Heroes and rascals, shipwrecks and lost gold: Strange but true stories and secrets of Oregon's wild past | Offbeat Oregon History 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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Earle Leonard Nelson, a.k.a. The Dark Strangler, as he looked a week or two before his execution in Canada. Nelson's hanging ended a cross-country and international murdering spree in which he murdered dozens of women.

When the 'Dark Strangler' preyed on Portland landladies

His M.O. was simple: While a woman was showing him a room or house for rent, he'd strangle her, take her jewelry and flee.


A breathless headline that appeared in the Portland Morning Oregonian after Lulu Reynolds revealed her clandestine lover's guilt in a particularly dramatic and creepy way.

The tawdriest love triangle in the history of the universe.

Lulu Reynolds was having a torrid affair with her music teacher. Her husband carried a .38 in his jacket pocket. It wasn't the kind of thing that ends well. It didn't.


A screen capture from an episode of ABC's legendary 1970s show "Happy Days." Because the show is set in 1950s Milwaukee, Wisc., "The Fonz" is actually breaking the law in this scene; pinball was outlawed in Milwaukee at the time.

Graft, corruption, racketeering, and ... uh, pinball?

Until just a few dozen years ago, pinball was illegal, and the mobbed-up characters who supplied the games played for keeps.


The front cover of the May 1946 issue of 44 Western Magazine shows a scene vaguely reminiscent of the downtown gunfight between feuding newspaper editors in 1871 Roseburg.

The Roseburg "newspaper war" that was settled with a gunfight

The owners of rival papers escalated their war of words when they went for pistols on a downtown street one morning in 1871.


An artist's sketch of what D.B. Cooper may have looked like, from an FBI bulletin sent out shortly after the skyjacking.

The legend of cool-cat skyjacker
D.B. Cooper:
What happened?

The man calling himself Dan Cooper parachuted into legend, and 40 years later the case remains unsolved ... but there are plenty of theories.


The front cover art of "For Men Only" Magazine showed a scene that bore some resemblance to the scene on the day Dave Tucker robbed the bank of which  he would, 32 years later, be named Vice-President.

The bank robber who became vice-president of the bank he robbed

After he got out of prison, Dave Tucker spent 30 years rebuilding his reputation in his hometown of Joseph, and it seems he succeeded.


A detail from the movie poster for the 1915 racist move 'Birth of a Nation,' which inspired and propelled the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the years just after the Great War.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Voice of Goofy was Oregon's incomparable “Pinto” Colvig

One of the 20th Century's most influential show-biz men, the Jacksonville native was a Beaver who made it big; he worked on Disney projects and Popeye cartoons and delighted kids as the first Bozo the Clown.

Vance “Pinto” Colvig lays down some sound effects for the
microphone at Disney Studios, probably sometime in the 1930s.
(Image: Southern Oregon Historical Society)

On any list of nationally famous Oregonians, there are a few names you probably won’t see.

For example: Bozo the Clown ... Goofy, the original hayseed hick from early Disney cartoons ... Bluto, Popeye’s nemesis ... Grumpy the Dwarf, on "Snow White" ... comedian Jack Benny’s imaginary Maxwell motorcar ... and the list goes on.

These legendary characters are all the creations of the same gifted Oregon show-business pioneer: Vance “Pinto” Colvig.

Vance Colvig was born in 1892 in Jacksonville, the youngest son of William and Adelaide Colvig; William was a prominent Jackson County attorney. He acquired the nickname “Pinto,” a reference to the plethora of freckles his face was painted with when he was young.

Very early in life, the young Vance showed remarkable comic instincts, along with musical and artistic talents. Efforts to teach the young lad to play the clarinet were crowned with great success — but more importantly, they succeeded in giving him a much-loved and very squeaky prop to clown around with.

When his father took him to the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland in 1905, the 12-year-old Pinto brought his clarinet and used it to get himself hired in the “House of Mirth.” While his father browsed the exhibits and admired the proud presentations of the young state, Pinto spent the entire time clowning with his clarinet, his eyes crossed and his face painted white.

Pinto created this illustration for the Oregon Agricultural College baseball
coverage in The Orange, the college yearbook, in 1913. (Image: Oregon
State University archives)

Despite a somewhat checkered academic career in Jacksonville and later Medford, Pinto moved to Corvallis to attend Oregon Agricultural College, as Oregon State University was then called. But by this time his self-taught drawing skills had advanced to the point of being really quite good. His cartoons became a popular item in the OAC Barometer newspaper and in the yearbook.

He also played in the OAC band — clarinet, of course. All kidding aside, anyone who’s ever picked up a clarinet knows that you cannot use one to make funny noises (as opposed to horrible ones) unless you know how to actually play it.

Pinto soon became famous on campus for two things: His remarkable skills as an artist, and his lack of attention to his studies.

“A cartoonist is just a clown with a pencil,” he once famously said. And so for the entire school year, he would clown with a pen (when his professors would have preferred that he use it to write papers) and when summer came, he would skip town to clown in person, with a circus or a Vaudeville show. In Vaudeville, his schtick was a “chalk-talk” in which he’d perform an improv monologue while rapidly sketching illustrations to go with it — a kind of an on-the-fly D.I.Y. Powerpoint show.

Finally, in 1913, he left OAC and signed with the Pantages Vaudeville circuit — the chain of theaters started by the ex-fiance of another legendary Oregonian, “Klondike Kate” Rockwell — to try to turn his “chalk talks” into a career.

The first Pinto Colvig cartoon to run in the Oregonian was this one,
created to announce that he had been hired at the Nevada Rockroller,
published in 1914. The article was run as a “local-boy-makes-good”
piece. (Image: Oregon State University libraries)

It must not have gone particularly well, because the next year he was back in Oregon, and he soon landed his first job as a newspaper cartoonist — at the Nevada Rockroller. Now, finally, financial stability slowly started to coalesce around him, and his life started to develop a pattern: He’d join a circus, travel and act as a clarinet-squeaking clown until his money ran out, and then he’d find a job at some newspaper drawing cartoons for a while, get back on his feet and then do it again. Pinto loved circus work.

But in 1916 he got married, and soon was in San Francisco with a family to support. While working at the Chronicle there, he started dabbling in a brand-new field of show business, one uniquely suited to a fast-sketching “chalk-talker” like Pinto: Animation.

Pinto Colvig and his colleagues hard at work at the Animated Film Corp.,
San Francisco, circa 1917. Pictured: Angel Espoy, Tack Knight, Pinto Colvig
(standing), Byington Ford. The device Ford is seated at is the animation
camera stand, and the scraps of paper littering the floor are trimmings from
the paper cut-outs used for the animation process in those pre-celluloid
days. (Image: Southern Oregon Historical Society)

In those days, animation was not done with clear celluloid or acetate “cels” — it was done with paper cut-outs simply laid down on the background. Each had to be sketched and cut out, 12 of them per second of film.

Pinto spent years in the broiling heat of the massive floodlights, sketching and cutting and positioning and shooting animations frame by frame, in his own studio — Pinto Cartoon Comedies Company — and others. He produced what he claimed was the world’s first feature-length animated cartoon, a work called “Creation” — and, in fact, it probably was, but so little of that early animation and movie work survives that we can’t be sure. In fact, all that’s left of “Creation” is a frame from the title card.

Pinto voiced the part of Goofy as a cool cigarette-smoking Argentine gaucho in the
1942 cartoon "El Gaucho Goofy," part of a four-part set titled "Saludos Amigos,"
a sort of Disney goodwill tour of South America commissioned by the U.S. State
Department during World War II . (Animated GIF created by
mothgirlwings.tumblr.com from Disney cartoon)

By the mid-1920s, Pinto was in Hollywood and making a name there. At the time, comedy movies were being made using very dangerous stunts, and a skilled animator could actually save lives by providing the 1920s equivalent of green-screen work. Some of his animated interventions can be seen on old Buster Brown comedies, among others.

In 1930, Pinto joined forces with Walt Disney, and his most enduring character — Goofy — got his start.

Over the following dozen years or so, Pinto worked with Disney and other Hollywood producers on some of his most memorable projects. He was the voice of Grumpy and Sleepy in “Snow White”; some of the Munchkins on “The Wizard of Oz”; Gabby in “Gulliver’s Travels”; Bluto in the “Popeye the Sailor” cartoons; and even (with the help of his battered old trombone) Jack Benny’s legendary Maxwell motorcar.

Pinto in clownface late in his life, in 1960, when he was nearly
70 years old. He’s playing “The Village Clown” here; by this time,
he had passed the Bozo torch to the next generation of actors.
Eventually, Pinto’s son Vance Jr. would play Bozo. (Image:
Oregon State University Archives)

After the war, Pinto landed his other major role. He was cast as the voice of Bozo the Clown in the original Capitol Records series, and actually played the clown personally in a television series starting in 1949.

Pinto died in 1967 at the age of 75. He’d been a heavy smoker all his life, like so many others in his creative set, and the cause of death — as with his colleague and former boss, Walt Disney, three years before — was lung cancer. In his later years, Pinto campaigned to force tobacco companies to put warning labels on cigarettes, but he himself was never able to break the addiction, and eventually it took him down.

Pinto was one of the earliest pioneers of animated cartoons. Although virtually nothing remains of his work from before he signed with Disney, techniques that he developed are still in use today. And although his name isn’t as well known with the general public as Disney’s, among professional animators, cartoonists, clowns and Foley sound technicians, he’s a legend.

(Sources: Historian Ben Truwe’s Southern Oregon history page, http://id.mind.net/~truwe/tina/pinto%20notes.html; Pinto Colvig bio at imdb.com; Southern Oregon Historical Society; Portland chapter of ASIFA)