Day 6: June 18, 2010
Ghost Town in the Making
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I learned about Picher from Laurel Kane. It's a ghost town in the making. Laurel's done a few blog posts on Picher. There's a particularly informative one here. There is lots of information about Picher available from other sources, too. The express version is that the town's been poisoned by lead, struck by tornado, and its government officially dissolved. Picher's population was once around 20,000. Today it's around -- but not quite -- zero. It is less than a mile south of the Kansas-Oklahoma border and less than ten miles from my Baxter Springs motel.

The first piece of Picher I saw was the mining museum building. I don't recall any city limit signs. It seems reasonable they are gone. I didn't get off of US-69 but I could see a few cars parked at one or two houses on cross streets. There were three cars beside Ole Miner's Pharmacy so it's possible that it remains open. Everything else is either closed and abandoned or closed and abandoned and hit by tornado.

I walked a couple blocks that I guessed were once the heart of Picher and where a cluster of three busineses drew my attention. Laurel Kane's blog contains a picture, from November, showing the big window of the Pastime Mini Museum intact with the words "Hoppy's Museum" painted on it. Was it busted or removed or is it still there behind the protective sheet metal? Whichever is the case, it seems Hoppy was taking steps to protect either window or contents at least two months after the city government ceased to be. I don't know what the business with stopped clock once was. I'm guessing that the Brassrail was a tavern.

As I walked beyond the Brassrail, a door slowly swung open in front of me. I was instinctively torn between hoping someone would step out of it and fearing they would. The door, which was on a building clearly in the "hit by tornado" category, was just swinging in the breeze.

At the south edge of town some steps lead to an empty foundation. What looks like a craggy and scenic mountain rises behind them. That "mountain" is a chat pile. It's what remains from processed ore and part of what remains is lead dust. From US-69 I saw just tiny fraction of the toxic chat piles that exist in the area. They're everywhere.

The road through town is rather busy. There are lots of semi trucks and a fair amount of other traffic. Most just pass through the desolation but I did see a couple pull over. I saw no one get out. Maybe they were just sightseeing or taking pictures or maybe they were burning memories a little deeper.

Here's a happier scene. The town of Commerce is about a half dozen miles from Picher. It's right on Historic Route 66 and I've driven through it several times. I've always known the Mickey Mantle's childhood home was here but I never sought it out. Today I did.

This is the vendor and exhibitor area for the festival. There is more inside the big building but I didn't get any usable photos inside. It's Friday and, as one exhibitor said, "It's usually just vendors talking to vendors on week days."" That was pretty much the case today. Things should pick up on Saturday with the added draw of a car show.

Back in 2007 I met some newlyweds while staying at the Blue Swallow in Tucumcari. It was a day where I'd already missed some photo ops and, despite their wonderful story of a Route 66 honeymoon, I got no picture. Today, just a few days shy of three years later, I did. David & Kimberly are offering some really nice Route 66 photos and a calendar.

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