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The burning steamer S.S. Congress, as seen from the deck of the dredge Colonel P.S. Michie, with lifeboats in the water.

The Rise and Fall of the House of Klux in Oregon

A slick marketing campaign and a taste for political power marked the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, which spread through Oregon like a racist virus — and then collapsed.


The burning steamer S.S. Congress, as seen from the deck of the dredge Colonel P.S. Michie, with lifeboats in the water.

Massive ocean liner won its race with fiery death

Calm seas, a cool-headed skipper and a hard-working crew brought the burning S.S. Congress to safety just in time. All 428 aboard made it.


This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

"I can make a
six-shooter sing 'come to jesus'!"

Meet Robert Gordon Duncan, the pioneering Portland shock-jock who was the first person ever sent to prison for cursing on the air, in 1930.


This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

When prineville was ruled by masked vigilante riders

In Crook County, the early 1880s were like a Louis L'Amour novel. And it all started with the lynching of an innocent man.


The classic melodrama villain, with sleek silk hat and waxed handlebar mustache, in the act of evicting the poor widow and children from their freshly foreclosed family homestead. Except for the mustache, Oregon's longest-serving 19th-century senator fit the trope with remarkable precision.

Senator John H. Mitchell: Oregon's own real-life Snidely Whiplash

He abandoned his family, changed his name, moved to Oregon, bilked widows and orphans in two big real-estate swindles ... and was promptly elected to Congress.


The skull of the skeleton found in the Odd Fellows hall in Scio, which is now at Oregon State University. The skeleton was that of a hard-working man who died sometime between 1860 and 1890.

Mysterious skeletons of Oregon: If these bones could talk ...

A long-dead dry-land homesteader ... a medical specimen in an Odd Fellows lodge ... what are their stories? We'll never know.


Oregon inventor Victor Strode’s revolutionary boat, the 'aerohydrocraft,' made the front cover of the March 1931 issue of Popular Science. The design didn't prove a useful one for the City of Portland, though, and the larger model the city commissioned to function as a harbor police boat didn't work out.

Buck Rogers-style police boat didn't work out for city of Portland

A local inventor developed the "aerohydrocraft" design in the early 1930s. But when the city built one as an ambulance boat, it flopped.


The remains of the barque Peter Iredale as they appear today, jutting out of the beach sands on Clatsop Spit at Warrenton as they have since 1906. In 1960, the wreck nearly was lost to a man who claimed he owned it.

How the Oregon Coast almost lost the Peter Iredale to a scrap-metal shark

An Oregon City man claimed he'd inherited the rights from his father, and demanded to be allowed to cut it up and haul it away. He almost got away with this little swindle.


Commander Dave Scott salutes the U.S. flag, which has just been planted on the surface of the moon. A small piece of Oregon lava rock, carried to the moon by Scott's fellow astronaut Jim Irwin, lies within this photo, next to one of the many bootprints. (Image: NASA)

There's a piece of lava from central oregon in this photo, on the moon.

It was left there by astronaut Jim Irwin at the request of a friend from Bend — who gave him a sliver of Oregon lava to leave on the moon's surface. And so he did.


The Motel 6 on Mission Street in Salem as it appeared in the mid-1970s, when Carl Cletus Bowles made his run from its back door. Don't laugh, at least not too loudly ... two innocent people would die before Bowles was back in prison.

During a conjugal visit at a cheap motel, the prisoner escaped

It had to be the most awkward prison-break scenario in the history of the universe. But it really did happen. Here's the story.


James Lappeus, former Portland Chief of Police. He eventually was fired over allegations that he'd offered to 'accidentally' leave the jailhouse door open for a convicted murderer if his wife paid a $1,000 bribe.

gambler, swindler, gunfighter, liquor man ... oh, and also police chief.

James Lappeus came to Portland to open a saloon and "theater." Despite his checkered past — or maybe because of it — he was named city marshal and, later, Chief of Police. Here's the story.


This postcard picture of Cannon Beach was created in 1966, which means just off to the left of the frame is a beach with a fence around it and "no trespassing" signs.

HOW OREGON ALMOST LOST PUBLIC ACCESS TO ITS BEACHES

A Portland real-estate guy found a loophole in the law and claimed a patch of beach for his own, and his friends in the state Legislature tried to keep it that way. Here's the story.


A color lithograph of George and Kate Ann Williams’s Victorian  mansion, located at 18th and Couch streets downtown.

This spooky-looking Portland mansion was home of a 'starvation cult'

A prominent Portland socialite led a sect called "Truth," with the motto "Pray and Be Cured," that required 40-day fasts. It vanished after its leader starved herself to death during a 110-day fast. Here's the story.


The archway monument leading up to the Wallowa County Courthouse,  built in 1936. The bronze plaque on the inside left of the arch includes  the name of murderer and horse thief Bruce “Blue” Evans.

A monument in honor of a horse thief and mass murderer?

Bruce "Blue" Evans led the gang that slaughtered over 30 innocent Chinese miners in 1887. So why is his name celebrated on a monument to Wallowa County Pioneers? . Here's the story.


Title screen from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mel Blanc, the legendary Looney Toons voice man, grew up in Portland.

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.


Three Rocks Beach, Camp Westwind, the mouth of the Salmon River and Cascade  Head as they appear today.

Is there pirate loot buried at this YWCA youth camp?

The discovery of a giant skeleton in the 1930s suggested that the old Indian legend of a pirate ship sinking in the Salmon River might be true ... or maybe not. 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.


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).


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.


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).


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.


U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers saveD sailors' lives, were rewarded with prison.

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.


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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

The flying Samurai
who attacked Oregon

After World War II started, submariner and pilot Nobuo Fujita hatched an idea: Use his tiny, rickety submarine-launched seaplane to attack an enemy 5,000 miles away from the nearest aircraft carrier.

Nobuo Fujita in his flight suit with parachute on, during the war.
(Image: Imperial Japan)

It was a little after 6 a.m. on September 9, 1942. A tiny seaplane with red balls painted on its wings was making its way through the skies over Brookings, Oregon. At the controls was a young man named Nobuo Fujita; behind him, in the observer’s seat, looking intensely at the ground, was another, named Shoji Okuda.

The two of them were looking for a good place to initiate the first airstrike ever to be made on the continental United States.

Fujita’s plan

This whole gambit had been Fujita’s idea. Fujita was a warrant officer aboard the Imperial Japanese submarine I-25, in charge of the little reconnaissance airplane the sub kept on board in a watertight compartment. During the attack on Pearl Harbor he’d suggested bringing the sub across the Pacific and using the little airplane for bombing raids on the American mainland; his executive officer had loved the idea, and asked him to write it up as a formal proposal. So he’d done that.

Two Yokosuka E14Y aircraft in flight, during the war. (Image: Imperial
Japan)

Nothing had happened for a long time, and Fujita had given the matter little further thought — until April 1942, when that squadron of American bombers under Capt. Jimmy Doolittle’s command had raided Japan itself. The raid had done very little damage — but it had been a slap in the face, and nearly everyone in the Imperial Japanese Navy burned for revenge.

So when Fujita and the rest of the I-25’s crew returned from the cruise they were on, there was a message waiting for them. Fujita was being called to Imperial Navy headquarters immediately. A little worried he might be in some trouble, Fujita complied.

He was elated to learn that his idea was about to be implemented — and that he’d be the man at the controls, charged with delivering four 170-pound bombs to targets on the American mainland.

His joy turned to disappointment, though, when the other shoe was dropped: His assignment was not a suicidal-but-glorious attack against an aircraft plant in Los Angeles, or a U.S. Navy base in San Diego, but a dull bomb-delivery run against a bunch of trees in the middle of Nowhere, Oregon. What? Could that be right?

Yes, the commander said. In 1936, a catastrophic forest fire had swept the woods of the southern Oregon coast and destroyed the town of Bandon. It did millions of dollars’ worth of damage and even killed 10 people. If Fujita could set a fire like that, his relatively puny bombs would do far more damage to the enemy than anything he could do to an aircraft factory or munitions plant — and he’d be far more likely to make it back alive, to boot. Skilled pilots cost a lot to train, and airplanes weren’t cheap either.

“Fujita, if you succeed in this mission, you may well help to win this war by spreading panic through the enemy cities,” the commander told him, “proving to them that we can bomb their homes and factories from 5,000 miles away.”

Of course, there were some other factors that had gone into the Bandon fire as well — notably a heavy overgrowth of highly flammable gorse shrubs and very dry weather. The absence of both of these factors meant Fujita's fire-starting scheme was pretty much foredoomed.

But Fujita couldn't know that. His enthusiasm restored, Fujita had returned to the I-25 ready to do his historic bit. The submarine’s next voyage was going to be for the express purpose of delivering himself and Okuda off the coast of America, ready to strike at the enemy’s homeland.

A pre-dawn launch

A Yokosuka E14Y is launched from the deck of a submarine during World
War II. (Image: Imperial Japan)

And so it was that at 4 a.m., in the pre-dawn blackness, a mile or two off the Oregon coast, the I-25 surfaced and its tiny seaplane was removed from its storage bay and assembled, ready for action.

The airplane itself was a Yokosuka E14Y (“Glen”), a compact and lightweight float plane made with a wood frame and fabric skin. Rickety though it looked, it was stoutly built. It had to be, to withstand the forces generated when it was launched, with the aid of a compressed-air-powered catapult track, from the submarine’s deck. And it had a relatively powerful radial engine — a 340 horsepower nine-cylinder radial, which pushed it to a maximum speed of just over 150 miles per hour.

Fujita and Okuda had prepared for this moment — leaving hair and fingernail clippings behind for their families to bury in a funeral should they not return. Now they strapped themselves into their tiny airplane, started the engine, braced themselves and were shot into the gloaming sky. Fujita immediately shaped course eastward, heading toward the dark and silent American continent.

Flying over Brookings

The plane’s flight path took it almost directly over a small Oregon town — Brookings. Fujita wasn’t about to waste his precious bombs on that, though. The whole great Oregon timberlands lay to the east, and that was where he was headed. He flew on.

Assembly instructions for the Yokosuka seaplane; it was taken
apart for more compact storage while not in use. This document
was captured on Saipan in 1944. (Image: Air & Space Museum)

Below, early-rising residents heard the engine — one said it sounded like a Maytag washing machine, one of the pre-war gasoline-powered models designed for rural households without electric service. But it was too high up for them to see the Rising Sun insignia on its wings, and it certainly didn’t sound like any kind of warplane — so few people gave it a second thought.

Soon the two airborne warriors were cruising over a heavily wooded area near Mount Emily. Fujita gave the signal, and Okuda sent his first bomb hurtling down out of the sky and into the history books. It plummeted to the ground and the two Japanese aviators were rewarded with the sight of a modest fireball below, followed by the glow of flames.

They flew on, over a ridge, and dropped their second bomb. Then, losing no time and figuring the American military would soon have fighter planes on the scene, they turned back westward. Fujita opened the throttle up wide and they raced back toward the sea.

Behind them, the fires they’d started flickered fitfully. Most years, early September would be a very dry time in the Oregon timber, but this year it wasn’t. Furthermore, as any logger knows, early morning is the safest time of day in terms of risk of fire; everything is soaked with dew, and temperatures are low. Forest Service lookout crews and Aircraft Warning Service volunteers quickly spotted the smoke and crews had the fires stamped out before the day was over.

The samurai return in glory

Fujita and Okuda, back on their submarine, reported their success and no doubt basked in the glory of having struck back at the Americans, getting a tiny taste of revenge. They tried again 20 days later, dropping their last two bombs with basically the same effect.

After that, the I-25 stayed around just long enough to torpedo a couple of passing freighters, and then headed back to Japan. It never returned to Oregon waters, and was eventually sunk by an American destroyer off what’s now Vanatu.

Both Fujita and Okuda were tapped for the Kamikaze program late in the war. Okuda went out on his mission and was, of course, killed while carrying it out; but the war ended before it was Fujita’s turn to go, so he survived the war. Twenty years later, he came back to Brookings on a mission of friendship. We’ll talk about that visit, and the subsequent relationship between Oregon and the Samurai who bombed it, next week.

This story is Part 1 of a 2-part series on the bombing of Brookings. Here is a link to Part 2.

(Sources: McCash, Bill. Bombs Over Brookings. Bend: Maverick, 2005; Angelucci, Enzo & al. World War II Airplanes, Vol. 2. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1977); ww2db.com)