Silkwood’s Noconas

Perhaps you’ve heard of Karen Silkwood, the premier counter-culture icon of the labor unions, environmentalists, and anti-nukers of the world. Karen was working at a facility owned by a major oil company who had ventured into the nuclear arena. Her job involved making plutonium pellets for nuclear reactors.

Of course, she’s dead now. If you saw the movie Silkwood, starring Meryl Streep, you know this. But what you don’t know is what this has to do with me.

Well, as the story goes, Karen found some incredible negligence in the way the nuclear products were being handled (numerous violations of health regulations, including exposure of workers to contamination, faulty respiratory equipment and improper storage of samples). That plutonium is some pretty dangerous stuff, you know.


In spite of the damage to her car’s rear fender and the skid marks in the road, nobody was ever charged in her murder...


When Karen’s breath expelled contaminated air from her lungs an investigation was launched. She, as well as her home, was found to be badly contaminated. The major oil company claimed Karen caused the contamination to make them look bad, or to sell the story, or for whatever reason. Of course, Karen claimed it was from the aforementioned negligence. Others speculated that the major oil company actually planted the contamination to sully her name.

Karen decided to go public with the evidence. She claimed to have a binder full of documentation, and indeed folks in her home town of Crescent, Oklahoma later testified of the existence of such a binder. She called the New York Times and a meeting was set.

And so, on the evening of November 13, 1974, Karen Silkwood left Crescent, Oklahoma to drive to Oklahoma City 30 miles away to hand the evidence over to the journalist. But she never arrived. The next day her car was found in a culvert on the road to Oklahoma City – her body inside the car… the binder nowhere to be found.

Of course, everyone with half-a-brain assumed the major oil company “took care of her”… “had her bumped off”… But in spite of the damage to her car’s rear fender and the skid marks in the road, nobody was ever charged in her murder. In fact, it wasn’t even officially ruled a murder – but an accident! And in fact, in the longest running civil suit in the history of the state, the major oil company paid Karen’s family $1.38 million, and got out of the nuclear energy business altogether.

BUT… what has this got to do with me?

Well, remember that investigation that found contamination at Karen’s home? In the course of the search the authorities did a lot of damage. Later Cher Bono brought Karen’s boots into my father’s shoe repair shop to be fixed. (OK… it wasn’t Cher Bono. It was Karen’s roommate - Cher Bono just played her in the movie).

“Price is no object”, she said. “Hell, they’re paying for it!”

And so I got to tear off the soles and heels from the late Karen Silkwood’s Nocona boots, so that my dad could make them like new again.

So why am I telling you this? Two reasons – One: I don’t know if anybody but me knows this story, and I wouldn’t want it to be forgotten. And Two: it might explain why my fingers glow in the dark!


photo used by permission of: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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