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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This hunk of pallasite came from the same 1820 meteor strike in Chile that many scientists believe was the source of the 'sample' Dr. John Evans claims he chipped off the Port Orford Meteorite when he found it. Was the meteorite a fraud? Many think so; others think not.

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.


This hunk of pallasite came from the same 1820 meteor strike in Chile that many scientists believe was the source of the 'sample' Dr. John Evans claims he chipped off the Port Orford Meteorite when he found it. Was the meteorite a fraud? Many think so; others think not.

port orford meteorite: a hoax? or is it still out there somewhere?

The man who found it was in financial trouble; did he really find an 11-ton, $300-million rock, or did he make it all up so he could stay employed? 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.

Gold was gone when schooner washed ashore ... empty

The fate of the Sunshine's passengers and crew is unknown ... did somebody wreck the ship on purpose?. 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.

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

Oregon City was home of world's first electric power grid

Entrepreneurs figured out how to send power long distances for the first time in history; later, after a flood wiped out power station, they pioneered alternating-current transmission.

First DC power station in America, Oregon City, Oregon
This photo, from around 1900, shows the Station A power station on
the Oregon City side, with the then-newly-opened Crown Paper
Company on the West Linn side of Willamette Falls. Station A was the
source of the first long-distance transmission of both direct and
alternating current electricity in the U.S. (Image: Richard Prier/
www.oldoregonphotos.com ) [Larger image: Click here]

In the summer of 1889, the city of Portland had something no other city in the world had: electric service.

Oregon City’s Willamette Falls had become the source of the world’s first “high-tension” power line, a 14-mile run of six copper lines carrying just 4,000 watts of direct current — enough to run three electric space-heaters — across the river and north to Portland.

Before this, electrical power could only be distributed a couple miles from a generating station. The entrepreneurs in Oregon City showed an entire nation the way — inventing, you could almost say, the modern city.

Here’s how it happened:

Hungry for power

In the late 1800s, an Oregon City banker named Edward Eastman started hearing about electrical service. Thomas Edison had developed a commercially viable electric light bulb a few years before (no, he did not invent the bulb itself; he figured out how to make it more than an expensive laboratory toy). And people really wanted to be able to use it in their homes.

Steamboat docked at America's first hydroelectric power station, Oregon City, Oregon
This circa-1900 view of Willamette Falls shows an unknown
steamboat docked near Station A in the foreground and another under
way in the distance. (Image: Jesse A. Meiser/ www.
oldoregonphotos.com
) [Larger image: Click here]

At the time, Oregon City was one of about five towns around the country with a major water feature, capable of generating serious hydroelectric power, actually inside city limits: Willamette Falls. Eastman knew that if he installed one of Edison’s new dynamos at the falls, he could sell electric power for almost any price to the residents of his town. So in 1888, he got busy, and formed Willamette Falls Electric Co., the outfit that would later become Portland General Electric.

Eastman installed his dynamo in one of the mills at the falls, and soon Oregon City was an electrified town. But it was a small electrified town. Eastman knew the real money to be made was a dozen miles north, in the big city: Portland.

The challenge: Getting it to Portland

Now, electricity generates friction when it moves through anything, including wires. That friction is what makes thin wires with a lot of power heat up, and that heat is the electrical energy being dissipated. This is why power plants could only be installed a few miles from a city; at longer distances, either the wire would have to be enormous (and expensive) or very little of the power that went into one end would come out the other; the rest would be dissipated along the way in the form of heat.

What Eastman and his associates knew was that they could convert, say, a hundred amps of 100-volt current into a dozen or so amps of 1,000-volt current. This would go through the same size line as a lower-voltage current, and when it got to the other end, it could be converted back into 100-volt power and used.

Success!

And so, in the summer of 1889, they put this idea into practice — and for the first time in history, the streets of a major city were bathed in grid-powered electric light.

They were pumping 5,000 watts of power into the lines in Oregon City, and 4,000 watts were coming out at the other end. Not bad for first-generation direct current.

For a year or so, Portland enjoyed its unique status and its unusual access to electric lighting. Then disaster struck: A catastrophic flood damaged Willamette Falls Electric’s power station. Portland once again went dark.

Another breakthrough: AC

Sullivan power station in West Linn, Oregon, built in 1895
This photo, made around 1915, shows the T. W. Sullivan Power Plant,
built in 1895 to replace a smaller one on the other side of the river. This
view is familiar to generations of Oregon City fishermen, canoeists and
recreational boaters. (Photo: www.oldoregonphotos.com) [Larger
image: Click here]

But the Willamette Falls Electric people were true entrepreneurs. Rather than lamenting the disaster, they seized the opportunity it presented. Eastman and his colleagues got busy rebuilding the station — but they didn’t just replace the ruined equipment. The direct-current technology Edison was selling was being superseded by the alternating-current system invented by Nikola Tesla. So the Edison dynamos were replaced with experimental Westinghouse AC rigs, and when the lights went back on in Portland in 1890, they were powered with AC current — and Portland was, once again, the first city in the world to get it.

So Oregon, in the space of about a year and a half, had led the world in high-tension power both in DC and AC forms.

In the process, Oregon became an early battleground in the industrial war between Edison and Westinghouse. Edison, who controlled the patents on DC but not on AC, went to extraordinary lengths to paint his rival’s system as unsafe, using it to electrocute a variety of animals (including, notoriously, a circus elephant named Topsy) and even inventing the electric chair for the execution of capital criminals using AC. None of it worked. The fact was — as Eastman and his colleagues quickly found out — DC just doesn’t do long-distance transmission efficiently. Commercial DC didn’t die out completely until 2009 (when a small handful of New York customers were finally disconnected) but by about 1910, it was largely irrelevant, and Oregon’s first power company had left it behind decades before.

The original power station building at Willamette Falls ended up being sold to a mill, which used it for a while and eventually demolished. It was replaced in 1895 with the T.W. Sullivan Power Plant, which is still in use and generating power today — the third-oldest operating power station in the country.

(Sources: Long, James Andrew. Oregon Firsts. North Plains, Ore.: Pumpkin Ridge, 1994; Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation, willamettefalls.org; Binus, Joshua. “Willamette Falls A-C Generator, 1889,” The Oregon History Project, Oregon Historical Society, www.ohs.org)