Tired of the beach? Sickened by Disney's woke politics? Been to the top of the Space Needle one too many times?
Consider packing up the family in the ol' Pontiac Safari, hitting U.S. 60, and paying a visit to the Chat Triangle of Oklahoma, a trio of ghost towns rendered uninhabitable due to massive piles of toxic waste just sitting out in the open!
Okay not really.
You may have never heard of the Triangle, probably because many authorities are a bit embarrassed that it even exists in the first place. But it's out there, sitting smack-dab in the Oklahoma hinterlands (and part of Kansas, too). The trio of towns consist of Picher and Cardin (both in Oklahoma) and Treece (just over the border in Kansas).
Among the three, Picher is the most infamous. It originally developed in the second decade of the 20th century after lead and zinc were discovered close to its surface:
The Picher area became the most productive lead-zinc mining field in the Tri-State district, producing over $20 billion worth of ore between 1917 and 1947. More than fifty percent of the lead and zinc used during World War I was extracted from the Picher district. At its peak more than 14,000 miners worked the mines and another 4,000 worked in mining services. Many workers commuted by an extensive trolley system from as far away as Joplin and Carthage, Missouri
Money talks, folks. When there's jobs to be had and fortunes to be made, people come on the run.
That didn't last, though. By the late 1960s the mining had dried up and the mining operations ceased. In the wake of those closures, however, a major problem arose with the abandoned mining facilities:
Mining ceased in 1967 and water pumping from the mines ceased. The contaminated water from some 14,000 abandoned mine shafts, 70 million tons of mine tailings, and 36 million tons of mill sand and sludge remained as a huge environmental cleanup problem.
That's not even the worst of it. All around the towns were huge piles of chat, which is all the castoff junk left over from the mining process. These piles were contaminated and significantly toxic, and yet they were, incredibly, an integral, intimate part of Picher's shrinking community:
As the town dwindled to fewer than 2,000 residents, the chat piles became an integral part of the local culture. Families picnicked on them, 4-wheelers rode their bikes up and down them, while the local high school track team trained on them.
Some parents even reportedly used the chat to fill their kids' sandboxes!
Yeah, it was a long time ago, and nobody had any idea. But eventually folks in charge figured out that these piles of mining waste were, you know, unhealthy. Testing of local children revealed sharply elevated lead levels in their bloodstreams. Negative health effects were already becoming apparent.
Eventually government authorities ordered mandatory evacuations. A major EF4 tornado in 2008 destroyed a ton of buildings in the town, further accelerating its collapse.
By 2009, Oklahoma dissolved the city of Picher; the following year just 20 people lived within what used to be the city's limits. Its final resident was Gary Linderman, the proprietor of the Ole Miner Pharmacy who insisted on staying in the town until his death in 2015.
Along with nearby Treece and Cardin—both of which have also been abandoned due to the toxic local environment—Picher now stands as a ghost town smack-dab in the middle of the middle of America, its unsettling environs doing nothing other than decaying and drawing the occasional urban explorer, such as legendary mall-walker Dan Bell, who profiled the town a few years ago:
The place is, to put it mildly, creepy:
Now you know about the Chat Triangle. And if you happen to be passing through it, for goodness' sake, keep driving—and hold your breath!
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