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Picher Oklahoma – Birth of a Ghost Town

Picher Oklahoma



There is virtually nothing left in Pitcher to photograph.

The government has bulldozed and cleared almost all of the buildings.


Picher was home to mines that supplied bullets for U.S. soldiers fighting in World War I and II.  Its population reached a peak of 16,000 as World War II approached. By 1970 the last mine in the area had closed.

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.
On May 10, 2008, Picher was struck by a tornado. There were eight confirmed deaths, possibly including one child, and many other injuries. 20 blocks of the city suffered extensive damage with houses and businesses destroyed or flattened. The damage in Picher was rated at “EF4”. At least 150 others were injured in Picher alone.  This was the deadliest tornado in Oklahoma since the South Oklahoma City F5 tornado on May 3, 1999 which killed 36. The federal government also decided that there would be no aid given to rebuild homes, but the buyouts would continue as previously scheduled and people will be assisted in relocation.

In April 2009, residents voted 55-6 to dissolve the Picher-Cardin school district; it graduated its final class of 11 in May. As of 2009, the district’s enrollment had dropped to a total of 49 students from approximately 340 three years prior.

The city’s post office was scheduled to close in July 2009 and the city ceased operations as a municipality on September 1, 2009.

As of June 29, 2009, all of the residents had been given federal checks to enable them to relocate from Picher permanently. The town is considered to be too toxic to be habitable. On the last day, all the final residents met at the school auditorium to say goodbye.

Tar Creek Superfund site is a United States Superfund site located in Picher and Cardin, Oklahoma. Chat piles left behind by the mining companies contain lead dust that has blown around the city. Elevated lead levels in Picher children have led to learning disabilities and other problems. The lead and zinc have also seeped into groundwater, ponds, and lakes, many of which still are used by children for swimming. Since the children of Picher have been found to have elevated levels of lead in their bodies, the EPA has since declared Picher to be one of the most toxic areas in the United States.

There is no fee to enter the area, and at the time of this posting the area was open to public access.  Please note that much of the town is still private property and thier are still residents living in the town.

Best Time to Visit:

Anytime, however the area is still being cleaned up by the EPA, and buildings are being leveled and debris cleaned up.  The chat piles are also being removed and used as road building material.  There may be a day when there is nothing left to see, but I suspect that will be a long time off.

Where it is:

Picher is located eight mile north of Miami on US highway 69 in the very northeastern corner of Oklahoma, with it’s city limits bordering on the Kansas state line.

Further Information

Picher was featured in the PBS Independent Lens film The Creek Runs Red discussing the connection of the people and their desire to leave or stay in the city.Picher was also featured in the Jump the Fence Productions film titled Tar Creek. The film which was written, produced, and directed by Matt Myers features music from Blues legend Watermelon Slim.Picher was recently featured in an episode of Life After People: The Series on the History Channel.

Tips for the Photographer


You can photograph in Picher with just about any type of equipment.

What to Photograph:

The huge Chat piles surrounding Picher, remnants of damge from the 2008 tornado, and the abandoned building of downtown.

Photography Tips:

Use caution, the vicinity has been determined to be toxic by the EPA.  Buildings that are standing or partially standing are dangerous.  Remember this is private property just as any other town, and there are still people living here.

Walking around in Picher taking photos is a kind of eerie experience.  I have photographed “Ghost Towns” before, but these are places that have been empty for many years.  Picher has many signs of people living there recently, some of the houses and buildings are in very good shape and a few are actually still being lived in.  For the most part however the town is deserted much as you would see in a science fiction movie,  where all the people suddenly disappeared from a town.  Then there are the ever present “Chat” piles surrounding the town that almost look like the terrain from another planet. Barren and mangled trees all that is left in some areas after the tornado destroyed much of the town in 2008.

Pitcher Photo Gallery

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  1. I was born in Picher in 1942, I hardly ever go back, Its sad to see it disappear little by little.

  2. Thank you for some amazing photos of Picher. I grew up there and its still hard to see it. Driving through it after the tornado and returning home to the auction of items at the high school were tough experiences. I noticed you had some photos with snow on the ground, one of my best memories and it will probably be one that stays with me forever are the chatpiles covered in snow. If your ever able to get there after a good snow and up on a chat pile it should result in even more amazing photos.

  3. i cant believe people still stayed in such an unheathly place dont they even no all the heath risk they are taking like permanent brain damedge un heathly air and unheathy water to

    i hope they made the right desition

  4. I have been to picher oklahoma by accident and ended up being one of the more interesting \ erie places that I have ever seen in my life!!

  5. I have made two trips taking photos and hope to make a couple more excursions there. Let me know if you plan to return. Thanks.

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