The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 6, 2013

N.Y. photojournalist, radio team honor former Kansas town

BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. — The ZIP code 66778 is no good anymore.

The only place Treece, Kan., still exists is on Google Maps — for the time being, at least.

Type it in and you’ll have a bird’s-eye view of a three-block by five-block settlement dotted with trees and homes and a city hall on the Kansas-Oklahoma line.

Zoom out and you’ll see large patches of white — scars on the landscape that speak to the mining past of the town and the chat piles that used to surround it.

Drive there and you’ll see nothing. The streets are gone, even the 100-year-old elm tree that Mayor Bill Blunk’s wife, Judy, cherished in their front yard at 435 Kansas no longer stands.

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency began a buyout of the 91-year-old town, once a top supplier of lead and zinc ore during World War I and World War II. It was included in Tar Creek, the largest EPA Superfund site in the United States, an ironic result of the mining that spurred its early growth.

The federal government allocated $3.5 million to Treece and appointed a trust to manage the funds. The average appraisal of a home there was less than $20,000, which residents were to use to relocate.

By June 2011, the Blunks had moved their trailer 12 miles away, and by 2012, almost all of the remaining 105 residents had left, scattering to Galena, Baxter Springs, Columbus and other Four-State Area towns. Their homes were auctioned and hauled away. Heavy equipment operators tore out the streets and bulldozed down the trees, including the Blunks’ elm.

But what happened between the buyout and the abandonment wasn’t lost to time. Numerous times during those three years, a photojournalist and a team of radio documentarians came to Treece.

Dina Kantor and Chaela Herridge-Meyer, both residents of New York City, whose projects ran simultaneously but not in partnership, both said their purpose was to honor the former town of Treece and document the residents’ collective story. Both were funded through grants by the Kansas Humanities Council.

Their paths would cross eventually, and last Tuesday, the two presented their bodies of work together as a photo slide show accompanied by an audio narrative to a few dozen Treece residents who reunited at the Baxter Springs Heritage Museum.

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