Death of a Mining Town

From the Washington Post:

Signs of Picher’s impending death are everywhere. Many stores along Highway 69, the town’s main street, are empty, their windows coated with a layer of grime, virtually concealing the abandoned merchandize still on display. Trucks traveling along the highway are diverted around Picher for fear that the hollowed-out mines under the town would cause the streets to collapse under the weight of big rigs. In some neighborhoods, empty mobile homes sit rusting in the sun, their windows broken, their doors yawning open, the detritus of life — car parts, broken toys, pieces of carpet, rotting sofas — strewn across their front yards.

“It’s like watching somebody that you love very much suffer a long, slow, painful death,” said Kim Pace, a lifelong resident and principal of Picher-Cardin Elementary School. Even though “it’s the right thing to do, and it needs to happen, you’re not ready to give them up.”

The culprits of Picher’s demise are the same lead and zinc mines that brought the town its prosperity and boosted its population to a high of 16,000 before World War II. But the mines were shut down in the 1970s, and all that is left in and around Picher are about 1,000 people and giant gray piles of mining waste, known locally as “chat,” some hundreds of feet tall and acres wide, that loom over abandoned storefronts and empty lots.