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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Actor Justus Barnes takes a shot straight into the camera at the end of a 10-minute silent Edison Films production called 'The Great Train Robbery,' the filming of which started in November 1903 – two months after Bill Miner’s gang tried to rob the train just outside Portland. It’s hard to miss the similarity between Barnes’ character and Bill Miner.

How Bill Miner learned to rob trains ... he learned the hard way.

But his botched Portland job appears to have inspired an iconic 1903 movie called 'The Great Train Robbery' a month or two later. Maybe he even watched it later ... in prison.


A scene from the Disney movie "Saludos Amigos" (1943), a sort of cartoon-character tour of South America. This scene is from the Argentina part, with Goofy dressed as a gaucho. In this cartoon and most others, Goofy was voiced by Pinto Colvig.

Goofy was from Oregon. Also Bluto, Grumpy, Sleepy, Bozo, dozens more.

Vance "Pinto" Colvig, from Jacksonville, was a pioneer in animated cartoons and a gifted show-biz man.


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.

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).


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Portland is home of world's only working PT boat from WWII

Twenty years ago, PT-658 was a weatherbeaten hulk, rotting away at a pier in San Francisco Bay. Today, it's a priceless piece of American history that you'll occasionally see on the waters of Portland Harbor.

The fully restored PT-658 as seen from the sidewalk on the Hawthorne
Bridge during the 2011 Rose Festival. On this occasion, the PT-658
inadvertently intruded into the dragonboat races, which were then in
progress, and quickly retreated back downriver – but not before giving
the dragonboat-racing spectators on the bridge a spectacular view of its
deck armaments. (Image: F.J.D. John)

The Porpoise was one ugly boat in 1992 when the guys from Portland first laid eyes on it.

It was a massive, weatherbeaten old hulk, 78 feet long and 20 feet wide, wallowing by the dock on Treasure Island in the Alameda estuary of San Francisco Bay. Some time earlier, a storm had sunk it in the bay; luckily, it had only been in a few feet of water, and easily refloated, but now it lay low in the water, its bilges heavily laden with silt and gravel and water that had seeped in where the hull had been patched. The electrical system was ruined, the engines were frozen, and after 35 years in the sun and rain, it looked awful.

To the Portlanders, though, the Porpoise was not ugly. It could never be ugly. To them, it looked like their youth. It looked like the powerful, reliable, blinding-fast boats they’d gone to war on, fifty years before, when they were young and brave and wearing the uniform of the United States Navy.

This photo shows PT-658’s darkest hour, after a storm broke it loose from
its moorings and dashed it onto a nearby jetty and it sank in about seven
feet of water. Luckily this happened at high tide, so hasty repairs were soon
made and it was soon refloated and docked. Had it sunk in deep enough
water to disappear, it would most likely still be there on the bottom of the
bay. (Image: www.savetheptboatinc.com)

The Porpoise was an old PT boat. Specifically, it was the PT-658 – the only World War II-era PT boat still floating. There were four or five others scattered around the country, in museums and up on blocks here and there, but the vast majority of the hundreds of PT boats built for World War II ended up dragged up on beaches and burned at the end of the war.  PT boats were only really useful for a navy at war. Their wooden hulls required too much maintenance, and their three massive V12 engines burned far too much gasoline (the equivalent of 0.1 miles per gallon at full throttle) for peacetime use.

Built late in the war, PT-658 had never gone into battle, which is why it was available in 1958 for Earl C. Brown of Oakland to buy as surplus. One imagines him having a thundering good time roaring around San Francisco Bay on his very own PT boat for a few years, burning gasoline by the ton; but eventually the big gunboat ended up parked at the dock, and there it sat for 30 years, looking increasingly weatherbeaten and unloved.

PT-658 as it appeared in 1992 when, as the pleasure craft Porpoise, it
languished at a dock on Treasure Island, awaiting rescue. (Image:
www.savetheptboatinc.com)

When Earl died, his son Orlando inherited the old warrior, and started looking for someone to give it to — someone who would restore it rather than just scrapping it out. And he soon found that someone — or, rather, those someones: a group of 18 former PT boat crew members in the Portland area.

The gift

What followed was a massive coming-together of Oregon people and businesses pitching in to save the historic hulk. Orlando Brown happily handed over the keys to a new nonprofit organization: “Save the PT Boat Inc.” In a complicated and lengthy process involving the donated services of Sause Bros. Ocean Towing of Coos Bay, Foss Towing Co. of Seattle, the Washington and Oregon National Guards, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others, the old warhorse was hauled up the West Coast to Portland. There, cradled on a barge moored in Swan Island Lagoon, it became the focus of a ten-year-long restoration effort.

PT-658 during the 10-year restoration project, in a cradle on the deck of a
U.S. Navy barge docked on Swan Island, circa 2001. (Image: www.
savetheptboatinc.com)

Dozens of volunteers spent thousands of hours bringing the PT-658 back from the near-dead. There was plenty to do. The hull was badly rotted, and many parts of it had to be entirely replaced. There were three massive, ancient Packard engines – each one displacing 2,490 cubic inches, or five times bigger than the largest Cadillac V-8 automobile engine – that had to be rebuilt. And there was an entire very-complex electrical system that had to be rebuilt – twice, as it turned out, after an electrical fire in 2003.

In their quest, the PT gang had a big advantage: A parts boat. By an odd coincidence, the sister boat to the 658, PT-659, was already in Oregon, in a cradle at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas County. PT-659 was in terrible shape, but there were pieces of it that could be used to make 658 whole.

Despite hopes to make 659 a museum boat based in Vancouver, the resources to do that never materialized, and in 2008 it was taken apart. Pieces of it were used to restore several PT boats, including one in Louisiana that actually sank two German ships during the war.

By then, though, PT-658 was actually in the water again – running under its own power. It made its first trip in September 2004.

Restored to its wartime glory

PT-658 in 2007, after its restoration but before its authentic paint job,
making 37 knots (42 mph) on the Willamette River. At this speed, the boat
is burning about 200 gallons of aviation gasoline per hour, which comes to
about one-fifth of a mile per gallon. (Image: www.savetheptboatinc.com)

It was a spectacular resurrection. The old hulk formerly known as the Porpoise had, in the space of 10 years, gone from a bow sticking up out of San Francisco Bay, to a poised, fierce-looking warship, bristling with deadly weapons: three autocannons, four heavy machine guns, four torpedoes, two depth-charge cans and one big anti-aircraft cannon. The weapons were, of course, all demilitarized and non-functional — but they were there, and they looked ready for action.

For the first time since World War II, the PT-658 looked like the fearsome fighter it was built to be. And for the first time since at least the 1950s, a fully-functional U.S. Navy PT boat was under way on American waters.

A detailed image of the deck of PT-658 as seen from the sidewalk on the
Hawthorne Bridge shows torpedoes, machine-gun turrets and a 20-mm.
autocannon – grim, warlike equipment that contrasts amusingly with the
bright and festive outfits of the passengers and crew out for a ride on the
historic boat. (Image: F.J.D. John)

Since that time, PT-658 has become a regular participant in events like the Rose Festival in Portland. In 2011 its paint scheme was restored to the original camouflage pattern, and it’s now arguably the most striking-looking of the Navy ships that ply the lower Willamette during festivals. In September 2012, it was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The future

Today, Save the PT Boat Inc. is raising funds to get a combination boathouse/heritage center built on the waterfront in downtown Portland for the PT-658. Currently, the boat lives in a lovely custom-built boathouse on Swan Island, but there’s no public access, so interested members of the public usually have to wait for the boat to be brought out on “dates” at places such as the fire station dock at the east end of Hawthorne Bridge. A permanent downtown home would change that, and make it possible for school groups and tourists to come and see it.

More information about the project — including hundreds of photographs — are at www.savetheptboatinc.com. Anyone interested in volunteering or donating can learn more about that on the Web site, or by calling 503-286-3083.

(Sources: www.savetheptboatinc.com; www.hnsa.org; Fowler, Chuck. Patrol and Rescue Boats on Puget Sound. Charleston: Arcadia, 2011; Stewart, Bill. “PT sailors’ dreams afloat once more,” Portland Oregonian, 08 Jun 2004; National Register of Historic Places registration form, “Motor Torpedo Boat PT-658,” 04 Sep 2012)