If your family’s anything like mine, you probably know a fair amount about your grandma and her side of the family. Where she grew up. Stories from her childhood. How you’re related to distant relatives who magically appear at weddings and funerals then disappear for years at a time.
Grandpas? A little different story. Let’s see…I know my grandpa on my mom’s side was from Wisconsin. Not that Wisconsin Grandpa didn’t talk, he just didn’t talk much about his childhood. Most of the time he was busy scooping leaves out of the pool and inflating all of our never-ending carousel of rafts/floaties/inner tubes/beach balls. Or picking up donuts from Casey’s – they’d magically appear on the kitchen counter – and ordering pepperoni pizzas on summer nights. My cousins and I would each grab a slice, dripping wet in our swimsuits, then jump back into the pool to swim until it got dark. In between all of that, asking him about where he grew up never crossed my mind. I was too busy being a kid.
If Wisconsin Grandpa was quiet about his childhood, Oklahoma Grandpa, my grandpa on my dad’s side, said even less. He was from Picher, Oklahoma – the now abandoned town photographer Brandi Wilson so perfectly captured in these photos.
Once a successful lead and zinc mining town, Picher is now a ghost town, officially closed in 2009 after a series of struggles, from contaminated groundwater to being flattened by an F4 tornado in 2008. Today, all that stands are a few iconic structures, such as the town’s water tower and high school scoreboard, and a handful of abandoned buildings. And chat piles.
Chat piles are the leftover materials from the mining process. They form these giant hills all around Picher.
My grandpa used to play on them, probably sledding in the winter and racing up their sides in the summer, not knowing that coming into contact with them can cause lead poisoning.
If my grandpa was still here, here I’d ask him so many questions about the town, what happened there and what it was like to grow up in Picher. But since he’s not, I’m so glad Brandi Wilson could help me put together a few of the pieces with these photos.
If you’d like to see more of Brandi’s work, here are more pictures of Picher.
Both of my grandpas have been gone for a while now. Wisconsin Grandpa passed away when I was in college and Oklahoma Grandpa a little over a year ago. I’m sad I am just now discovering so many things I’d love to ask them about.