Heroes and rascals, shipwrecks and lost gold: Strange but true stories and secrets of Oregon's wild past | Offbeat Oregon History The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 While doing some cleaning-up around the Odd Fellows Hall in Scio, a local girl found a tiny coffin with this partial skeleton inside. Whose? We'll probably never know ... (Story No. 204, Oct. 14, 2012) The ever-elusive D.B. Cooper peeks into the page from behind his signature shades. The story of his skyjacking exploit starts with episode 237, from June 2, 2013. Meet Kitty Kat, the wealthiest feline in the state of Oregon and landlord to the City of Tangent. Kitty Kat, until he died at a ripe old age in 1995, owned City Hall. (Story No. 163, Jan. 8, 2012) This crazy-looking speedboat was the invention of Portland wizard Victor Strode. The city commissioned a harbor patrol boat based on his design, but it didn't work out. (Story No. 201, Sept. 23, 2012) The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 This is the roof of the Franz Bread Rest Hut at Pixieland, the Oregon Coast's ill-starred answer to Disneyland, which opened in 1969 and went out of biz in 1974. The Rest Hut consisted of a giant fiberglass loaf of bread sticking out of the top of this giant fiberglass hollow log, the whole thing towering over a log-flume roller coaster ride. It's probably the most campily awesome example of the proud display of crass commercialism that was Pixieland. (Column No. 52 - Dec. 6, 2009)
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Link to Web site for Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town z

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This hunk of pallasite came from the same 1820 meteor strike in Chile that many scientists believe was the source of the 'sample' Dr. John Evans claims he chipped off the Port Orford Meteorite when he found it. Was the meteorite a fraud? Many think so; others think not.

The voice of Bugs Bunny went to high school in Portland

Legendary Hollywood voice man Mel Blanc's teachers weren't too impressed with his voice talents, but Oregon radio listeners and cartoon fans sure were. Here's the story.


This hunk of pallasite came from the same 1820 meteor strike in Chile that many scientists believe was the source of the 'sample' Dr. John Evans claims he chipped off the Port Orford Meteorite when he found it. Was the meteorite a fraud? Many think so; others think not.

port orford meteorite: a hoax? or is it still out there somewhere?

The man who found it was in financial trouble; did he really find an 11-ton, $300-million rock, or did he make it all up so he could stay employed? Here's the story.


This is not a picture of the Sunshine; it's a lumber schooner of a similar type, the Wawona. The Sunshine, on her way home from her maiden voyage to San Francisco, vanished and then reappeared, upside down, 200 miles off course.

Gold was gone when schooner washed ashore ... empty

The fate of the Sunshine's passengers and crew is unknown ... did somebody wreck the ship on purpose?. Here's the story.


One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

Sammy Davis Jr. used to regularly play portland clubs.

Many consider him the coolest member of the Rat Pack. Sammy caught his big break while he was in Portland. Here's the story.


One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

The man behind Oregon's most famous bridges.

Conde McCullough's genius was in getting the most gorgeous bridge to also be the cheapest, over the long term. Here's the story.


The steamer Telephone, fastest boat on the river in the 1880s and possibly the world -- until it burned to the waterline one day.


riverboat captain had to choose: save passengers, or save his boat?

The steamboat Telephone caught fire at the widest spot in the Columbia; the decision must not have been too tough, because Captain U.B. Scott didn't hesitate for a moment. Here's what happened.

A shallow-draft riverboat of the type pioneered by Uriah B. Scott, on the river at Albany around 1900 or so.

Turns out the 'ignoramus from back east' knew what he was doing.

The big steamboat outfits laughed at the crude, ugly riverboat Uriah B. Scott was building ... until he used it to eat their lunch. Here's how.


The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered a slave.

sHE DIED AROUND 1874. SO WHY DOES THE GRAVESTONE SAY SHE WAS A SLAVE?

Ame came over the Oregon Trail from Missouri. But when the North won the Civil War, her status as a slave didn't change. Here's what happened.


Ray V.B. Jackson in a booking photo from the Oregon State Pen, in 1896. Four years after this photo was taken, he was teaching grade school in Silver Lake.

Is this the face of oregon's first serial killer?

Like an "angel of death," ex-con Ray V.B. Jackson just happened to be at the scene of at least five Central Oregon homicides. What are the odds? Here's the story (in two parts).


The four-masted schooner North Bend, stranded on a sandy spit, 'sailed' through two and a half miles of sand and relaunched itself on the other side.

The stranded sailing ship that salvaged and re-launched itself.

The North Bend was the last tall ship ever built on the West Coast. When it ran aground on Peacock Spit, it just kept on sailing through the sand, crossing two miles of sandy beach to reach Baker Bay. It took over a year. Here's the story.


The Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra on its 'giant violin' float, after riding it through the town of Burns in the Fourth of July Parade, 1915.

america's first youth orchestra came out of tiny sagebrush town.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic says it was founded in Portland in 1924. Actually, it's older than that -- and much more rural. Here's the story.


Vaudeville's famous Klondike Kate became a Central Oregon legend

central oregon's most fabulous homesteader ever.

Homesteader Kitty "Klondike Kate" Rockwell, retired from the bright lights of Vaudeville, often wore full costume just to weed the garden. Here's the story.


Goal of Oregon whale hunters: Grow fur coats, and put a man on the moon.

helping put a man on the moon, one dead whale at a time?

Whale oil is special stuff, and NASA needed it for the space program. So an Astoria group launched a whaling venture in the early 1960s. Here's the story.


Shipwreck ended Astoria's 1840s bid to become the Nantucket of the West Coast

astoria could have become a mecca of whale hunting ...

... had it not been for the Columbia River Bar, which wrecked the only whaling ship that ever dared try to cross it with a full cargo hold. It was a total loss. Here's the story.


Early Oregon 'holy roller' cult ended in murder, suicide, insanity

THE holy-roller "NAKED LADIES' CULT" IN CORVALLIS and waldport.

It started out as a church seeking perfect holiness and Godliness. It ended in murder, insanity and chaos — and, yes, rumors of naked ladies. Check out the full story (in two parts).


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

mariner's spooky nightmare came true the next day

In his dream, the first mate of the German barque Mimi saw seaweed covering all but three shipmates. The next day, all but three drowned in one of Oregon's worst-ever salvage disasters. Here's the story.


Florence's famous exploding whale: A highway engineer didn't know how much dynamite to use, so he guessed ... and guessed wrong.

Whale explodes: Details at 11.

The highway department guy didn't know how much dynamite to use, and said so on camera. But he still thinks the operation was a success. Check out the story of Florence's famous exploding whale ...


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

was this shipwreck insurance fraud or just drunken incompetence?

On a beautiful clear October day, astonished beach-goers watched a big windjammer simply turn and sail straight into the side of a mountain. Why would her crew do such a thing? Here's the story.


.44-caliber Colt Dragoon revolver, designed in 1848.

gold-rush bandits hunted down and killed ... but where was their loot?

No one has ever found it — or if they have, they've been awfully discreet. The Triskett Gang had stolen it hours earlier from the assaying depot in the town of Sailors' Diggins. Here's the story.


US Coast Guard 47-foot motor lifeboat takes on a heavy sea off Cape Disappointment.

tired of seeing mariners die, lighthouse keeper took action.

In 1865, Joel Munson watched 17 sailors drown on the Columbia Bar. But when their lifeboat washed up near his lighthouse, it gave him an idea — an idea that lives on today in the U.S. Coast Guard. Here's the story.


Delake Rod and Gun Club as it appeared in 1960.

mysterious mansion was haunted only by olympic medalist's dream.

OSU Wrestling legend Robin Reed, an Olympic gold medalist, was never pinned once in his entire career. But his plan for the Delake Rod and Gun Club ended in defeat. Here's the story.


U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers save sailors' lives, but get thrown in jail anyway.

In the early years of Prohibition, a Canadian rumrunner entered U.S. territorial waters to save the lives of nine castaways — and got caught and sent to jail anyway. Here's the story.


Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Bobbie the wonder dog's 2,400-mile odyssey.

Left behind in Illinois, the big collie dog walked home to Silverton, Oregon. It took him six months. Here's Bobbie's story.


A modern reproduction of a classic Concord Stagecoach.

a few legends of buried gold and treasure ...

Some of them might even be true. Here's a selection of them — as far as we know, the loot from any of them has never been found.


This crater marks ground zero in the Roseburg Blast. It's about 60 feet across.

a nuclear strike
in downtown roseburg?

No; it was "just" an exploding dynamite truck. But the mushroom cloud was big enough to fool a passing airline pilot. Here's the full story of the legendary "Roseburg Blast."


Part of the historic entry to Portland's Chinatown.

he dressed in rags like a beggar, so no one would know ...

To avoid getting robbed and murdered, Chinese couriers dressed as beggars while carrying thousands of dollars in gold from the fields. This is the story of one of these men, and the woman whose life he saved.


Steamer Admiral Evans, f.k.a. Buckman, which the two would-be pirates tried to hijack

THE dumbest would-be pirates in the history of the universe.

Their plan: Hijack a passenger steamer (that's it, in the thumbnail above), run it aground and sneak off into the bushes with 3 tons of gold. Do I need to mention that it didn't work out? Here's what happened.


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THE SHIPWRECK VICTIMS WHO THOUGHT THEY WERE GONERS ... UNTIL A TRAIN SHOWED UP.

Usually when something steams out to sea to rescue shipwrecked sailors, it's not a railroad train. Here's the story of the one (and probably only) time it was.


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Far-out guru "enlightens" Central Oregon.

What happens when a colony of acolytes of an East Indian guru move in, then try to take over Wasco County? Check out the four-part story of the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram ...


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this oregon youth went on to save half a billion lives...guess who?

A local Willamette Valley teen-ager named Bert Hoover, an orphan sent from Iowa to live with his uncle, went on to save millions of lives and become a singularly ill-starred U.S. president.


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oregon's most spectacular shipwreck ever.

The steam schooner J. Marhoffer was almost brand-new when, burning fiercely from stem to stern, it piled onto the rocks near Depoe Bay. It's the remains of this fiery shipwreck that gave Boiler Bay its name ...


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the gallant rescue of portland's floating brothel.

Maritime madam Nancy Boggs kept her bordello on a barge floating in the river, until a police raid cut it loose. But the captain and crew of a sternwheeler came to save the day. Here's the story.


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take off to the province of oregon, eh?

Few people know how close Oregon came to officially becoming a British possession under the treaty that ended the War of 1812. Only the presence of a handful of scattered, starving survivors from Astor's fur enterprise prevented it. Here's how.


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timberline lodge could have been a glass skyscraper

Calling the plan a "profit-making eyesore," a Forest Service manager nixed 1920s plan for a modern steel-and-glass structure with an aerial tramway. You can read about it right here.


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pixieland: an edgy, vanished amusement park

Built in the late 1960s as a "fairy-tale history of Oregon," the amusement park lasted just a few years before slipping into receivership. Today, all that's left of this odd and uniquely Oregonian story is a dilapidated guardshack.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Tangent City Hall office cat was the city's landlord

Willamette Valley town's mascot was the state's wealthiest housecat; he owned City Hall along with the farm it was built on, as well as an iconic red barn. Today, you can visit Kitty Kat's grave, but his barn is in danger of being torn down.*

Tangent City Hall, located in the old Bass Farm farmhouse. That's the Kitty Kat Barn behind.
Tangent City Hall, the former residence of municipal benefactor Kitty
Kat, with the iconic red barn in the background. (Image: F.J.D. John)

(*EDITOR'S NOTE: See update at end of this story.)

For several years during the 1980s, if you walked into Tangent City Hall, you might catch a glimpse of a gray-and-white tomcat named Kitty Kat hiding under the furniture.

No big surprise there; Tangent is a small and homey town, the sort of place that wouldn’t mind if the staff at its city offices wanted to keep an office cat. But here’s the kicker:

Kitty Kat was actually the landlord. He owned City Hall. In fact, Kitty Kat may have been the wealthiest feline in the state of Oregon.

A most unusual inheritance

Once upon a time, Kitty Kat was the beloved pet of a longtime local resident, John Bass, who’d taken him in as a stray.

Bass and Kitty lived in Tangent on a two-acre place with a historic Craftsman-style farmhouse and big red barn, right next door to the school. Bass had bought the place right after World War II, paying $40,000 for it, and lived there until he died in 1983.

Kitty Kat in the arms of his caretaker, a few years after Mr. Bass died.
This photograph of a local resident holding Kitty Kat, taken in
the mid-1980s, is displayed in the foyer of Tangent City Hall.
The man holding Kitty Kat is not John Bass — it's the caretaker
hired by the estate to take care of the furry landlord.
(Photo: City of Tangent)

When Bass died, he left the estate to Kitty Kat, along with a $70,000 fund for maintenance of the place. Since cats in general tend to be a bit limited in their executive capabilities, Bass entrusted a local attorney with the administration of his estate, with the understanding that when Kitty Kat finally shuffled off this mortal coil, the city of Tangent would inherit the property from him, to be used as a public facility.

For the most part, it worked out well for the city renting space from the office cat, although the city moved out of the building after some repairs came due on the furnace and Kitty Kat balked at the expense. City Coordinator Georgia Edwards said Kitty got a bit deaf toward the end of his long life, and she also remembers a time when he tried to pick a fight with a Linn County V.I.P.

“We had a county commissioner come over, and (Kitty Kat) snagged his pants and just kept pulling on it,” she recalled.

Kitty Kat's bequest

In 1995, Kitty Kat finally died and was buried in his own front yard with ceremony appropriate to the state’s wealthiest cat. In fact, if you go there, you can lay a few flowers on his grave if you’re so inclined. He has a grave marker and everything.

Kitty Kat's grave marker in the front yard of Tangent City Hall
The gravestone of Tangent’s municipal benefactor, Kitty Kat,
in the front yard of City Hall in the old Bass Farm house.
Former owner John Bass bequeathed the property to Kitty
Kat in his will, and the city inherited the place after Kitty’s
death in 1995. (Photo: F.J.D. John)

And the Bass Estate became city property.

There were a few issues, though. First off, the $70,000 would have gotten any possible repair and maintenance work done for a private resident, but for a city government, it wasn’t enough. The house not only needed a few repairs — siding, paint, a little interior work — but unless altered to meet the dictates of the Americans with Disabilities Act, its usefulness to the city would be very limited.

Should they sell it?

In 2001, the city council decided (in a 3-2 vote) to sell the place. This kicked off a small firestorm of protest. A number of locals, along with the two dissenting city councilors, felt that it wasn’t right to turn around and sell an asset that had been given to the city to be used as a public resource. But within nine months, the question was moot. Mold problems at the old City Hall forced the city government out, and the only place available was the Bass House.

A month after the move, a tree fell on the old City Hall, which pretty much made the move official. Tangent City Hall is now in the old Bass house, most likely for good.

Can the barn be saved?

But that leaves the barn, which is known locally as “The Bass Barn,” “The Kitty Kat Barn” or just “The big red barn.” It’s a cavernous thing, built in the 1920s by the poultry farmer from whom Bass bought the place. It’s a picturesque red-and-white structure with a tin roof. And it might only be there for another few months.

The iconic and endangered Kitty Kat Barn in Tangent
This huge, iconic red barn may be slated for demolition if a plan to
move it to an adjacent property doesn’t work out; the city of Tangent
can’t afford the several hundred thousand dollars it will cost to repair
it. (Photo: F.J.D. John)

In 2011, the city voted to have the place torn down. The problem is, again, it needs work, and the city doesn’t have the budget. A bond levy to fix it up was turned down by Tangent voters, leaving the city with little alternative.

“The council believes it is financially prohibitive to keep it,” City Coordinator Edwards told Albany Democrat-Herald reporter Alex Paul. “It’s falling apart.”

She said it would take several hundred thousand dollars to bring the structure back from the brink. Like many other small communities around the state, Tangent has no tax base, so it has no ability to take on new financial responsibilities on its own.

A plan to save the barn?

The barn may yet be saved — according to the Historic Preservation League of Oregon, a neighboring property owner might be interested in buying the barn and actually moving it onto her land. But this scheme has the distinct feel of a long shot. As of early 2012, the big red building’s fate is still up in the air, but many of the barn’s fans have given it up for lost.

UPDATE (September 2013): Earlier this year, the neighbor mentioned in the last paragraph followed through and saved Kitty Kat's barn. She bought it from the city and it was moved across the field and placed on her property. Aficionados of the barn were relieved that it would not be torn down, although a little sad that it will no longer be on public land; but overall, the deal is a win for all involved, and no one is complaining.

(Sources: Spencer-Hartle, Brandon. “Of Kitty Kats and Big Red Barns,” Historic Preservation League of Oregon Web site, historicpreservationleague.ning.com, 7-25-11; Albany Democrat-Herald, 4-17-01, 3-16-02, 4-27-04; City of Tangent Web site)