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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Did Vortex music festival prevent riots in downtown Portland?

On that tense late-August weekend, tens of thousands of young people enjoyed themselves at McIver Park, while the much-dreaded riots failed to materialize. Was there a connection? Many voters thought so.

A screen-grab from a video assembled from old 8-mm. home movies
of Vortex I made on the scene in 1970 by Mike Meacham. Click the
image to watch it on YouTube.

As the last weekend of August 1970 approached, many Oregonians were sort of holding their breath.

The American Legion was coming to town for its annual convention. The theme was “Victory in Vietnam.” President Richard Nixon would be there. And so would a group of particularly belligerent anti-war activists who had pointedly declined to renounce violence as a tool of protest.

Everyone seemed to be spoiling for a fight: the Legion, the activists, the Portland city police and even President Nixon.

Arrayed against them were what you might call the forces of domestic peace and tranquility: A loose consortium of young people calling themselves “The Family,” and the administration of Governor Tom McCall. This coalition had little in common at the outset, other than a commitment to preventing bloodshed in Portland. They would develop a greater familiarity, and an abiding friendliness and respect for one another, in the wake of the coming weekend, as they worked together to create a week-long music-and-counterculture festival 20 miles outside of Portland: Vortex I.

A view of the crowd at Vortex from the soundstage. (Image:
Vortex Magazine)

The goal of the governor and his staff was kind of a “bread-and-circuses” move — to divert some of the young people who might otherwise go to Portland and fight with the American Legion. The goal of The Family was to be the change they wanted to see in the world, and to prevent what they feared would be a set-piece of bloody street theater that would damage their homes and businesses and discredit their movement. For both, Vortex I was the last best hope.

As the big weekend approached, young people started pouring into McIver Park by the tens of thousands. State Highway Commission chairman Glenn Jackson had quietly arranged for the state to lease adjacent farmlands for parking, and to bring in materials for the soundstage and other infrastructure needs.

As the morning wore on, Vortex became exactly what its planners had envisioned: A gigantic, peaceful gathering in a beautiful pastoral setting, with skinnydippers splashing in the river, drugs of various types flowing freely, and loud, occasionally good music pouring out of the stacks on the stage.

“Bobby Wehe contacted every band he could think of to ask them to perform at Vortex I, but only Santana showed up, as far as I know,” recalled Glen Swift, one of the original members of The Family. “Bobby was hampered by the fact that we had absolutely no money, and thus couldn’t pay any bands.  Still, he built a big stage at one end of the meadow at the intermediate level of McIver Park, and thousands of people flocked there to listen to a steady stream of local bands.” 

State police were on high alert outside the park, but within the park, the young people — led by some key members of “The Family,” and coordinated from the soundstage — maintained the peace without any kind of buzz-killing police presence. This, of course, allowed festival-goers to get naked, smoke marijuana and sip “electric wine” (wine spiked with LSD) without fear of arrest; in fact, the only people arrested at the festival were a group of drunk loggers who dropped by to “rough up a few hippies.”

McCall’s chief of staff, Ed Westerdahl, told historian Matt Love there was one point at which he almost had the state cops go into the park. He’d gotten word that the frustrated activists of the People’s Army Jamboree, coordinating the Portland protests, had sent a delegation down to Vortex to try to rally people to come to Portland and help “confront” the American Legion and Nixon. Westerdahl was very worried about this. By this time there were at least 20,000 people in the park, and if even half that number rallied to the banner and started pouring into Portland, it would be like a clash of armies.

A screen grab from Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Oregon Experience"
episode about Vortex I. Click on the image to watch the epidode on OPB's
Web page.

“Basically, Bobby (Wehe) said, ‘Don’t, we’ll take care of them,’” Westerdahl recalled. “I said, ‘Bobby, I can’t run the risk if they get this whole group moving, 50,000 or 20,000 or however many people. That’s going to be a hell of a problem. You cannot allow the stage to be taken.’ He said, ‘I guarantee it. It won’t be a problem. You’ve trusted me so far, so trust me on this.’”

Westerdahl was there when the Jamboree delegation tried to storm the stage, and he soon saw what Wehe meant. As the group of 20 or so Jamboree activists started running for the stage, “all of a sudden, ladies all around them dropped their clothes. ... Every one of these men had two ladies on him saying, ‘Peace brother, love brother.’ ... It was the most effective technique in nonviolence I’ve ever seen in my life.”

But then the next day — Sunday, the day of the American Legion meeting — the young people in the park started packing up and leaving.

This was McCall’s darkest hour. What were the young people doing? Had those Jamboree activists somehow managed to get their recruiting done without taking over the stage? Had the Vortex plan played directly into their hands, providing overnight accommodations for tens of thousands of people who now were marching on Portland? Had McCall’s plan not only failed, but made things worse?

No. As the day progressed, it became clear that the thousands leaving McIver park were not going to Portland. They were going home. Most of them were local kids, and they were yearning less for the revolution than for a hot shower and maybe some pancakes.

Meanwhile, in downtown Portland, roughly 1,000 protesters — very few if any of whom had been to Vortex — marched peacefully through the streets. Nothing happened.

The next day — that is, Monday the 31st — 10,000 Legionnaires marched. A small handful of People’s Army Jamboree activists jeered at them from the sidewalk, and a group of Portland cops in riot gear pulled their billy clubs and seemed about to crack some skulls, and for a moment it seemed as if there would be a riot after all, if on a diminished scale; but then the situation was defused by an elderly woman who stepped in front of the cops and told them to stop making trouble, and everyone simmered down.

At some point along the way, Nixon canceled his plans to attend, and Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew came instead. Agnew gave a relatively mild speech at Memorial Coliseum. A few hundred die-hard protesters paraded outside. That was it.

Then Agnew left town, and so did the Legionnaires, and it was over. No riots, no injuries, no damage. (There is a report that a window at Meier & Frank was broken, but whether that’s related to the protests or not is questionable.)

As the clean-up after Vortex was finishing up, McCall met with the Oregon State Police lieutenant in charge of the Vortex project. “Hell of a job,” he told him.

“You know, governor,” the lieutenant said, “I don’t think you’re going to be too hurt by this.”

McCall smiled. “Gene,” he said, “I don’t think so either.”

Seven weeks later, McCall was re-elected with a decisive 56 percent of the vote. And nearly everyone agreed that Vortex — the first and only state-sponsored music festival, before or since, nationwide — was the primary reason he won.

(Sources: Love, Matt. The Far-Out Story of Vortex I. Pacific City: Nestucca Spit Press, 2004; Walth, Brent. Fire at Eden’s Gate. Portland: OHS Press, 1994; Cain, Eric. “Vortex I,” Oregon Experience, Oregon Public Broadcasting, February 2010; correspondence with Glen Swift)