By Wally Kennedy
PICHER, Okla. — If the trend continues, the abandoned mining town of Picher might have a future in film.
Picher will be featured in tonight’s episode of “Life After People,” a popular series on the History Channel. The program is to air at 9 p.m.
The episode, titled “Toxic Revenge,” will feature an appearance by Earl Hatley, a local environmental activist who has documented the adverse health impact that living in a contaminated mining site can have on people.
Also appearing will be Robert Nairn, an associate professor in restoration of ecosystems at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. Nairn is heading a project at the former Mayer Ranch, near Commerce, that seeks to reduce the flow of contaminated water from Picher’s mines into Tar Creek.
The creek, which turned orange/red nearly 30 years ago when acidic, metal-laden water emerged from the mines, has been featured in two documentary films.
The most recent, “Tar Creek,” by Matt Myers, takes a critical look at the history of Picher, and the recent buyout and relocation of residents by the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust.
The documentary will be shown on Sunday, Jan. 24, at the Trail Dance Film Festival in Duncan, where it has been nominated in the best feature documentary category.
Myers said footage from his film will be used in the “Life After People” episode.
“The program focuses on our toxic sites, and what better site to discuss that than Tar Creek?” he said in a recent e-mail updating local residents who participated in his film. “We have been working with some incredible folks at the History Channel who are going to use some of the footage from our film in their program.”
Residents of the town are in the final stages of being bought out and relocated by the trust because large areas of the town could cave in. Picher, once a leading producer of lead and zinc ores, is heavily undermined.
In November, Picher was the backdrop for a hard-core horror film, “Bad Girls Burn in Hell.” That film was shut down by local authorities after rumors started circulating that a porn film was being made.
The makers of the film, deathfactoryinc.com, denied that a porn film was being shot. About 75 percent of the movie was completed, they said, before filming ceased.
In tonight’s “Life After People” episode, Picher appears as an abandoned town in America’s heartland. The program focuses on the unbridled release of toxins and chemicals in a world without people.
Hatley, in a telephone interview Monday, said: “I met with the film crew at the Best Western in Miami. That was in October. From there, we went over to Picher. We spent all day there.”
Hatley said he made a map of what Picher looked like in the 1920s.
“I showed them the old part of town before it collapsed ... the dead part of old Main Street where the J.C. Penney and Sears stores used to be,” he said. “It kind of blew their minds that there were once big stores where we were standing, and now there are vacant lots and dead buildings.
“I then gave them the typical Tar Creek tour so they could see why it has become abandoned. I told them that the mining practices that created the town ultimately destroyed the town.”
In 1997, Earl Hatley served as the environmental director of the Quapaw Tribe and helped prepare the tribe’s natural resources damage assessment, which became the legal foundation for holding several mining companies responsible for the environmental damage at Tar Creek.
By Wally Kennedy
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