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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 D.B. Cooper skyjacking legend took flight out of PDX

History's only unsolved hijacking drama started at Portland International Airport when a nondescript man calling himself 'Dan Cooper' stepped aboard a Boeing 727 bound for Seattle. (Part 1 of a 4-part series)

<<First | <Previous| —This story is Part 1 of a 4-part series on the D.B. Cooper mystery.— | Next> | End>>
This image appeared on the front cover of the Sept. 12, 1936, issue of
Argosy magazine, accompanying a novelette about an early skyjacking
titled “Transpacific Plunder.” The artist's rendering of the skyjacker, with
black hair and business suit, is not unlike witnesses' descriptions of
D.B. Cooper - although Cooper did not use a gun.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, 1971. A slender, bland-looking man in a business suit several years out of style strolls up to the ticket counter at Northwest Orient Airlines in Portland and buys a single one-way ticket on Flight 305, bound for Seattle, paying for it with a $20 bill. The agent asks for his name.

“Dan Cooper,” he says. “That’s a 727, isn’t it?”

Yes, he’s told; that’s right, it is.

Once settled into his seat in the smoking section, Dan Cooper fires up a Raleigh, flags down stewardess Florence Schaffner, and orders a drink: Bourbon and Seven. He pays for it with another twenty.

The plane takes off.

The two sketches made from witnesses’ descriptions of the skyjacker
known as D.B. Cooper. (Image: FBI)

When Florence comes back with his change, he hands her an envelope. This happens a lot to stewardesses in 1971, when airlines are still actually competing on the sexiness of their stewardesses. Usually they’re either love notes or straight-up propositions. It could just be a name and phone number. It could be an invitation to consummate a “business transaction.”  She doesn’t know and doesn’t care; she couldn’t be less interested. She drops the note in her purse and moves on.

“Miss,” he calls after her. “I think you’d better have a look at that note.”

She looks. Here’s what it says:

“I have a bomb here and I want you to sit by me.”

Florence walks back to his row and sits down. He shows her the bomb. It’s in his briefcase, five or six long red things that are either dynamite or road flares, and a tangle of wires, and a battery. He tells her it will go off if he touches a wire to the battery. They’re at about 1,000  feet and climbing. She’s not about to call his bluff.

Northwest Orient Flight 305 during the skyjacking, on the ground at
Sea-Tac Airport. (Image: check-six.com)

The man has Florence take dictation, with his demands. He wants $200,000 in “unmarked American currency” in a knapsack. He wants four parachutes — two back chutes and two chest chutes. He wants a fuel truck on the ground at Seattle and food for the flight crew, because it’s going to be a long night for them.

Then Florence takes the note up to the captain’s cabin. While she’s doing this, the other stewardess, Tina Mucklow, picks up the plane’s intercom — they call it the “interphone” — and alerts the cockpit that the plane is being jacked. The hijacker is starting to look more nervous. He gets out a pair of sunglasses and puts them on.

Up in in the cockpit, Florence hands over the note. She describes the guy as mid-40s, brown eyes, short black hair, olive complexion. The captain asks her to sit in the jumpseat with the headphones on and take notes of everything that happens — the plane doesn’t have a recording system, except the “black box,” which is on a 30-minute loop. If the plane blows up, the captain wants there to be some record of what happened.

Back in his seat, the hijacker is getting visibly nervous, watching for Florence to return. Tina, the other stewardess, starts worrying that he might panic and destroy them all, so she walks over and sits down next to him — taking Florence’s place. So he asks her to get on the “interphone” — he used the actual term, somewhat to her surprise, since most passengers called it something else, like “the phone” or “the intercom” — and relay messages for him.

The captain assures the hijacker, through Tina, that all the demands will be met, and turns on the “Fasten Seat Belts” sign to discourage passengers from milling around.

A few minutes later, the senior stewardess tries to rescue Tina by asking her to go fetch a pack of playing cards. The hijacker interrupts: “Never mind about the playing cards. Go back to your station.” Again, he’s talking like an insider — somebody who knows how a passenger airliner works.

Northwest Orient Flight 305 is a short flight: only a half hour. They’ll be ready to land in Seattle long before the parachutes and money are ready. So the hijacker orders the captain to fly a holding pattern until all is ready.

This plan is making the stewardesses very nervous; they’re a bit afraid that the longer the plane is in the air, the more likely the passengers are to figure out what’s going on, and that one of them will decide to be a hero and get them all killed. Specifically, they’re worried about the burly college man sitting across the aisle from the hijacker shooting occasional hostile glances at him. The college man, as it turned out, was getting more and more annoyed because the cute blonde stewardess, whom he would have liked to get to know better, was just sitting there next to this old, poorly dressed nobody.

The captain gets on the speakers and tells everyone the plane is experiencing a minor mechanical problem and will be circling to burn off some excess fuel as a precautionary measure. This can’t have been particularly reassuring. He also invites them to move forward in the airplane, into First Class if possible, and most people take him up on it. The college man does not.

The plane circles for some time while the airline people scramble to get the parachutes and money together. They’re having trouble with this; after all, it’s after business hours on the day before Thanksgiving. The hijacker is getting more and more agitated as the minutes tick by.

Finally, two hours into a half-hour flight, the plane is ready to land. The hijacker has some final instructions: He wants the fuel truck, vehicle with his money, and the “airstairs” at the 10 o’clock position so he can see them from his window. Tina notices that again, he’s talking like an airline man — calling the “airstairs” by the industry-standard term.

The hijacker sends Tina out to get the money, which she drags back — twenty pounds of $20 bills. It’s not in a knapsack, which causes the hijacker to get a little annoyed, but he lets the passengers go anyway.

Of course, the passengers are immediately corralled and hustled down to a debriefing room to be inventoried and checked against the list of folks who boarded the plane. There are 35 of them. Everyone on the list is there except one: Dan Cooper.

Meanwhile, back on the airplane, Dan Cooper himself is busy inspecting his loot and chutes, and making plans. We’ll talk about how those plans went down in next week’s column.

(Sources: Gray, Geoffrey. Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper. New York: Crown, 2011; Himmelsbach, Ralph & al. Norjak: The Investigation of D.B. Cooper. Portland: Norjak Project, 1986)

<<First | <Previous | —This story is Part 1 of a 4-part series on the D.B. Cooper mystery.— | Next> | End>>