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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The Woody Herman Band performs at the Cottonwoods Ballroom in the Cottonwoods Ballroom in November 1947. Other acts that have graced the Cottonwoods include Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Chuck Berry, the Nat King Cole Trio, Bobby Darin, Fats Domino, The Drifters, Duke Ellington, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and dozens of others.

Did Elvis play here? Probably not, but Johnny Cash did.

The Cottonwoods, a jumpin' dance joint between Albany and Lebanon, hosted a dizzying array of music legends. Today, it's just a vacant lot.


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.

the most awkward prison-break scenario — ever.

The bad guy, a convicted cop killer, simply walked out the back door of the Salem Motel 6 during a conjugal visit. 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.


Boats of the Astoria fishing fleet, with the help of both wind and incoming tide, race away from the dangers of the Columbia River Bar in this postcard image from around the turn of the century.

When fishing was so deadly, one in 15 didn't survive the season.

They drifted downstream in heavy 24-foot boats with their nets out ... and prayed the tide would turn before they got sucked out onto the bar. 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.

HOW OREGON ALMOST LOST PUBLIC ACCESS TO ITS BEACHES

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.


An illustration of the scene in the Davis Hotel when detectives saw a hand suddenly  reach out from under the bed, grabbing for a pistol hidden there, from the Portland Morning Oregonian.

Railroad Murder mystery solved with the victim's help

The thieves, cornered in a boxcar, shot their way out, mortally wounding a railroad "bull." But the dying man was still a pretty good shot. 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? 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. Mel, by the way, spent some time at Jantzen Beach (and probably Lotus Isle too!) Here's the story.


Three Rocks Beach, Camp Westwind, the mouth of the Salmon River and Cascade  Head as they appear today.

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.

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.


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.


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).


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).


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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

The story of Lotus Isle, Oregon's most surreal amusement park

The short-lived attraction on Tomahawk Island was launched in an attempt to shake down the owners of nearby Jantzen Beach; their bluff called, the backers were forced to go forward with it.

The roof over the bumper-cars ride at Lotus Isle, seemingly crafted for
maximum scariness to small children. (Image: pdxhistory.com)

For a small group of Portland-area businessmen in 1929, opportunity was knocking — or so they thought.

Jantzen Beach, the legendary swim-and-play amusement park on Hayden Island in the Columbia River, had opened in 1928 to vast sell-out crowds, and was doing very well there. It was backed by some deep pockets, and was a showplace for the Jantzen brand of swimwear.

And the businessmen happened to own a large piece of real estate on the other side of the island — the easternmost tip of it, in fact. Why not announce plans to develop a huge amusement park there, and get the rich backers of Jantzen Beach to buy them out? Easy money, right?

The businessmen got busy working on Operation Shakedown. They called it “Lotus Isle.”

A vintage 1940s postcard image of the swimming pool at Jantzen Beach.

The trouble was, they had to spend some money to make the Jantzen Beach people think they were serious. They did. But in mid-1929, Jantzen Beach called their bluff, saying jovially that there was plenty of room for all and the competition was welcome. So the would-be bilkers were more or less forced to open their park up after all.

And thus was born a theme park that seems, today, remarkably like a setting for a David Lynch movie. Lotus Isle was, when it opened, Oregon’s biggest theme park. It was also, hands down, the most surreal — ever. The roof of the bumper cars ride was shaped like a giant hairless bulldog, complete with fangs protruding from a menacing frown, crouched down as if preparing to pounce on a small child. At its entrance was a 100-foot tall neon sign in the shape of the Eiffel Tower in Paris; this massive work of gaudy randomness could be seen from miles away, on both sides of the river. The windows of its mammoth dance hall, the Peacock Ballroom, were screened with chicken wire hooked to an electric-fence charger; this was apparently to keep non-paying guests from getting in, but it’s not hard to imagine where a good horror-film screenwriter might go with that little detail.

A very early aerial photo of the Highway 99 bridge over Hayden Island,
with Jantzen Beach in the very center of the image. Lotus Isle was a mile
or so beyond the right-hand side of this picture. (Postcard image)

Even the name seemed like an obscure joke dreamed up by an opium smoker with a master’s degree in classics. Really — who would want to go play on the Island of the Lotus Eaters?

Still, as it turned out, the Jantzen Beach people were right. There really was business enough for both parks. When the plan to get bought out by Jantzen Beach failed, investor Edwin Platt had stepped forward with enough money to do it right. (Platt was, as far as I've been able to learn, not part of the attempted swindle.)

A newspaper ad from June of 1930, inviting Portlanders out to Lotus Isle.
(Image: pdxhistory.com)

There were 40 different attractions and rides and concessions, a 5,000-car parking lot and space for 15,000 picnickers. When Lotus Isle opened for the first time in June 1930, it was an instant hit, and for two months it looked like a real winner.

But everything changed late in August — almost exactly two months after the place opened. An 11-year-old boy was riding the park’s roller coaster when he flew out of the car, fell into the Columbia River and drowned.

The next day, apparently stricken with grief and guilt, Edwin Platt killed himself.

This, naturally, cast an awful pall over Lotus Isle for the rest of the 1930 season.

Over that fall and winter, new management came in and tried to reorganize the place to give it a go in 1931.

An advertisement from the Portland Morning Oregonian for the
new, improved Lotus Isle ballroom, ready for the 1931 season.

As part of that plan, Al Painter, a colorful promoter with a checkered past and sketchy business associations, came to Lotus Isle. Al was rumored to have been running from some creditors when he came to Portland. He certainly was running from some when he left.

One of the first things Painter did was to partner with Portland radio station KEX for a promotion he called the “Dance-a-thon,” held in the cavernous Peacock Ballroom (capacity 6,600 dancers). It was well received, and for most of the season all was well and Lotus Isle was thriving again.

But late August seemed to hold a special jinx for Lotus Isle. On Aug. 24, 1931, the Peacock Ballroom caught fire and burned to the ground in one of the more spectacular structure fires of Portland history. Folks in Vancouver at the time could feel the heat of the blaze, from 700 feet away on the other side of the river. The word on the street was that the fire was arson — and that it was intended to hurt Al Painter.

Which it certainly did. Al had, three months before, purchased an elephant — the biggest elephant in captivity, a 12-foot-tall, 20,000-pound circus veteran named Tusko. Tusko had acquired a reputation as the bad boy of 10-ton elephants when he reacted poorly to a beating by tossing his tormentor across the room and going on a rampage through downtown Sedro-Wooley, Washington. He wrecked several cars and a number of houses and caused a riot in a dance hall before stomping off into the countryside and trashing a logging camp. (One account says Tusko was drunk at the time. And indeed, a 1931 newspaper article describing the joy with which he reacted to a gift of ten gallons of moonshine, prescribed to help him fight off a cold, suggests that the poor animal was no stranger to the bottle.)

This photo of Tusko is from Salem and probably was made after he was
abandoned there at the Oregon State Fair. This episode, and the state’s
subsequent complaints about his food consumption, led the Portland
Morning Oregonian to sympathetically dub him “Tusko the Unwanted.”
(Image: Salem Public Library / Ben Maxwell collection)

Painter first tried to give Tusko to the Portland zoo, but after hearing about the Sedro-Wooley incident, the city demurred, and Tusko ended up becoming part of the exhibit at Lotus Isle.

Tusko eventually went on a rampage bad enough to require the services of the 186th Infantry, doing substantial damage to what was left of Lotus Isle. He almost certainly frightened away as many people as he attracted to the park.

After the fire, Painter brought Tusko down to Salem for the Oregon State Fair and then disappeared, leaving the state with a ten-ton elephant to feed. Nothing was heard from him until December, when someone spotted an article in a New Orleans newspaper; apparently he had launched his Dance-A-Thon promotion there, run up large debts and skipped on them. This must have sounded pretty familiar.

Eventually Tusko was moved to a Seattle zoo, where he died in 1933 of what appears to have been a deep-vein thrombosis (although one source says he was actually given the “black bottle,” that is, euthanized with poison). His enormous skeleton was donated to the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

The marina and the old streetcar-trestle pilings from Lotus Isle, the
amusement park, as seen from Lotus Isle City Park today. (Image: brx0
photography)

After Tusko’s departure, there wasn’t much left of Lotus Isle. It hung on through the 1932 season, but early in 1933 everything was liquidated in a bankruptcy proceeding.

Today, all that’s left is Lotus Isle City Park, on the south side of the island, and a row of rotting pilings heading out across the Columbia River where the streetcar trestle used to be.

(Sources: Klooster, Karl. Round the Roses. Portland: Klooster Promotions, 1987; Moore, Mark. “Lotus Isle,” www.pdxhistory.com. Portland Morning Oregonian, 1929-1931 issues. Pintarich, Dick & al. Great and Minor Moments in Oregon History. Portland: New Oregon, 2009)