Derek Rankins & Danea Males
Treece is a small community in rural, southeastern Kansas that sits atop a labyrinth of abandoned mines. During both World Wars this region was abuzz with mining activities that supported the war effort. The lead, zinc, and iron ore that miners brought out of the ground were primarily used for making ammunition. Treece was once a city with 991 people, and the area produced $20 billion worth of ore. The mining stopped in 1967 and the population eventually dwindled to 109 individuals. By 1973 the mines began to fill with water. On the surface, 70 million tons of waste tailings and 36 million tons of mill sand and sludge sit like small mountains that are both hazardous and beautiful.
As the heavy metals find their way into the topsoil and water supply, residents struggle with developing health problems. Cancer and lead poisoning are forcing the community to leave their homes. The slogan “Miners Do Our Part For Victory” has given way to “We Survived The Lead.” In 1983 the tri-state area surrounding Treece, Kansas, became part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Site program. Environmental cleanup and resident relocation have become a monumental and heartbreaking task for what is now the number one Superfund Site in America.
Treece is still considered home for a few folks, but it’s steadily becoming a ghost town. One local business, one Pentecostal church, a well-worn city hall and 59 households serve as city landmarks. When I make photographs of this place I feel like I’m attending a wake for a lost loved one. The citizens are a grieving family that is preparing to bury the departed. The mineshafts that once facilitated much growth and prosperity are now tombs. Remnants of life and inhabitance are placed within the landscape as nature slowly reclaims the space. My photographs represent some of the relics I find as families gradually leave their homes, their land and the dangers of occupying this space. The modern day ruins of this town are mundane and utilitarian; however, they demand exploration and a simple, quiet captivation.