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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

A town's special friendship with its onetime would-be destroyer

Twenty years after he tried to light the surrounding forests on fire, Japanese pilot Nobuo Fujita returned to Brookings as an honored guest and presented the town with his family's Samurai sword.

This story is Part 2 of a 2-part series on the bombing of Brookings. Here is a link to Part 1.
Retired aviator Nobuo Fujita presents his family’s 400-year-old sword to
Brookings Mayor Fell Campbell as his wife, Ayako, and son, Yasuyoshi,
look on. (Image: William McCash/ Bombs Over Brookings book)

The year was 1961. Nearly 20 years had come and gone since a tiny seaplane, 6,000 miles from home, buzzed over Brookings, Oregon, to bomb the American homeland for the first time in history. The event was still relatively recent, but it was well on its way to being forgotten.

Three members of the Brookings Junior Chamber of Commerce, on their way home from a planning meeting for the upcoming Brookings Azalea Festival, stopped by a tavern to have a beer. Over glasses of suds, one of them, Doyle Rausch, mentioned that as a youngster during the war he’d heard that airplane flying over the town on its way to drop its bombs. The other two — Doug Peterson and Bill McChesney — were floored. A Japanese plane? Dropped a bomb near Brookings? Why hadn’t they ever heard about this?

Nobuo Fujita as he appeared during the war, in a sketch made
from an official Imperial Japanese photograph. (Image:
Portland Morning Oregonian)

Rausch quickly filled them in on the story, and Peterson hatched an idea on the spot: Why not try to track down the pilot and invite him to Brookings as part of the Azalea Festival?

A few months later, the Jaycees were swapping letters with Fujita, and they’d agreed to try to bring him to town. They figured it would cost about $3,000 to do it.

Three grand was a lot of money to raise, but the plan faced bigger obstacles than that. Remember, to be in the Jaycees you had to be a fairly young businessman — at age 41, you were out. That meant most of the Jaycees had been too young to serve in the war, or had served in the last few years of the war when Japan’s forces were mostly beaten and somewhat pathetic — the “Marianas turkey shoot” phase of the war.

But older residents of Brookings remembered a different Japan, one that had moved from strength to strength and shown scant mercy to its defeated enemies. Some of them thought bringing Fujita to town as a publicity play was outrageous. And they were not shy about expressing those views.

“Fujita’s only claim to fame is that he is the only (Japanese) pilot who has bombed the mainland of the United States by airplane,” noted a full-page ad in the Brookings-Harbor Pilot, signed by 141 people. “We the undersigned residents of the Brookings-Harbor area are absolutely opposed to such kind of publicity.”

Fujita inspects his family’s sword, on display at Brookings, in 1995 visit.
(Image: Curry Coastal Pilot newspaper)

Two things happened to change this sentiment. First, recognizing that promoting tourism was a somewhat crass motivation for such a somber and serious visit, the Jaycees reevaluated their reasons for inviting Fujita. They still felt he should be invited to visit, but they agreed that it should be for purposes of fostering international peace and goodwill. A defeated enemy coming with hand extended in friendship and mutual forgiveness — that’s a powerful story, and one that’s badly cheapened if it’s used to promote tourism.
                                  
Secondly, in a gesture reminiscent of Chief Joseph, Fujita announced he would be giving his family’s sword — a priceless original katana, 400 years old, forged in the age of the Samurai and carried into battle by a dozen generations of Fujita’s ancestors as well as by Fujita himself — to the city of Brookings.

All of which was good enough for some of the town’s most influential combat veterans to reverse their positions on Fujita’s visit, fueled by respect for a defeated enemy who had performed an act of remarkable audacity and made easier by the fact that no one had gotten hurt. Opposition to the visit started melting away.

Fujita was still a little worried about how he might be received, though. After all, he had tried his hardest to burn this town to the ground and kill everybody in it, and now here he was riding into town in a car with its mayor. He knew there had been some initial resistance, and there are rumors that he'd even gotten a couple threatening letters from Bandon residents.

“I was quite sure that once in Brookings I would be beaten up, people would throw eggs at me and shout insults at me,” he later admitted.

When he arrived with his family, though, Fujita found himself treated like a celebrity. His motorcade was stopped in Coos Bay so that a large crowd could welcome him, and again in Bandon so that the local Jaycees there could celebrate his arrival with a special reception that they’d prepared. When he finally got to Brookings, he was given the Key to the City and the family was treated like a visiting delegation of dignitaries.

The Fujitas participated in the Azalea festival, watched the parade, and were taken up in a small aircraft to fly over Mount Emily, where Fujita had dropped his bombs. The following Monday, Fujita ceremoniously presented his 400-year-old sword to the city, and the Jaycees presented him with a plaque engraved with the words, “To Nobuo Fujita, Ambassador of Good Will and Peace.”

It was to be the first of many visits by Fujita and his family to Brookings, and of a sort of international exchange program that included some visits by high school students. It also developed into something like a sister-cities relationship between Brookings and Fujita’s city, Mitsukaido.

In 1990, Fujita and his family came out again for the Azalea Festival — just a visit this time, nothing official. But Mayor Fred Hummel declared May 25 “Nobuo Fujita Day,” and the city welcomed its former foe again with open arms, treating him to a lunch of submarine sandwiches — garnished, in Fujita’s case, with a small airplane made of pickles. Everyone got a good chuckle.

The redwood tree planted at the bomb site as a memorial. The
tree Fujita originally planted there died from lack of sunlight; this
one is a replacement for it. (Image: William McCash/Bombs
Over Brookings)

He came back again two years later, more quietly this time, to plant a redwood tree on the bomb site as a memorial and a symbol of international peace and goodwill on the 50-year anniversary of the raid.

Throughout the early 1990s, Fujita and his family came to Brookings several more times, despite the aviator’s declining health. The nephew of his observer, Shoji Okuda, killed in a Kamikaze operation in 1944, also visited.

In late 1997, Brookings learned Fujita was in bad health and not expected to recover. The City Council voted to make him an honorary citizen, and word was passed to him in time for him to hear the news and smile. A few days later, on Sept. 30, he died.

Nobuo Fujita had requested that a portion of the ashes from his cremation be buried at the bomb site. In October 1998, his daughter returned to Brookings to fulfill this request.

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