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.


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:
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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

Rumors of sunken submarines: The government denies it, but ...

Pulp writer and religious figure L. Ron Hubbard figures prominently in the most spectacular story of action against Japanese submarines in Oregon waters. It's known, with a smile, as the “Battle of Cape Lookout.”

The brand-new Navy submarine chaser PC-815 running trials on the
Columbia River on April 13, 1943, seven days before Lieutenant L. Ron
Hubbard took command as its skipper. (Image: U.S. Navy)

Somewhere on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, rusting away among the rocks by the Oregon Coast, lie the remains of at least five sunken submarines — that is, if you believe the stories.

And who believes the stories? Certainly not the U.S. Government, which places the actual number of Japanese submarine wrecks in Oregon waters at a much more boring number: zero. According to official records of both the U.S. and Japan, not a single Imperial Japanese sub was lost on or near the West Coast of the U.S.

But the stories and legends persist.

Legends of sinkings

Most of the stories are plausible, but only just barely so.

One of the Army Air Force pilots who’d participated in the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo claimed he’d bombed and sunk a Japanese submarine off the mouth of the Columbia River in his B-25, early in the war. No sign of the wreck was ever found, and according to historian Bert Webber, no Army documentation has ever been found either.

Certain fishermen and divers reported, in the early 1970s, that they’d found a sunken sub off Cape Kiwanda, and when a reporter from radio station KPNW in Eugene called the Coast Guard in Garibaldi, one of the Coasties there told him it was “more or less confirmed.”

It turned out to be “less” confirmed, rather than “more.” No one had yet found the Kiwanda sub, and nobody who’d personally seen it could be found, although Pacific City and Garibaldi were awash with old salts who knew somebody who knew somebody who had.

And historian Don Marshall writes dismissively of the most unlikely story of the bunch — a rumor in Newport that a sunken Nazi U-boat lies in the estuary mud at the bottom of Yaquina Bay.

The best, most plausible and by far the most dramatic story of a Japanese submarine sinking in Oregon coastal waters comes with a story worthy of the pen of one of the best and most prolific pulp-fiction writers of the 1930s — L. Ron Hubbard.

L. Ron Hubbard’s submarine story

Another view of the PC-815 during trials on April 13, 1943. (Image: U.S.
Navy)

In early 1943, Hubbard, a junior-grade lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, was the skipper of a brand-new 173-foot submarine chaser, the U.S.S. PC-815, which had slid down the skids of a shipyard in Portland just six months before. Hubbard himself was fairly green; he’d commanded another sub chaser the previous year, out in Massachusetts, but his time logged in the captain’s chair was still short.

It wouldn’t get much longer, and what was about to happen was a big part of the reason for that.

Good information about L. Ron Hubbard is hard to come by, because of how much of a polarizing figure he became later in his life, after he founded the Church of Scientology. It’s easy to find accounts of his action that day that drip with contempt and scorn; it’s also pretty easy to find versions that overflow with adulation. But there are a few things that most agree on:

The Battle of Cape Lookout

An aerial view of Cape Lookout as seen from the south on a summer day,
with Boy Scout Camp Meriwether in the foreground. (Image: Oregon State
Parks)
 

Hubbard had taken command of the PC-815 at the Portland shipyard just a month before, and he and his crew had sailed the ship out over the bar and north to Bremerton, where the vessel was fitted with its weapons — depth charges and cannon. Then the little sub-chaser stood out through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, headed for San Diego.

Along the way, as Hubbard’s ship passed about 10 miles off the end of Cape Lookout, his sonar operators picked up the signature of something big under the sea — and then another. Listening on the hydrophones, they became convinced they were hearing the throb of two submarines’ drive screws.

The PC-815 charged into battle, depth-charge cans rolling off the chutes and lighting up the depths with their massive explosions.

The little sub chaser motored around, chasing sonar blips and rolling depth charges overboard, until it had used up its full complement of three dozen or so. Then Hubbard’s crew radioed for reinforcements, and the crews of four other small Navy and Coast Guard warships, stationed at Astoria, were rousted out of their homes and from various waterfront watering holes and sent hustling out to help. Two of the blimps from the Tillamook hangar also shortly arrived on the scene to help direct fire.

With the guidance of the blimps, the crew of one of the Navy ships — the 110-foot submarine chaser U.S.S. SC-536 — homed in on one of the supposed subs, and apparently it hit something.

“The blimp sent us a message saying our charge had made a direct hit and sunk it,” recalled crew member Robert Wood in an interview with journalist Lori Tobias.

Wood said the crew of the SC-536 saw an oil slick and blood in the water to confirm the kill, and said locals later reported finding debris washed ashore as if from a sunken sub.

But when the jubilant sailors tried to report their kill, the Navy told them it never happened — that there were no subs there.

A submarine-shaped whale?

As far as the government was concerned, an incompetent and overeager Hubbard and his crew had picked up a sonar signal from something, probably a whale, and had gotten excited and just started bombing it. Then they’d called for backup, and spent the next 48 hours making life miserable for the local fish before the exasperated Navy commanders ordered Hubbard to leave it alone and move on.

To be sure, the government’s claim that Hubbard was incompetent was reinforced several months later when, while stationed at San Diego, he caused an international incident by bombarding Mexico. Hubbard’s ship had, unbeknownst to its navigator, crossed the border, and when Hubbard decided to conduct some gunnery practice on a nearby island, he unknowingly committed what was technically an act of war. The Mexican consulate complained formally, and Hubbard’s days commanding Navy ships were over.

But the Navy’s doggedness in calling the Battle of Cape Lookout a 72-hour-long mistake strikes some observers as a bit too strident, in a “methinks-the-lady-doth-protest-too-much” kind of way. Woods certainly feels that way.

“It upset me that the admiral denied it when he had all the proof he needed,” he told Tobias.

So, what was the deal? Were the two sonar signatures really those of Japanese subs? Was one a sub and the other a whale, perhaps, or could both of them have been whales? And what about the possibility that it was an American sub, maybe on some kind of secret mission, getting flattened by the overzealous young crews of five surface ships and two airships, then left at the bottom of the sea and disavowed by the government for reasons unknown?

With the information we have right now, it’s impossible to say what exactly happened off Cape Lookout 70 years ago. But that may be about to change.

Dive team now searching

For the last few summers, a dive team under the direction of dive manager Kathleen Wallis has taken up the cause of proving that Woods was right. Last year, they captured some very promising images of a long, slender object nestled on the seafloor, and it’s just about the right size.

Wallis, writing on the dive team’s Facebook page, says the dive teams are going out in early August to investigate, and she believes this lifelong mystery is about to be solved.

For more details about the dive team’s quest, go to facebook.com and type “Oregon Coast Project” into the search field at the top of the page (next to the Facebook logo).

(Sources: Tobias, Lori. “Divers searching to prove story of sunken enemy sub,” Portland Oregonian, 20 Sep 2012; Buchanan, James. “Mystery surrounds elusive subs,” Bend Bulletin, 2 Aug 1972; Sables, Robert P. “PC-815: The jinxed sub-chaser,” Sea Classics, Jan. 2006; Marshall, Don. Oregon Shipwrecks. Portland: Binford, 1984)