The Prelude: The Deadliest City in America
The Prelude: The Deadliest City in America is a book by Seph Lawless that explores the EPA’s most toxic place in America. The never before seen images of Picher,Oklahoma offer a haunting inside look at this real life ghost town. The book and eBook is filled with stunning images of this eerie town accompanied with the fascinating history of this once thriving American city.
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The EPA refers to it as the most toxic place in America, but it’s better known as Picher, Oklahoma. The apocalyptic theatrical landscape serves as a rather cryptic backdrop to this once thriving American city, a constant reminder of what happens when mankind doesn’t respect nature and the environment. Could this be what it looks when it all ends? According to the activist and photojournalist, that is exactly what he hopes people will take away with his latest project and book called ‘The Prelude: The Deadliest City in America’.
“This is America. Geographically and in spirit this is the heart of America. The same thing that built this city in 1947 would ultimately destroy it years later and it’s imperative people, not only know that, but see it,” Lawless says. “I knew if I portrayed the images creatively enough they could have a very deep impact on the viewer.”
In 1913, as Oklahoma expanded, lead and zinc ore were discovered and mining began. A town developed overnight around the new work and was named Picher in honor of O. S. Picher, owner of Picher Lead Company. The city was incorporated in 1918, and by 1920, Picher had a population of 9,726.
The Picher area became the most productive lead-zinc mining field in Oklahoma, producing over $20 billion worth of ore between 1917 and 1947. More than fifty percent of the lead and zinc metal used during World War I were produced by the Picher district. 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. As a result of national legislation to identify and remediate such environmentally hazardous sites, in 1980 the area was designated a Superfund site by the U.S. government.
On April 24, 2006 the U.S. government decided to close Picher and relocate its residents. The contamination and other environmental hazards were found to be so severe that the evacuation was mandatory. This was now the most dangerous city in America. The years of mining and the removal of large amounts of subsurface material during mining operations, many of the city’s structures have been deemed in imminent danger of caving in now sits an eerie ghost town.
Seph Lawless describes being in the ghost town, like a scene straight out of an apocalyptic movie.The ground in Picher is so dangerously thin that it could cave in at any moment, so driving into the town wasn’t an option for Lawless. Signs warning the public and road blocks exist, but Lawless took the risk of going inside on foot anyways.
“I was terrified. I remember trying to relax my hands because they were shaking so badly. I kept thinking the earth could open up any minute and swallow me and no one would ever know,” Lawless says. “At one point my foot went through the ground and I fell to the ground thinking I was going to cave in and die. In complete astonishment of the situation, I found myself photographing the hole where my foot went in, realizing later just how chilling that moment really was for me.”