PICHER, Okla. – An Ottawa County ghost town came alive on Saturday as hundreds of people gathered for the eighth annual Picher Christmas parade.
“It’s one of the biggest parades we have had in a long time,” said Sherri Mills, parade organizer. “Most people tell me ‘We just love being in the Picher parade.’”
Against a backdrop of mountain size chat piles and falling down buildings, around 2,500 people bundled up in coats and gloves and lined up along Picher’s main drag.
The parade served as a time for old friends to greet one another and catch up on each other’s families.
“We are not professional, we are not fancy – but we have a lot of fun,” Mills said.
This year’s Christmas theme hasn’t changed. In fact, the theme has never changed.
“Coming Home for Christmas” is all about people coming back to Picher,” Mills said.
A federally funded buyout on the heels of an F4 tornado in 2008 saw Picher’s population drop from more than 1,600 residents to 20.
Fresh doughnuts and hot chocolate and coffee were freely available in front of the Gary Building, formerly known as the Ole Miners Pharmacy.
Over 100 floats, horses, antique trucks, convertibles carrying Miss Merry Christmas queens, firetrucks and Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus were in the 45-minute parade, she said.
“The Quapaw High School band plays the Picher school fight song,” Mills said. “Every time I hear the song, I get a lump in my throat.”
“For a town that doesn’t exist, it’s crazy how many people turn out for a parade,” said Paula Ozburn, from Commerce.
Picher is the center of Tar Creek, an area of 40 square miles of lead- and zinc-contaminated land, in northern Ottawa County.
For years, the area was at the top of the EPA’s Superfund list after mining companies departed, leaving countless environmental and medical problems.
The community was part of a federally funded buyout after a 2006 Army Corps of Engineers study showed the abandoned lead and zinc mines underneath Picher and the nearby communities of Cardin and Hockerville had a high risk of caving in.