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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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.

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This spooky-looking Portland mansion was home of a 'starvation cult'

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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? Probably because they didn't know. 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.

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Is there pirate loot buried at this YWCA youth camp?

The discovery of a giant skeleton in the 1930s suggested that the old Indian legend of a pirate ship sinking in the Salmon River might be true ... or maybe not. Here's the story.

This is not a picture of the Sunshine; it's a lumber schooner of a similar type, the Wawona. The Sunshine, on her way home from her maiden voyage to San Francisco, vanished and then reappeared, upside down, 200 miles off course.

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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.

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Bridge-building scandal aroused fury of 1920s Portland

Crafty county commissioners tried to rig the bidding so their favorite bid, padded to the tune of half a million 1924 dollars, would win —but they didn't move quite fast enough. Three months later, they'd all been thrown out of office.

This photo spread appeared in the Morning Oregonian on Jan. 1, 1924,
introducing the three proposed bridge projects. Although the Ross Island
and Sellwood bridges ended up looking substantially different from these
sketches, the Burnside Bridge did not.

Early Portland was a relatively corruption-friendly town. But even the best of us have our limits, as three Multnomah County Commissioners learned the hard way in 1924.

In that year, the Portland area had a serious traffic congestion problem. The main source of the trouble was the Burnside Bridge, a swing-span setup that was at the time only 30 years old. However, it had deteriorated very badly, and was no longer considered safe. A new bridge was desperately needed.

Luckily, in 1922 the three-member Multnomah County Board of Commissioners had gotten voter approval to take out almost $5 million in bonds to build not one but three new bridges across the river. Relief was on the way: a replacement for the Burnside Bridge, plus brand new bridges that would become known as the Sellwood and Ross Island bridges.

This hand-tinted postcard, postmarked 1931, shows the newly built
Burnside Bridge drawn for shipping to pass through.

Finally, on April Fool’s Day of 1924, the Commissioners finally put the projects out for bids. Within the day, a very odd bid arrived from a consortium of contractors. They wanted to build all three bridges, and their bid was a package deal: All three bridge projects, or nothing.

The commissioners, who had until this point seemed to be in no special hurry, now sprang into action and moved with breathtaking speed. They pounced on the all-or-nothing bid, accepted it and slammed the door closed on the bidding process. The window had been open for less than 24 hours.

Unfortunately for them, they didn’t move quite fast enough. Another bidder managed to slip in during this tiny window of opportunity and submit a bid for the Burnside Bridge. And the interloper’s bid was a full half-million dollars cheaper than the all-or-nothing bidders had quoted for the Burnside Bridge part of theirs. The commissioners dismissed it breezily, noting that the all-or-nothing bidders had promised a bridge in 300 days, but the interloper’s cheaper bid specified 500, and Portland needed a new Burnside Bridge right away.

The Ross Island Bridge shortly after it was constructed,  viewed from the
west side of the river with Mount Hood in the distance. (Image: Portland
City Archives)

It’s not clear what the commissioners thought was going to happen as a result of this. After all, construction contractors who have major bids rejected for illegal reasons have a tendency to ask questions. But perhaps, knowing Portland’s long and storied history of graft and corruption in government, they assumed the disappointed contractor’s complaints would be brushed off as so much out-crowd whining.

If so, they were in for a big surprise.

It started the very next day with a comment from former Governor Oswald West, a widely respected political reformer who had been watching the situation closely. “Those who are putting over the deal are working fast,” he told an Oregon Journal reporter, “and unless something is done at once the taxpayers of the county and city are going to get a wonderful trimming.”

As the unsuccessful bidder hired lawyers and complained loudly about its treatment, Portland’s other newspapers soon joined in the drumbeat of condemnation.

“The Oregonian thinks that $529,000 is a large sum to pay for 200 days’ use of a bridge,” the Morning Oregonian murmured with sedate disapproval, four days later.

The Oregonian’s sister paper, the ever-feisty Evening Telegram, was a bit more direct. “Public indignation over the awarding of the contract for the three trans-Willamette bridges this week is universal,” the editor wrote sternly. “No official act in the history of Multnomah County ever aroused such condemnation.”

The astonishingly tone-deaf commission didn’t budge. The city had really needed three bridges, they explained earnestly, and if they’d accepted the Burnside contract they would have had to reject the three-bridge package, and schedule another round of bidding, which would have delayed the Ross Island and Sellwood bridge projects.

By now aroused to full suspiciousness, the public couldn’t help but wonder if they might have had more bids to work with if they’d left the bidding process open for more than one day.

The Commission also tried to explain away the half-million-dollar difference in bid prices by claiming the package-deal contractors were expecting to build the Ross Island Bridge at a loss, and the inflated bid for the Burnside span was supposed to cover that loss. This explanation sounded just as implausible then as it does today.

In any case, Chairman Charles Rudeen asserted earnestly, “as all the facts regarding the contracts become known we are confident it will be seen that we acted wisely and that the people of the county will approve our action.”

Unfortunately for Rudeen and his fellows, the facts that soon became known were not the ones the commissioners had in mind.

One of the first of these was the fact that five days before the bridge placement plans were announced, Rudeen and fellow commissioner Dow Walker had bought options on 18 residential lots right next to what they — but nobody else — knew would soon be the west end of the Sellwood Bridge.

Another tidbit that soon became known — it can’t be called a fact, but it was a widely believed rumor and was most likely true — was that all the  insurance needs of the package-deal contractors were being handled by Commissioner Walker’s insurance agency.

By April 9, a recall petition was making the rounds. It took just two weeks to swell to over 26,000 signatures, which was an astonishingly big slice of an electorate that numbered under 70,000 at the time. This meant all three commissioners would face a recall election the very next month.

And that wasn’t all they faced, either. State Attorney General Isaac Van Winkle launched an investigation on April 13 and convened a grand jury, which eventually indicted Walker and Rudeen on charges of soliciting and accepting bribes, and accused all three of them of malfeasance for not accepting the lowest bid on the Burnside Bridge.

The criminal charges didn’t stick; all the commissioners went free for lack of hard evidence. But the recall election was another matter. Rudeen and Walker were turned out of office by an 85-percent majority of voters, and the third commissioner lost to a 65-percent majority.

It was the fastest, most thorough and most emphatic “housecleaning” in Multnomah County history — before or since.

It’s also worth noting that this recall was a big setback to the Ku Klux Klan, which had energetically backed two of the commissioners in the 1922 election. The Klan was a strong and growing force in Oregon politics at the time, but after the events of April Fools Day 1924, the “Invisible Empire” lost most Portland voters for good. But that’s a story for another day.

(Sources: Lansing, Jewel & al. Multnomah. Corvallis: OSU Press, 2012; Portland Morning Oregonian, 31 Mar - 5 Apr 1924; www.sellwoodbridge.org (Multnomah County) )

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