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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This is the type of bottle in which denatured alcohol was sold out of drugstores during Prohibition. The large, scary labels notwithstanding, the vast majority of denatured alcohol sold in bottles of this size was used for drinking, despite its terrible flavor and toxic additives.

A bad batch of 'Dehorn' alcohol killed 28 hobos

Skid Road alcoholics knew denatured alcohol might make you sick, but it wouldn't kill you. Until one day, it did.


A vintage movie poster for Buster Keaton’s “The General,” a 1926  silent movie shot, in part, near Cottage Grove. (Image: United Artists)

Iconic movies shot in Oregon

A three-part series covering 16 of the most influential Oregon films, from 1908 to 1989.


An illustration of a group of smugglers bringing opium and illegal Chinese immigrants into Oregon, from a 1889 issue of Portland-based magazine The West Shore. (Image: UO Libraries)

The forgotten world of urban opium dens

A century ago, the drug's mysterious, smoky allure held society spellbound. And Portland was the West Coast's main supply point.


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 world's only working PT boat is docked in Portland

The PT-658 is among the last of its kind, and it's the only one that still goes out on the water.


The second pressing of The Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" record, on the Wand label. This bodgey, lo-fi monophonic recording, with its inscrutable lyrics and driving yet languid style, got thousands of parents worried about possible obscene lyrics, and was even banned in Illinois.

Bad recording job led to an F.B.I. investigation for Portland band

No one could understand the lyrics in The Kingsmen's recording of 'Louie Louie," but many tried ... and some of them had rather dirty minds.


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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Portland's Pioneer Square could have been a “crystal palace”

Mayor Frank Ivancie, Pioneer Courthouse Square’s most intransigent opponent, gleefully declared the project “dead” in a 1982 speech. In doing so, he accidentally galvanized the citizen group that would prove him wrong.

Pioneer Courthouse Square when it was under construction, in the
summer of 1983. This image was made by architect Willard K. Martin,
leader of the square’s design team. (Image: UO Libraries)

In January of 1969, the owners of Meier and Frank Department Stores in Portland had a problem.

Business at their legendary department store, located smack in the middle of downtown Portland, was starting to slow down, even as sales galloped ahead at their Lloyd Center store. They were pretty sure they knew what was holding the downtown location back: Parking.

Fortunately, a solution was right at hand. All they needed to do was demolish the grimy, low-slung double-deck parking lot next to their store and replace it with a more modern facility — one eight or 10 stories tall, with space for about a hundred cars per floor.

Of course, there was the hassle of getting permits to be gone through before they could get construction started. But Meier and Frank anticipated no trouble there. The Portland city government had always been very friendly to the needs of businesses ... although it was true that just recently, a certain “hippie” spirit had started making inroads there.

Meier and Frank’s two-level parking lot as it appeared shortly after it was
built. The iconic Portland Hotel had, a year or two before this image was
made, been razed to make way for this lot. (Image: Portland City Archives)

That new spirit, which the old Chamber of Commerce warhorses had little patience for, had been brewing for a while. During the city’s passionate embrace of “urban renewal,” early in the ‘60s, there had been no sign of it. But although in most ways it followed the mid-century Robert Moses playbook — razing several of Portland’s more colorful ethnic neighborhoods and handing the resulting bare land over to developers — the Portland Development Commission had decided to spend some of its resources getting the aesthetics of the brand-new cityscape right. They’d set aside pieces of land as public spaces, and hired legendary landscape architect Lawrence Halprin to design them.

Residents of Portland really liked what they’d seen of Halprin’s work so far — Lovejoy Fountain and Pettygrove Park had been opened in 1966 to universal acclaim. And there was a growing sense among a certain set of Portlanders that this was what a modern city should be like, that their city’s most prime bits of real estate should be used as public spaces rather than “bomb-crater” parking structures.

Well, as a “bomb-crater” parking structure, the old Meier and Frank parking lot was like Exhibit A, and it occupied probably the most desirable piece of real estate in all of Portland. So the company planners probably figured they’d have solid support for their plan to replace it with a taller, more architecturally interesting parking garage.

They were, as it turned out, mistaken. In January 1970, the Portland Development Commission took an action that shocked the more conservative members of the business community:

It told Meier and Frank “no.” And then it followed up by asking if the store might be willing to sell the property instead, so that it could be made into a huge public space — the centerpiece of them all: Pioneer Courthouse Square.

A postcard, postmarked 1909, showing the courtyard of the Portland
Hotel. The hotel was demolished in 1951 to make way for the Meier and
Frank parking lot, which in turn gave way in 1984 for Pioneer Courthouse
Square. (Image: UO Libraries)

The Meier and Frank execs were game, on one condition: They’d wanted to build the parking garage to solve a serious parking problem. If the city could solve that problem for them for less than it would have cost the company to build the new parking lot, fine.

It took most of the 1970s to work out the details, but eventually this was done.

But meanwhile, prominent members of the Portland business community were starting to have second thoughts about the whole “public spaces” thing. The problem was, as they saw it, parks and fountains were attracting “hippies.”

Author Randy Gragg recounts a Portland City Council meeting called to discuss a curfew on the parks, at which one of the commissioners “lashed out at what he called ‘sex bums, punks, pushers and rabble-rousers’ who have ‘gravely offended the sensibilities of this city and its responsible inhabitants,” and a local pastor presented a petition signed by 5,000 residents titled “A Petition to Discourage the Influx of Hippies to Our City.”

It was with these fault lines already widening that the city set to work designing what would soon become Pioneer Courthouse Square. One side — the one on which the “hippies” would find themselves — wanted an open, accessible public space there; the other — represented with great vigor and articulateness by City Councilor and later Mayor Frank Ivancie — wanted a giant atrium, access to which could be controlled and possibly even charged for, to keep transients, hippies, communist agitators, “sex bums” and other non-conforming people out.

The backers of open public space won this fight, obviously. But the way they did so was as audacious as it was clever. In 1980, following nine years of planning and wrangling, the Portland Development Commission launched an international design competition. A total of 162 entries came in, and Portland residents got to evaluate each in turn.

In the end, the winner was a local team, led by Willard Martin and featuring landscape architect J. Douglas Macy, historian Terrence O’Donnell, writer Spencer Gill, photographer Robert Reynolds and sculptor Lee Kelly.

A night scene in Pioneer Courthouse Square, during Christmas season in
2013, with the courthouse in the background. (Image: Visitor7/Wikimedia)

When this was announced, the “giant atrium” faction — still led by Ivancie, who was now the mayor — was very unhappy. They attempted, through parliamentary processes at City Hall, to reset the whole thing and have another shot at the atrium, but they quickly realized they were stuck. The design competition had tapped thousands of Portlanders, each of whom spent many hours helping arrive at a design that almost all of them liked. The suggestion that a few power brokers at City Hall might simply override their choice by fiat did not go over well.

So the open-space “hippies” got their design approved. But could they pay for it? Almost all of the big-money donors were on Ivancie’s side and, acutely aware that they’d been outplayed, were not feeling generous.

That’s when Mayor Ivancie accidentally came to the rescue. In what was widely interpreted as a declaration of victory, he declared the Pioneer Courthouse Square project dead.

His words galvanized the square’s backers. Furious with Ivancie and desperate to prove him wrong, they came together, got organized and brainstormed. And along the line, somebody came up with the idea of selling engraved bricks — a common fundraising technique today, but at the time very innovative.

The idea was to cover the square with the names of thousands of Portlanders, each of whom had kicked down $15 — a thousandth of one percent of the $1.5 million they needed to build the square.

“If you could prove that the people of Portland really were behind this idea, and really wanted it, the big gifts would come,” Friends of Pioneer Square Director Molly O’Reilly told videographers Gregg Kantor and Ernie Bonner. “That’s the way the thinking went.”

It worked. Three years later, on April 6, 1984, Pioneer Courthouse Square opened to the public.

(Sources: Video, “Portland’s Living Room,” KGW News 8, 2009, at thesquarepdx.org; Kantor, Gregg, and Bonner, Ernie. Video, “Pioneer Courthouse Square,” Portland State University, 1986; Gragg, Randy. Where the Revolution Began. Washington, D.C.: Spacemaker Press, 2009)