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One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

Sammy Davis Jr. used to regularly play portland clubs.

Many consider him the coolest member of the Rat Pack. Sammy caught his big break while he was in Portland. Here's the story.

One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

The man behind Oregon's most famous bridges.

Conde McCullough's genius was in getting the most gorgeous bridge to also be the cheapest, over the long term. Here's the story.

The steamer Telephone, fastest boat on the river in the 1880s and possibly the world -- until it burned to the waterline one day.

riverboat captain had to choose: save passengers, or save his boat?

The steamboat Telephone caught fire at the widest spot in the Columbia; the decision must not have been too tough, because Captain U.B. Scott didn't hesitate for a moment. Here's what happened.

A shallow-draft riverboat of the type pioneered by Uriah B. Scott, on the river at Albany around 1900 or so.

Turns out the 'ignoramus from back east' knew what he was doing.

The big steamboat outfits laughed at the crude, ugly riverboat Uriah B. Scott was building ... until he used it to eat their lunch. Here's how.


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).


The four-masted schooner North Bend, stranded on a sandy spit, 'sailed' through two and a half miles of sand and relaunched itself on the other side.

The stranded sailing ship that salvaged and re-launched itself.

The North Bend was the last tall ship ever built on the West Coast. When it ran aground on Peacock Spit, it just kept on sailing through the sand, crossing two miles of sandy beach to reach Baker Bay. It took over a year. Here's the story.


The Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra on its 'giant violin' float, after riding it through the town of Burns in the Fourth of July Parade, 1915.

america's first youth orchestra came out of tiny sagebrush town.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic says it was founded in Portland in 1924. Actually, it's older than that -- and much more rural. Here's the story.


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.


Goal of Oregon whale hunters: Grow fur coats, and put a man on the moon.

helping put a man on the moon, one dead whale at a time?

Whale oil is special stuff, and NASA needed it for the space program. So an Astoria group launched a whaling venture in the early 1960s. Here's the story.


Shipwreck ended Astoria's 1840s bid to become the Nantucket of the West Coast

astoria could have become a mecca of whale hunting ...

... had it not been for the Columbia River Bar, which wrecked the only whaling ship that ever dared try to cross it with a full cargo hold. It was a total loss. 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).


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

mariner's spooky nightmare came true the next day

In his dream, the first mate of the German barque Mimi saw seaweed covering all but three shipmates. The next day, all but three drowned in one of Oregon's worst-ever salvage disasters. Here's the story.


Florence's famous exploding whale: A highway engineer didn't know how much dynamite to use, so he guessed ... and guessed wrong.

Whale explodes: Details at 11.

The highway department guy didn't know how much dynamite to use, and said so on camera. But he still thinks the operation was a success. Check out the story of Florence's famous exploding whale ...


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

was this shipwreck insurance fraud or just drunken incompetence?

On a beautiful clear October day, astonished beach-goers watched a big windjammer simply turn and sail straight into the side of a mountain. Why would her crew do such a thing? Here's the story.


.44-caliber Colt Dragoon revolver, designed in 1848.

gold-rush bandits hunted down and killed ... but where was their loot?

No one has ever found it — or if they have, they've been awfully discreet. The Triskett Gang had stolen it hours earlier from the assaying depot in the town of Sailors' Diggins. Here's the story.


US Coast Guard 47-foot motor lifeboat takes on a heavy sea off Cape Disappointment.

tired of seeing mariners die, lighthouse keeper took action.

In 1865, Joel Munson watched 17 sailors drown on the Columbia Bar. But when their lifeboat washed up near his lighthouse, it gave him an idea — an idea that lives on today in the U.S. Coast Guard. Here's the story.


Delake Rod and Gun Club as it appeared in 1960.

mysterious mansion was haunted only by olympic medalist's dream.

OSU Wrestling legend Robin Reed, an Olympic gold medalist, was never pinned once in his entire career. But his plan for the Delake Rod and Gun Club ended in defeat. Here's the story.


U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers save sailors' lives, but get thrown in jail anyway.

In the early years of Prohibition, a Canadian rumrunner entered U.S. territorial waters to save the lives of nine castaways — and got caught and sent to jail anyway. Here's the story.


Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Bobbie the wonder dog's 2,400-mile odyssey.

Left behind in Illinois, the big collie dog walked home to Silverton, Oregon. It took him six months. Here's Bobbie's story.


A modern reproduction of a classic Concord Stagecoach.

a few legends of buried gold and treasure ...

Some of them might even be true. Here's a selection of them — as far as we know, the loot from any of them has never been found.


This crater marks ground zero in the Roseburg Blast. It's about 60 feet across.

a nuclear strike
in downtown roseburg?

No; it was "just" an exploding dynamite truck. But the mushroom cloud was big enough to fool a passing airline pilot. Here's the full story of the legendary "Roseburg Blast."


Part of the historic entry to Portland's Chinatown.

he dressed in rags like a beggar, so no one would know ...

To avoid getting robbed and murdered, Chinese couriers dressed as beggars while carrying thousands of dollars in gold from the fields. This is the story of one of these men, and the woman whose life he saved.


Steamer Admiral Evans, f.k.a. Buckman, which the two would-be pirates tried to hijack

THE dumbest would-be pirates in the history of the universe.

Their plan: Hijack a passenger steamer (that's it, in the thumbnail above), run it aground and sneak off into the bushes with 3 tons of gold. Do I need to mention that it didn't work out? Here's what happened.


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THE SHIPWRECK VICTIMS WHO THOUGHT THEY WERE GONERS ... UNTIL A TRAIN SHOWED UP.

Usually when something steams out to sea to rescue shipwrecked sailors, it's not a railroad train. Here's the story of the one (and probably only) time it was.


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Far-out guru "enlightens" Central Oregon.

What happens when a colony of acolytes of an East Indian guru move in, then try to take over Wasco County? Check out the four-part story of the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram ...


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this oregon youth went on to save half a billion lives...guess who?

A local Willamette Valley teen-ager named Bert Hoover, an orphan sent from Iowa to live with his uncle, went on to save millions of lives and become a singularly ill-starred U.S. president.


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oregon's most spectacular shipwreck ever.

The steam schooner J. Marhoffer was almost brand-new when, burning fiercely from stem to stern, it piled onto the rocks near Depoe Bay. It's the remains of this fiery shipwreck that gave Boiler Bay its name ...


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the gallant rescue of portland's floating brothel.

Maritime madam Nancy Boggs kept her bordello on a barge floating in the river, until a police raid cut it loose. But the captain and crew of a sternwheeler came to save the day. Here's the story.


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take off to the province of oregon, eh?

Few people know how close Oregon came to officially becoming a British possession under the treaty that ended the War of 1812. Only the presence of a handful of scattered, starving survivors from Astor's fur enterprise prevented it. Here's how.


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timberline lodge could have been a glass skyscraper

Calling the plan a "profit-making eyesore," a Forest Service manager nixed 1920s plan for a modern steel-and-glass structure with an aerial tramway. You can read about it right here.


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pixieland: an edgy, vanished amusement park

Built in the late 1960s as a "fairy-tale history of Oregon," the amusement park lasted just a few years before slipping into receivership. Today, all that's left of this odd and uniquely Oregonian story is a dilapidated guardshack.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Missing gold suggests something sinister in shipwreck mystery

There were, so far as we know, no survivors. But when the upside-down hulk drifted ashore, it was 200 miles off course — and there was no sign of the 40-pound keg of gold it had been carrying. What happened? Nobody knows.

Lumber schooner Wawona, photographed around 1900.
This photo, from around 1900, is of the three-masted schooner
Wawona, launched in 1897, originally a lumber schooner like the
Sunshine. (Photo: Northwest Seaport, Seattle) [Larger image: 1200 x
820 px]
[Information page about the Wawona]

In October of 1875, a brand-new schooner sailed out of San Francisco Bay, on her way to her home port of Coos Bay. Twenty-five passengers and crew were on board.

Neither people nor ship was ever heard from again — until a month later, when the lifeless, upside down hull of the ship washed ashore.

And the persistent, unanswered question is … did somebody do this on purpose?

A shipbuilding triumph

The Sunshine was a 325-ton three-masted schooner — a big ship for that age. She was built at a cost of $32,000 by the Holden & Co. shipyard in Coos Bay — then called “Marshfield” — in September of 1875. Her owners wasted no time putting her to work; soon she was beating out to sea on her maiden voyage, bound for San Francisco with a load of lumber.

When the Sunshine left port for the first time, she was skippered by one George Bennett, an experienced captain who was also part owner of the ship. His officers included two other highly respected, very competent mariners.

Upon arrival at San Francisco, the new ship unloaded its lumber and took on cargo for the return trip: Some machinery, a small cohort of passengers, and $10,000 in gold.

It’s the passengers and the gold that make this story especially interesting. For what happened after the Sunshine sailed through the Golden Gate and out into the wide Pacific is a complete mystery. No one survived to tell about it — as far as we know.

No sign of the gold or the crew

For over a month, nothing was heard from the new schooner. Then she was spotted — floating bottom-side-up off Cape Disappointment on the north side of the Columbia River. After a while, the wreck washed ashore on Peacock Spit.

An upside-down schooner isn’t easy to live on, so it wasn’t surprising that there were no survivors on board. What was more surprising, though, was the absence of the $10,000 in gold. Then, as now, this was hard to explain. Ships don’t capsize gradually; it’s all done in an instant, and survivors are left with a barnacle-covered hulk with waves breaking over it and no way to get in or out. Something like that doesn’t happen on a calm day, on which there’s plenty of time to think about things like 40-pound kegs of gold that are scheduled to be delivered to somebody else. So if the ship met its end in heavy weather, it’s probably safe to assume nobody went and fetched the gold as the vessel was being abandoned.

But if that’s the case, how did the gold end up missing? Kegs of gold do not get left lying around on deck, where they can fall off into the sea in the event of capsize. They’re kept below decks, in secure and secret locations — closed rooms, locked cabinets, places like that. Places that, when turned upside down, don’t usually release their contents into the ocean.

Suspiciously off course

By itself, the curious absence would be enough to raise an eyebrow or two. But what’s really puzzling about the Sunshine is the place in which it was found. Remember, the ship left San Francisco bound for Coos Bay. So, what was it doing washing ashore on the south coast of Washington state? Winds and currents could hardly have carried it 200 miles north and zero miles east in a few weeks — not in Oregon where the wind comes always out of the southwest, and certainly not in November. What was the Sunshine doing puttering around Tillamook and Astoria?

Rumors of foul play

Stories started circulating almost at once. The least believable of these involved a rumored landing north of Coos Bay, during which the ship’s officers buried the keg of gold and set off northward afterward. Perhaps they were planning on taking the ship far away, scuttling it, rowing ashore and claiming to have just survived a shipwreck, then slipping back to the beach and digging their booty up later. Perhaps they were making for Canada. Who knows?

This theory inspired a number of people to go out treasure-hunting in the sands north of Coos Bay. It likely won’t surprise you to learn that nothing was ever found there.

The other story is just as speculative, but it’s less specific. The idea is that a group of the passengers, knowing the ship carried a cargo of gold, hijacked the ship and sailed beyond Coos Bay to some unknown location on the north coast of Oregon. There, they loaded the booty in a lifeboat, killed everybody else aboard ship, and rowed ashore in the middle of the night with the loot.

Well, OK, it fits the evidence. But there’s so little evidence, almost anything would fit it — sea monsters, pirates from Mexico, alien abduction, you name it. The bottom line is, we have no idea what happened to the people on board, and we don’t know where the gold went.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the demise of the Sunshine. And there’s certainly not enough evidence to declare definitively that foul play was involved. But it sure can’t be ruled out.

(Sources: Gibbs, James A. Jr. Pacific Graveyard. Portland: Binford, 1950; Wright, E.W. Lewis and Dryden’s Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. Portland: Lewis and Dryden, 1895; www.cimorelli.com/magellan)