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 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.

Killer broke out of state prison during a conjugal visit at a nearby Motel 6

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.


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.


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. 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 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.


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.


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.


U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers saveD sailors' lives, were rewarded with prison.

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.


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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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

Long-lost Guild's Lake was once Portland's water wonderland

The hordes of awestruck visitors who admired the scenery at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition would have been shocked if they'd known the beautiful little lake would be gone in 20 years — filled in for industrial lands. Not a trace remains.

The front cover of “Glimpses of the Lewis and Clark Exposition,” a
souvenir booklet printed for the event by a Chicago publisher, shows a
hand-painted overview of Guild’s Lake when the Exposition was under
way on its shores in 1905. (Image: Laird & Lee Publishers)

A little over 100 years ago, when Portland was getting ready to host the world in a massive coming-of-age party, everyone in the fledgling city knew exactly where to stage it.

You see, there was this shining little lake on the west side of the Willamette River, just north of the old North End neighborhood. It wasn’t too big, nor too small; the land was nice and flat, so construction would be easy, and the steep hills of what is now Forest Park towered dramatically over it. It was perfect.

Couples look out over the scenery of Northwest Portland, soon to be
the scene of the great Expo . (Image: Laird & Lee Publishers)

And so it was that when the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition was held in the summer of 1905, it was on the shores of that lake. Legendary urban designer Frederick L. Olmstead, designer of New York's Central Park, drafted the plan, which included dreamy promenades and palatial buildings along the shore of the lake and on the island-like peninsula in the middle, with a 1,000-foot-long walkway connecting them. Small pleasure boats plied the lake's waters as balloons and airships drifted overhead. It was a gorgeous sight.

Spectators mill around the bandstand at the 1905 Lewis and Clark
Exposition, with the lake and the Government Building behind. The largest
part of the lake is behind the peninsula the bridge and peninsula the building
is on. (Robert A. Reid, Portland)

Who would have believed, strolling along the shoreside promenade at Guild's Lake that summer, that within 20 years it would be utterly gone?

The Guild’s Lake story

A century and a half ago, when the city of Portland was nothing more than a cluster of shacks by the Willamette River, a quiet and sober businessman named Peter Guild (the correct pronunciation rhymed with "smiled") perfected a claim on the lake and surrounding land, and built a public house there.

The lakeside American Inn, as seen from the promenade along Guild's
Lake. (Image: Laird & Lee Publishers)

It was a big success. The setting couldn't be beat; the eight-sided log structure was built on that  peninsula, which stuck out into the lake like a tongue. Waterfowl were everywhere, and the fishing was great. It was a sportsman's paradise.

As time went by, Guild and his family sold their land and moved on, and by the turn of the 20th century, it was mostly owned by real-estate speculators who could see that it was in the path of progress.

The official map of the Lewis and Clark Exposition fairgrounds, including
Guild Lake. (Union Printing Co.)

Then along came the Exposition.

A rented paradise

The flinty-eyed businessmen who were planning the Exposition had a firm purpose in doing so: To make money now and promote Portland so they could make more later. They were not about to spend an extra dime on the operation. So when they got started preparing for the event, they didn't buy the land it was on: they leased it.

The bandstand at the Expo after dark, with the lights shining on the
water, as seen from across Guild's Lake . (Image: Robert A. Reid,
Portland )

So although the millions of visitors who strolled through the Exposition grounds surely thought it would end up as a city park, the property owners knew otherwise. It was in the contract that every building on the fairgrounds had to be completely removed in 1906. Nice as it might be as a city park, the owners of the land had other plans — and, they thought, much more profitable ones.

They were right. It was a no-brainer. Guild Lake was right on the river, in the middle of what was still the second busiest port on the West Coast, surrounded by railroad lines. As industrial land, its shores were very valuable.

The Bridge of Nations, leading from the promenade to the peninsula with
the Government Building on it . (Image: Robert A. Reid, Portland)

So Guild Lake went back to being bare land ... for a time. And people started in thinking about how much more valuable it would be if it were filled in.

A little later, a crafty businessman from Colorado named Lafe Pence got hold of the place. Pence knew his way around the mining and irrigation laws, and before anyone knew what was going on he'd managed to snake up the water rights to almost every waterway in the area, including all the Portland creeks as well as the Sandy River and many others.

A giant waterslide that plunged swimmers into the lake was a major
attraction for both young and old . (Image: Laird & Lee Publishers)

In fact, the city just barely saved Bull Run when Pence tried to snap it up, which would have meant he could have started charging the city for its water.

Now Pence turned his attention, and his aqueous assets, to bear on Guild Lake. His plan was to divert Johnson Creek and Balch Creek into flumes, with which he would blast the steep hillside next to the lake, washing dirt down into it — and, he hoped, filling it up so that he could sell industrial lots there.

Visitors stroll along the Esplanade, with the Expo buildings in the
background and Guild Lake below . (Image: Robert A. Reid, Portland)

The plan to move the mountains into the valley turned out not to be a particularly good one. A few years and several hundred thousand dollars later, Pence gave up on the project.

But at almost the same time, the Willamette River was being dredged to give it a bigger shipping channel, and to ensure it was navigable all year long; before 1900, some ships couldn't get to Portland's docks in August and September due to low water levels.

The government buildings as seen across the lake by night . (Image:
Laird & Lee Publishers)

Millions of cubic yards of silt and dirt were getting pumped off the floor of the Willamette River, and it all had to go somewhere.

That somewhere turned out to be Swan Island — which was enlarged and connected to the shore, so that it was no longer really an island — and Guild Lake.

Over a period of a half-dozen years in the 1910s, the riverbottom was pumped up and poured into the lakebed. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of yards of dirt were being trucked to the lake from construction projects in the hills of Portland, which were being terraced so houses could be built there.

The government building as seen by day. (Image: Robert A. Reid,
Portland )

By the early 1920s, Guild Lake was gone without a trace.

As industrial land, the former lake was fabulous: flat and open, with railroad lines handy to almost every lot and the seaport right there as well. Industrialists rushed to buy the lots, and the Oregonian gushed that Guild's Lake was destined to become the industrial center of Portland.

And, well, it's certainly become one of them.

A view across the Expo buildings toward the Willamette River . (Image:
Robert A. Reid, publisher, Portland)

Today, Guild's Lake lies beneath cubic acres of fill dirt on the river side of Highway 30, just as it leaves Interstate 405. Northwest Yeon Avenue goes right through the middle of it. So next time you're driving across the Fremont Bridge, take a look northward from the west end; the landscape you're looking at was, in 1905, the beautiful and pastoral lakeside scene that's shown in postcards and memorabilia from the Lewis and Clark Exposition.

Another view of the grand stairway . (Image: Laird & Lee Publishers)

Yes, it's valuable industrial land, and helps give Oregonians jobs and income. But it's worth remembering that, well, we traded something for that.

(Sources: Pintarich, Dick. Great and Minor Moments in Oregon History. Portland: New Oregon, 2008; MacCall, E. Kimbark. Merchants, Money and Power. Portland: Georgian Press, 1988)