Daily Picture Show

How To Make A Ghost Town

When photographer Dina Kantor first drove into the town of Treece, she was amazed by the beautiful mountains. Until she realized: Wait a minute, this is Kansas. And those mountains are not actually mountains. They are piles of "chat," or mineral waste from decades of mining.

"They're beautiful and scary at the same time," she says on the phone.

  • The view from Fisher's Chat is of the former city of Picher, Okla., Treece's closest neighbor. The town of Picher was bought out a few years ago.
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    The view from Fisher's Chat is of the former city of Picher, Okla., Treece's closest neighbor. The town of Picher was bought out a few years ago.
    Dina Kantor
  • Mandy and Jerry, Treece, 2011. Jerry did not even fill out the paperwork to be considered for the buyout. He knew from the beginning that he would not leave his home.
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    Mandy and Jerry, Treece, 2011. Jerry did not even fill out the paperwork to be considered for the buyout. He knew from the beginning that he would not leave his home.
    Dina Kantor
  • City Hall Demolition #3, Treece, 2012
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    City Hall Demolition #3, Treece, 2012
    Dina Kantor
  • Tar Creek, 2011. Treece is part of the Tar Creek Superfund site, one of the largest Superfund sites in the United States. (According to the EPA, a Superfund site is "an uncontrolled or abandoned place where hazardous waste is located.")
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    Tar Creek, 2011. Treece is part of the Tar Creek Superfund site, one of the largest Superfund sites in the United States. (According to the EPA, a Superfund site is "an uncontrolled or abandoned place where hazardous waste is located.")
    Dina Kantor
  • Chat Pile, Picher, 2010. Chat piles are the remnants of mining. Mountains of gravel with traces of lead, the piles are not only the source of many activities for local residents (they are fun to climb and ride ATVs and bikes on), but they are also incredibly valuable.
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    Chat Pile, Picher, 2010. Chat piles are the remnants of mining. Mountains of gravel with traces of lead, the piles are not only the source of many activities for local residents (they are fun to climb and ride ATVs and bikes on), but they are also incredibly valuable.
    Dina Kantor
  • Trenton and Madison, Treece, 2010
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    Trenton and Madison, Treece, 2010
    Dina Kantor
  • Water Tower, Treece, 2010
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    Water Tower, Treece, 2010
    Dina Kantor
  • Water Tower, Treece, 2012. The water tower was sold at auction for scrap metal. The remaining structures in town were sold or demolished, and even the roads were torn up.
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    Water Tower, Treece, 2012. The water tower was sold at auction for scrap metal. The remaining structures in town were sold or demolished, and even the roads were torn up.
    Dina Kantor
  • Bob, Brayden, Carol and Brooklyn, Treece, 2010
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    Bob, Brayden, Carol and Brooklyn, Treece, 2010
    Dina Kantor
  • Linda and Robert, Treece, 2010
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    Linda and Robert, Treece, 2010
    Dina Kantor
  • Ryan, Lane and Lance, Treece, 2011
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    Ryan, Lane and Lance, Treece, 2011
    Dina Kantor
  • Reclaimed Land, Treece, 2010
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    Reclaimed Land, Treece, 2010
    Dina Kantor
  • Larry, Treece, 2011
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    Larry, Treece, 2011
    Dina Kantor
  • Austin, Treece, 2011
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    Austin, Treece, 2011
    Dina Kantor
  • Dakota, Treece, 2011
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    Dakota, Treece, 2011
    Dina Kantor
  • Vickie and Clyde, Treece, 2011
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    Vickie and Clyde, Treece, 2011
    Dina Kantor
  • Vickie and Clyde, Galena, 2011. After relocating from Treece, Vickie and Clyde moved to a new house in Galena, Kan.
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    Vickie and Clyde, Galena, 2011. After relocating from Treece, Vickie and Clyde moved to a new house in Galena, Kan.
    Dina Kantor
  • Jan's House, 2011. After Jan moved to a new house in Miami, Okla., her house in Treece was sold at auction. Someone bought Jan's house and moved it to a new location.
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    Jan's House, 2011. After Jan moved to a new house in Miami, Okla., her house in Treece was sold at auction. Someone bought Jan's house and moved it to a new location.
    Dina Kantor
  • Dave, Pam and Sherry, Baxter Springs, 2011. After relocating from Treece, Pam and Dave moved next door to Dave's sister, Sherry.
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    Dave, Pam and Sherry, Baxter Springs, 2011. After relocating from Treece, Pam and Dave moved next door to Dave's sister, Sherry.
    Dina Kantor
  • Gary, Treece, 2011. Gary is one of the few residents who elected to stay in his home in Treece.
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    Gary, Treece, 2011. Gary is one of the few residents who elected to stay in his home in Treece.
    Dina Kantor
  • Mining postcard, mailed to Sgt. Addo H. Riker in 1952.
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    Mining postcard, mailed to Sgt. Addo H. Riker in 1952.
    Dina Kantor

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Since 2010, Kantor has been documenting a town in its twilight. Treece, Kan., once a booming mining town, has been a town without an industry since the 1970s, when the last mine closed.

In the wake of the mining heyday is a wrecked environment, a poor economy and a population in poor health.

"In 2000," writes Kantor via email, "the poverty level was more than twice the national average. According to an EPA test in 2009, 8.8 percent of children in Treece were shown to have elevated blood-lead levels, compared to just 2.9 percent statewide. Poor mining practices left the ground unstable and full of sinkholes. Mountains of 'chat,' the toxic remnants of the mining, surround the town."

Recently, the community in Treece decided that life there was no longer sustainable; they petitioned for a buyout from the government so that they could leave the town behind.

"Over the past year," Kantor writes, "Treece's residents slowly moved away, and their homes were sold or demolished. The water tower was purchased at auction, the roads were torn up, and the landscape is hardly recognizable."

A few residents have refused to take the buyout, but there are only about a dozen people who remain in Treece, Kantor says. The land will officially be auctioned off in the fall — the only stipulation being that it cannot be lived on.

"Though communities often change, it's rare to see one unravel entirely," she writes. "Ultimately, my photographs serve as an archive of the community, a document of its transformation, and an investigation into the environmental and economic impact of past practices on both individuals and the landscape."

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