The first time I was to pass by a dead body during a funeral service, my stomach twisted into knots. A line of grownups in front of me sauntered alongside the casket, solemnly paused, murmured words to family members on the front pew, and moved on. Those in line modeled what I was to do, and I did it. However, the emotional flooding didn’t fade until much later that day, long after I had followed that single-file row of mourners exiting the church house doors.
These familiar funeral knots gripped my insides as our team explored rows of vacant houses in Picher, stripped bare of windows, doors, wiring, shelving, and more. These dead house bodies of the multi-year Tar Creek Superfund funeral were once and for all silenced as a 2008 tornado took eight human lives and injured 150 more; that tragedy was followed by a 55-6 vote in 2009 officially calling for the closing of the Picher-Cardin school district. And, the Picher Wikipedia link reads:
The municipality of Picher was officially dissolved on November 26, 2013. Linderman, the only remaining resident of Picher, died June 9, 2015
Gary Linderman only lived 8 days past the Sunday of our visit. The tornado, school closing, and his death tightly sealed the casket lid over the entire town.
As we walked closer to the homes, each sprayed with a “KEEP OUT” warning, we began to hear noises. Some kind of electronic pinging danced on our ear drums until, finally glancing through the windows, we realized the source. Smoke alarms in the homes, still powered by the smallest trickle of electricity from their 9-volt batteries, were beeping a warning: time for replacements. Time for replacements. Replacement-replacement…over and over.
The weakening sounds faded as the wind swept any remaining decibels away – past the other dead houses, across and over the piles of chat, and out onto a prairie where no one will hear them.
The knots in my stomach returned slightly when I edited the video and looked at the photos once again. It’s been 9 months since we were in Picher; I am guessing all the smoke alarms are now silent. Silent like the sounds of the true graveyard Picher is, and silencing to experience in real life.