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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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.


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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:
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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

Governor McCall expected “Vortex I” to cost him the election

When McCall green-lighted the plan to distract potential street rioters with a week-long music festival, he fully expected to lose his job for it — whether it worked or not.

Governor Tom McCall and other state and city officials look out over
the streets of Portland from a room high in the Portland Hilton during
the weekend of Vortex I, keeping an eye on the marches and protests
by the American Legion and the People’s Army Jamboree and hoping
for the best. (Image: Oregon Public Broadcasting)

Governor Tom McCall was in a tight spot.

Twenty-five thousand American Legion members were a month away from descending on Portland for their national convention, and President Richard Nixon had promised to be there. A particularly belligerent group of anti-war radicals had pledged to turn out in force, 50,000 strong, to “confront” them. The F.B.I. had issued warnings that almost seemed panicky, confirming that tens of thousands of angry protesters could be expected.

All it would take would be one liquored-up Legionnaire throwing a punch, or one overzealous peacenik throwing a brick, and Portland would explode and people would die — at least, that was the governor’s darkest fear.

So when his chief of staff, Ed Westerdahl, came before him with a plan to defuse the whole thing, you would think he’d welcome the chance with gratitude and relief.

You’d be wrong.

“Westerdahl! Are you crazy?” the governor shouted. “Are you out of your [expletive deleted] mind?”

But McCall knew better than to ignore Westerdahl, so he grumblingly settled down and listened to what had to be the nuttiest pitch he’d ever been hit with.

The Clackamas River at McIver Park, near Estacada — the scene, in
August 1970, of the Vortex I music festival. (Image: brx0/ flickr.com)

What Westerdahl was proposing was that the governor say yes to two young men who’d approached him a few days earlier with a plan: Throw a giant week-long party in a state park, let those in attendance take off their clothes and smoke anything they want, and have all the cops look the other way.

The plan had come out of the worsening situation among anti-war protesters in Portland. In the wake of the Portland State University student riot that spring, the anti-war organization called People’s Army Jamboree was mostly in the control of its more radical members. These radicals were holding meetings and making plans for a “confrontation” with the American Legion, and taking a very cavalier attitude about the possibility of violence. Less pugnacious anti-war activists were getting alarmed — and disgusted. After all, how meaningful is your opposition to war in Vietnam, if you’re making plans to get into street battles in your own home town?

Finally a group of them walked out of a meeting and sat down together to talk about what had to be done. Calling themselves “The Family,” they came up with the idea of throwing a music festival at a state park when the American Legion came to town. Then all the motivated young people who otherwise might feed the brewing riots would have a positive, pro-peace alternative. Instead of destroying the credibility of their movement by indulging in disorderly street battles with their opponents and justifying it with the same old worn-out clichés about fighting fire with fire, they’d be demonstrating the change that they wanted to see in the world, inviting America to notice the contrast — and having the time of their lives in the process.

The more they talked about it, the more the idea made sense. So two members were delegated to pitch the idea to Portland city officials.

Well, you can imagine how well that went. The officials they were pitching this to were the same ones who’d sent a hundred cops into the Park Blocks to crack skulls during the student riots. Parks Commissioner Frank Ivancie and Mayor Terry Shrunk had no interest in using city resources to help The Family throw a giant party, and even less interest in turning a blind eye to the pot smoking and public nakedness that could be expected to accompany it.

And that’s when the activists made their pilgrimage to Salem to talk to Westerdahl.

Westerdahl, knowing what the governor’s initial response would be, did some quiet behind-the-scenes scouting to get his ducks in a row. He decided on 847-acre McIver Park near Estacada, 30 miles from Portland, as the best location. And he brought in the governor’s legal counselors, Ron Schmidt and Robert Oliver, to talk about how to get it done without breaking laws.

When all was planned out, Westerdahl laid the scheme on Governor McCall — who, after his initial explosive reaction, warmed up to it quite quickly. There was, however, one problem that rose to his mind. Here’s how author Brent Walth describes the conversation that ensued:

“’Ron,’ he (McCall) said to Schmidt, ‘you’re the political man. If I make a decision to do this, what happens?’ Schmidt shook his head. He noted that the election followed the American Legion convention by only seven weeks. ‘Whether it works or not, Governor,’ he replied, ‘it’s very likely you’ll lose the election because of it.’”

It was a tough call. Do nothing, let riots break out, and probably win re-election in their aftermath? Or take action, prevent the riots, and probably lose the election amid accusations of “pandering to the hippies”?

McCall chewed this over silently for a bit, staring at the wall behind his desk. Then he spun his chair around to face the three men.

“I’ve made my decision,” he said. “And I’ve just committed political suicide.”

It wasn’t over yet, of course. There was a good bit of outrage in certain quarters when the plan was announced. Up in Portland, Commissioner Ivancie was the most strident anti-Vortex voice, showing cartoon-supervillain levels of tone-deafness as he railed against the plan’s moral implications. Many residents of Estacada were also very unhappy about the plan.

But the most bitter opponents of McCall’s plan may have been the hawkish members of the People’s Army Jamboree, who suddenly saw their support dwindle away to almost nothing.

McCall wasn’t taking any chances. He’d called up the National Guard, sent them up to Fort Lewis in Washington for riot training, and kept them on hand in a sort of standby mode, just in case. Interestingly enough, he took care not to officially deploy them, since that would make it possible for the federal government to take operational control of them; clearly, McCall still didn’t entirely trust Washington not to make trouble.

On the eve of the event, McCall made a remarkable speech in which he expressed absolute support for the protesters’ Constitutional rights and an absolute-zero level of tolerance for any violence, no matter who the perpetrator. It was actually one of history’s great masterpieces of the speechwriter’s art, and it left McCall looking strong, fair, statesmanlike and very much in control of the situation.

Ironically, though, he didn’t much feel in control. He’d done all he could, and now all he could do was wait, looking nervously down at the streets of Portland from a suite in the Portland Hilton, hoping for the best.

We’ll talk about how the weekend worked out in the third and final part of the Vortex I story, next week.

(Sources: Walth, Brent. Fire at Eden’s Gate. Portland: OHS Press, 1994; Cain, Eric. “Vortex I,” Oregon Experience, Oregon Public Broadcasting, February 2010)