Picher, Oklahoma

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Picher is a ghost town and former city in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, United States. It was formerly a center of lead and zinc mining. The population was 1,640 at the 2000 census. Discoveries of ground contamination and the possibility of a cave-in of mines under the city have prompted all of its population to evacuate, and the nearby town of Cardin is following suit. The city is within the boundaries of the Tar Creek Superfund site.



In 1913, as the Tri-State district expanded, lead and zinc ore was discovered on Harry Crawfish's claim and mining began. A townsite developed overnight around the new workings and was named Picher in honor of O. S. Picher, owner of Picher Lead Company. Incorporated in 1918, by 1920 Picher had a population of 9,726. Peak population occurred at 14,252 in 1926 followed by a gradual decline paralleling a decrease in mining activity, to 2,553 by 1960.[3]

The Picher area became the most productive lead-zinc mining field in the Tri-State district producing over $20 billion worth of ore between 1917 and 1947. More than fifty percent of the lead and zinc metal used during World War I were produced by the Picher district. At its peak over 14,000 miners worked the mines and another 4,000 worked in mining services. Many of these workers commuted by an extensive trolley system from as far away as Joplin and Carthage, Missouri.[3] Mining ceased in 1967 and water pumping from the mines ceased. The contaminated water from some 14,000 abandoned mine shafts, 70 million tons of mine tailings, and 36 million tons of mill sand and sludge remained as a huge environmental cleanup problem.[3] The area became part of the Tar Creek Superfund site.

On April 24, 2006, Reuters reported that Picher had been scheduled to be closed and all residents removed. Due in large part to the removal of large amounts of subsurface material during mining operations, many of the city's structures have been deemed in imminent danger of caving in.[4]

The city's pharmacist, Gary Linderman was featured in the May 28, 2007, issue of People magazine in the Heroes Among Us article "Prescription for Kindness". He vowed to stay as long as there was anyone left who needed him and to be the last one out of the city.[5]

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