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 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.


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.

The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered 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).

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.

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).

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

NASA’s “Moon Trees” have roots in an Oregon forest fire

Astronaut Stuart Roosa had a special relationship with the U.S. Forest Service, and when it was his turn to go to the moon, he proposed a science experiment. You can see the results towering over Peavy Hall at Oregon State University today.

Astronaut Stuart Roosa, the former Forest Service smokejumper
whose experience fighting an Oregon forest fire inspired him to propose
the Moon Tree program. (Image: NASA)

Sometime in the late 1990s, Scott Leavengood of Oregon State University’s Forestry Extension Service got a strange phone call from Michael Simons of Phoenix, Arizona.

“I heard there was a moon tree planted at the College of Forestry,” Simons said. “Is it still there? Can I get cuttings from it?”

Leavengood had no idea what he was talking about. Moon tree? What was that?

Trees In Space

The Moon Trees story starts with a young Forest Service employee named Stuart Roosa. Roosa was a “smokejumper” — a wildland firefighter deployed by parachute like an airborne Ranger. Throughout a tough 1953 fire season, he parachuted behind the fire lines in Oregon’s back country, helping put forest fires out.

Eighteen years later, Roosa was in a different career. He had become a U.S. Air Force officer, test pilot and astronaut. And he’d been picked for the crew of Apollo 14, the third mission to the moon, scheduled for launch in 1971.

But although he was living every little boy’s dream, he remembered fondly his summer in the backcountry of the Beaver State, and his colleagues in the U.S. Forest Service. And now, he thought, was his opportunity to do them a well-deserved favor.

“Each Apollo astronaut was allowed to take a small number of personal items to the moon,” said Lt. Col. Jack Roosa, Stuart Roosa’s son, in an interview with NASA Science News. “My father chose trees. It was his way of paying tribute to the U.S. Forest Service.”

Trees, that is, in the form of seeds. Roosa planned to fill a container with more than 400 seeds from five different kinds of trees: Redwoods, Loblolly Pine, Sycamore, Douglas Fir and Sweetgum. He’d take them to the moon, return them to Earth, and see if they would still grow, and how well.

Designing an experiment

Peavy Hall, on the Oregon State University campus, with its “Moon Tree”
towering over it. (Image: F.J.D. John)

The plan was a little like a publicity stunt — but it was also a scientific experiment. The Forest Service scientists — who, of course, loved Roosa’s idea and were eager to help in any way — wanted to see what would happen to seeds that had been subjected to the vacuum and zero gravity of outer space. Would they sprout? Would they grow normally?

There was only one way to find out, and that involved sending them on a journey of roughly 1 million miles — to the moon and back again.

The scientists provided Roosa with clean tree seeds from Forest Service genetics institutions. Each seed’s parents were known, so that if one grew markedly different from its ancestors, it would be noticed. The seeds were packed in a metal cylinder 6 inches long and 3 inches in diameter, and on Jan. 31, 1971, they blasted into space.

Over the moon

Roosa was the command-module pilot, so he didn’t actually get to walk on the moon; he orbited above while fellow astronauts Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell explored the surface, collecting rocks and whacking the golf balls Shepard had brought with him.

Upon their return, there was a little mishap — the cylinder, exposed to vacuum, exploded and scattered the seeds all over the place. Forest Service staff director Stan Krugman spent hours scrounging the seeds up and sorting them by species, whereupon they were sent off to Forest Service labs to see if they would germinate.

Somewhat to everyone’s surprise, they did.

Bicentennial moon-tree mania

The plaque placed at the foot of Oregon State University’s “Moon Tree,”
denoting its special status. (Image: F.J.D. John)

By 1975, the year before the Bicentennial celebration, the Forest Service had hundreds of little seedling “moon trees.” And suddenly everyone wanted one.

It seemed like every Congressman wanted one to plant in his or her home state. One went to the Emperor of Japan. The mayor of New Orleans, a man named Moon Landrieu, requested a Moon Tree or two for obvious reasons as well. They were so popular that Forest Service professionals had to root cuttings of the original trees — not an easy thing to do with a conifer — to meet the demand.

There followed a busy year of planting and celebrating Bicentennial Moon Trees ...

... followed immediately, for most of them, by three decades of forgetting they even existed.

Moon Trees of Oregon

In Oregon, the trees were not forgotten. A plaque marked the location of the Moon Tree on the State Capitol grounds in Salem, and another one on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene was remembered in 1987, when it was carefully moved to make way for the construction of Willamette Hall. Today it stands at the corner of the lawn behind the Erb Memorial Union, close to the Carson dormitory building.

According to NASA, there are four other Moon Trees in Oregon, for a total of six: One at the Veterans’ Hospital in Roseburg, two at a private residence in Salem and the one at Oregon State University, in front of Peavy Hall.

(The ones at a private residence in Salem, by the way, are an interesting enigma. Their date of planting is given as 1973, two full years before any other moon trees were planted anywhere in the country; and other than the reference on the NASA Website, I haven’t been able to find any more information about them. If you happen to know where they are and how they came to be planted, I would love to hear from you.)

OSU’s Moon Tree

At Oregon State, the resident moon tree wasn’t forgotten, but it also wasn’t widely known about, which is why Leavengood — an Extension agent specializing in forestry — had never heard of it until Michael Simon’s phone call.

And it was the tree at OSU that Simon wanted a cutting from — despite the fact that several other Moon Trees were much closer to his home. He explained to Leavengood that he was trying to get his daughter interested in science, and thought trying to sprout a Moon Tree would be a great father-daughter project.

Leavengood made a few inquiries, and soon learned that the big 40-foot fir tree in front of Peavy Hall — which he’d walked by hundreds of times on campus — was, in fact, a Moon Tree.

Leavengood took cuttings from its branches and pine cones from its base, and sent them off to Simon — who tried valiantly to get the cuttings to root, but failed (this is extremely difficult to do with a Douglas Fir). But he also planted the pine cones, after conditioning them in the freezer following instructions from Leavengood. So presumably, somewhere in Phoenix there is a descendant of OSU’s Moon Tree — what you might call a “half-moon tree” — growing in a suburban back yard, and it got there via Oregon — and the moon.

(Sources: Jabin, Darrell. “A Moon Tree in Oregon” (video), youtu.be/tTTZXBoXMR8; “A Moon Tree?”, Focus On Forestry, Winter 2000; Williams, David R. “The Moon Trees,” NASA Website; “In Search of Moon Trees,” NASA Science News, August 2002)

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