eaten. You tell the vendor how much you want to spend and he pushes that amount over on the grill with his knife. You then grab it with your fingers and dip it into a communal box full of salt and spices. Tasty yes but not a sandwich. To make it a sandwich do what we did. Walk over to one the vendors selling fresh Portugeuse rolls, split it open and stuff the bread with the kapana. Now that’s a sandwich. It might have been donkey meat, we’re still not quite sure, but it sure tasted good.

5) Pastrami sandwich in New York

Katzs deli pastrami best sandwiches in the world

We both grew up in New York where the love of pastrami was drilled into us at an early age. Our favorite is still the classic with pickles and an egg cream at Katz’s Deli in Lower Manhattan. It’s where Meg Ryan loved the food in a famous scene from “When Harry Met Sally,” or maybe she was just faking it.

6) Pulled pork sandwich in Cincinnati, Ohio

Findlay market best sandwiches in the world

The award-winning barbecue team from Velvet Smoke plies its trade at the historic Findlay Market in Cincinnati. The pulled pork offers the right combination of tenderness, flavor and bite.

7) Bahn Mi in Hue, Vietnam (Winner: Best value)

Banh Mi sandwich

The sandwich is called banh mi but that is just Vietnamese for bread, in this case, a delicious crusty French baguette. The stuffing is typically grilled pork, perhaps compressed pig ears, liver pate, cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrots and a spread such as mayonnaise or spicy chili sauce. These bahn mi were 35 cents each, feeding us a delicious lunch for two for only 70 cents. The baguettes alone were worth more than that.

8 ) Hog roast and haggis sandwich in Edinburgh, Scotland

Hog roast haggis sandwich Edinburgh

Nothing like slapping on some haggis before the roasted hog. Haggis, the national food of Scotland and something they are oddly proud of, is sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, oatmeal, onion, oatmeal, suet and spices wrapped in a sheep’s stomach. Seriously. When combined with roasted hog it is pretty intense.

Pork and haggis sandwich castle terrace market edinburgh

Hard to beat the setting just below Edinburgh Castle. For a video of our haggis taste test check out “A Fistful of Haggis.”

9) Porchetta in  Assisi, Italy

Assisi porchetta best sandwiches in the world

You know your sandwich is going to be fresh when the head is staring at you. We have to admit though, it did make us feel a bit guilty.

10) Philly cheesesteak in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Philly cheesesteak Cambodia

Yo, we’re from Philly so we had to include at least one cheesesteak. After a tiring day touring Angkor Wat, Little Rocky approved of this one at the Warehouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Gotta love that French baguette.

11) Kokorec in Istanbul (Winner: The best sandwich in the world)

Kokorec best sandwich turkey

And the winner is, the kokorec sandwich in Turkey. It’s so delicious it even earned its own blog post: Damn, that’s good sheep intestine The title sort of gives away one of the main ingredients.

The world’s worst sandwich: Vegemite sandwich in Australia

Vegemite sandwich

Men At Work made it famous, but the world’s worst sandwich is the Vegemite sandwich. For those who haven’t tried it, Vegemite tastes like salty, fermented toe snarf. Straight from Australia’s Bush country, here’s a video of our official vegemite taste test. Watch it at your own peril.

What is your favorite sandwich?

Here’s our review of pizza on 6 continents: The best pizza in the world, it’s not in Italy

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American Art Deco movie theaters were once the hot item throughout the country. A small town knew it was moving up in the world when a movie theater opened as it quickly became the hub of social life. Their Art Deco design evokes a time when people actually watched movies in theaters, and not on a big screen TV at home or on their cell phone.

Gradually multi-screened megaplexes opened on the outskirts of town where land was cheap and plentiful. The old movie houses with their specialized architecture and construction became white elephants. Many were converted to other uses or demolished.

Illinois Theater Macomb

Illinois Theater,Macomb, IL

However, these things go in cycles and over the last three decades historic movie theaters have become more appreciated. Many have been bought by not-for-profit groups who have renovated them and converted them back into movie houses; some showing independent films while others are able to compete with modern theaters showing the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

A thriving renovated theater is a sure sign that a town will also have many other amenities to offer: from used bookstores to coffee shops to funky retail stores. A town with the vision to renovate, rather than demolish, its historic structures is at the leading edge of creating a better quality of life for its citizens.
Iowa Theater Winterset art deco movie theater sign

Iowa Theater, Winterset, Iowa

It would be a real shame if the town of Winterset could not support its own Iowa Theatre. After all it is the county seat for Madison County of Bridges of Madison County fame; plus the birthplace of John Wayne is just a few blocks away. Although the theater usually presents only one film a week, it does host continuous showings of The Duke’s films during the annual John Wayne Birthday Celebration which takes place in May.

Babcock Theater Billings

Babcock Theater, Billings, Montana

The 750-seat Babcock Theater was built in 1907 and is currently undergoing a renovation by its new owners. Unfortunately I was there a few weeks too early for the Yellowstone Valley Bellydance Festival. But I heard it was a hoot.

detroit theater lakewood ohio

Detroit Theater, Lakewood, Ohio

Oddly enough the Detroit Theatre is not in Detroit but Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. The theater had been thrilling moviegoers since 1923 when it closed a few months after I took this picture. Owner Norman Barr said the two-screen movie house could no longer compete with the amenities of modern theaters.

Orpheum Theater

Orpheum Theatre, Madison, Wisconsin

This former vaudeville theater in Madison has hosted live events as well as first-run movies throughout its 85 year life. Live shows have ranged from Frank Sinatra to Buddy Holly to newer performers such as The New Pornographers as seen in the above marquee. The large vertical sign attached to the facade is an Art Deco touch that is visible throughout the Wisconsin state capital.

State Theater South Bend Indiana

State Theater, South Bend, Indiana

The State Theater in South Bend has witnessed many ups and downs in its ninety year history. In 1934, John Dillinger robbed his last bank just up the street before he was killed a month later while walking out of a theater in Chicago. In 2005 it was purchased by a Christian group but they were unable to turn it into a successful venture. When I visited the marquee said “Casablanca Today Only” on one side and “Jesus Loves You” on the other. The last I heard the theater is closed and being put up for auction once again.

Washoe Theater Anaconda

Washoe Theater, Anaconda, Montana

Opened in 1936, the Washoe Theater, along with Radio City Music Hall in New York, were the last American theaters to be built in an Art Deco spinoff known as Nuevo Deco.  Since Anaconda was the company town for the hugely successful mining company of the same name, money was no object when the theater was built.The interior of the Washoe is stunning. So much so that the Smithsonian Institution selected it as the 5th most beautiful theater in America.

Ellen Theater Bozeman Montana art deco

Ellen Theater, Bozeman, Montana

The Ellen opened in 1919 and was the place to see the latest silent films. It was restored in 2008 and now focuses on presenting live theater.

Lincoln Theater Cheyenne

Lincoln Theater, Cheyenne, Wyoming

The Lincoln Theater is a well-known landmark for motorists traveling America’s first coast-to-coast road, the old Lincoln Highway.  The 1950’s Art Deco style cinema still charges only $3 for a ticket.

World Theater Kearney

World Theater, Kearney, Nebraska

At one time Kearney, Nebraska must have been all that. It had not one but two theaters in town. Unfortunately only one is currently showing films. The World Theatre opened in 1930 but closed in 2008. A not-for-profit group has reopened it for weekend screenings of select films.  I like the clever theme for their fundraising campaign, “Save The World.” For more information go to their web site at World Theater.

Fort Theater Kearney

Fort Theatre, Kearney, Nebraska

A few blocks from the World, the Fort Theatre occupies a prominent place on Central Avenue. It was originally built in 1914 in a Classical Revival style with decorative brickwork laid out in a Greek temple motif. After a fire gutted the building in 1940 it was gussied up with its current Art Moderne marquee.

But the only film you’ll see there today is an X-Ray of your overbite since it is now the offices of Fort Theatre Dentistry. In lieu of an upcoming film the marquee states “New Patients Welcome.” The original lobby has been retained and converted into a waiting room complete with popcorn popper and red velvet ropes. As adaptive reuses go it’s pretty clever; better than tearing the old theater down as has happened in so many small towns across America.

Rivoli Theater Monmouth Illinois art deco

Rivoli Theater, Monmouth, IL

Ambler Theater

Ambler Theater, Ambler, PA

The sad-looking Rivoli hasn’t shown movies in years but does host the occasional concert or blues festival. I hope the World Theater people are successful in their efforts. In my former hometown of Ambler, Pennsylvania I witnessed firsthand what a successful theater restoration can achieve. The 1920’s-era Ambler Theater was a gorgeous Egyptian Revival monument to the Golden Age of film. However it had become dilapidated and was only open once a month to show rarely viewed Christian films. A not-for-profit group purchased the theater with public and private funds and restored it.

Despite being in the heart of the Philadelphia suburbs, Ambler had no restaurants before the theater was renovated. Within a few years of its restoration it was joined by nine restaurants along with shops and a live performance theater. What had been a deteriorating downtown became a thriving hub for nightlife and dining.

As I drove across America I passed through many towns that were centered around an abandoned theater. Some of these theaters still operated, some had been converted to other uses and some were outright abandoned. With the right type of local pride and energy these theaters could serve as the springboard for a Main Street revival in each of these towns. It will take a great deal of vision and hard work on the part of the civic leaders but the end result, saving their town, will be worth it.