Background photo: A hand-tinted linen postcard view of Three Sisters from Scott Lake, circa 1920.
Audio version: Download MP3 or use controls below:
Flummoxed, the committee reported back to the assembly. It was a dilemma. They could have passed a kitty and paid Uncle Joab off out of pocket, but nobody wanted to do that. Yet trying to put him off with an IOU would make them look and feel like a ridiculous lot of deadbeats.
Finally, Senator (and saloonkeeper) Victor Trevitt hatched an idea: They would solve this problem with yet another “first” (are you keeping track? That’s four so far). They would hold the state’s first political fund-raising event — a “grand entertainment” starring Uncle Joab, with a modest admission fee charged at the gate. They estimated crowd size, and calculated a cover charge that would, they figured, add up to about $30.
NOW, THE REST of this story is rather heavily tinged with folklore. The bones of the tale are surely accurate; but, it has the distinct air of a story that’s been augmented a little over the years of being passed around. So, keep that in mind as we continue.
Opening night came, and with it more evidence that Uncle Joab had been right — the Legislators knew not what they were doing. Specifically, they’d seriously underestimated Uncle Joab’s fame. When word got around that the famous man of God would be preaching in Salem, the residential district of the town emptied itself out. On opening night, a very nervous group of legislators watched the venue fill to overflowing.
The financial problem was solved, several times over. But a new issue taxed them now: What if Uncle Joab bombed? They well remembered the ten-word opening prayer he’d boomed out on that first day, and fretted. What if he did that again? Insulted the audience and sat down? Would they riot? What would happen?
Senator Trevitt had another plan. He collected together all the small coins taken in at the gate, and distributed handfuls of them to a group of children. These he instructed to work their way to the front of the crowd and, if Uncle Joab showed any signs of winding down early, to shower him with money and shout, “Encore! Encore!”
Whether this worked, or whether Uncle Joab just delivered a great sermon as he always did, the show was a big hit. Uncle Joab went on home to his wife’s farm, pockets nicely lined with his $30 plus all the “tips” showered on him by the urchins; and the Legislature got back to work, having chalked up yet another Oregon political “first” — the first act of Throwing Money at a Problem to Make It Go Away.
But they weren’t done yet. The last and greatest Oregon political “first” to come from Uncle Joab’s brief political career — number six — was the one the man himself would most disapprove of. You see, the gate receipts from Uncle Joab’s “grand entertainment” were considerably over $30 — in fact, the total had come to roughly 10 times that much. And, being as loath as many of us are to follow the 10th Commandment too assiduously, the Legislators had gone ahead and hung onto all of the surplus, paying Uncle Joab only the $30 they owed him. But now something had to be done with it, and it couldn’t be seen to benefit any one legislator disproportionately.
So, taking one of the as-yet-unused committee rooms in the capitol building, they did a little remodeling project — stocking it with a fine assortment of wines and spirits as a sort of private lounge. It was Oregon’s first Legislative den of iniquity — the sixth and final legislative “first” associated with the brief and colorful political career of Uncle Joab Powell.