It would seem that the once-bustling lead and zinc mining powerhouse of Picher just can't catch a break. Following decades of unchecked excavation and hazardous waste dumping, Picher’s problems started in the late 1960s when, following the closure of the mines, unremediated contaminants began to turn the water in the creek red, giant sinkholes began to open up in the earth, and cancer rates among residents began to skyrocket.
Even though Picher was declared part of the Tar Creek Superfund site in 1983, many folks didn't leave until 2006 when an Army Corps of Engineers study showed that much of the town was at risk of collapsing. Still, hundreds of stubborn — and sickened — Picher-ites stayed behind.
Then in May 2008, a massive tornado struck. The following year, the school district was dissolved, post office shuttered and remaining residents provided with federal relocation funds. On Sept. 1, 2009, Picher was effectively closed forever. Well, almost.