The Invention of Abandon


I learned of a small 2.2 mile town called Picher in Oklahoma while doing research on coalmines. Picher was core to the American industrial revolution. The amount of lead and zinc mined from this area totaled 20 billion dollars. By 2009 it officially closed and was evacuated due to mortal contamination; the catalysts were, the vast amount of mining, abandonment of the mine and not properly shutting down mining operations. In addition, the delayed reaction by local, state and federal government exacerbated the time frame of exposure to lead and other toxins.

This town was/is so contaminated with tar rivers, land collapses and lead in the water-table. It is important to note it took the Environmental Protection Agency over 20 years to declare it uninhabitable with the assessment locked in political quagmires; and then suddenly the people of the town were forced evacuated out of their homes under the governments "eminent domain" dictate and were given buyouts based on factoring in the depreciation of their land by contamination. In some instances this left people with $10,000 to start a new life "somewhere".

I felt compelled to document the unofficial funeral of Picher Oklahoma. This small town created so much wealth, provided the raw material for numerous industries and then was forgotten. These mines were vital to the rail road industry; They also provided over 50% of the lead used during World War I. How could a place so seminal to the fabric of the United States simple disappear as a casualty of modern age, consume and discard culture? Was this abuse, neglect and eventual abandon just a natural process of any industrial nation? I couldn't reconcile how we were in the same place as Pre-Columbian societies abandoning their cities due to contamination and pollution. How over 1500 years later this pattern is still ever present in modern societies. I decided to drive from New York to Oklahoma to document the loss of a town.