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 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.


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.


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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.


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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.


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.


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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'

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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.

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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).


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Early Oregon 'holy roller' cult ended in murder, suicide, insanity

THE holy-roller "NAKED LADIES' CULT" IN CORVALLIS and waldport.

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Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Horrifying asylum
kitchen mix-up left dozens dead

Sent downstairs to fetch a pan of powdered milk, a kitchen assistant at the Oregon State Hospital dipped his scoop into the wrong bin — and brought back six pounds of roach poison. It was mixed into the eggs and fed to 467 people.

A line drawing of the Oregon State Asylum for the Insane, as it was
then called, from the Marion-Linn Atlas, published in 1878. (Image:
Marion County Historical Society)

Seventy years ago, on a quiet November evening, 467 psychiatric patients at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem were about to tuck into a scrambled-egg supper.

Before the end of the evening, forty-seven of them would be dead, and the rest would be in mortal agony — their teeth aching, their faces numb, their legs no longer supporting their weight as they writhed on the floor, clinging to life.

A horrifying mix-up in the kitchen had resulted in their scrambled eggs being spiked with roach poison.

Oregonians all over the state, who had never much thought about the occupants of the asylum, now were riveted. How could this have happened? And was it done on purpose?

Sent to fetch powdered milk

The events began on a Wednesday evening — November 18, 1942. The United States had just entered the Second World War, and things were not yet going particularly well. Because of the vast manpower needs from the war, all unnecessary staff members had been taken from the hospital and sent overseas, so in the kitchen chief cook Mary O’Hare and assistant cook A.B. “Mickey” McKillop were on their own, cooking up an evening meal for nearly 500 people.

The main entrance at the Oregon State Hospital in 1940. (Image:
Salem Public Library/ Ben Maxwell)

In lieu of the staff assistants, they had the help of some “trusties” — high-functioning patients who’d been given the job of helping out, like interns.

McKillop sent one of those trusties, a man from Medford named George Nosen, down to the basement to fetch some powdered milk to mix into the eggs; these eggs, by the way, were just yolks, no whites, and presumably mixing in some milk would make them less dense.

McKillop was hustling to get the meal ready and didn’t have time to go downstairs and unlock doors, so — in violation of the hospital’s policy, — he handed Nosen his keys to get into the storeroom where the milk was kept.

Now, at the bottom of the basement stairs were two locked rooms. On the left was the room with the dry goods — flour, sugar, powdered milk. And on the right was the room in which the fruit was stored. In that room, with the fruit, for reasons that remain unclear to this day, the hospital had decided to keep the roach poison. The poison was kept in a giant galvanized-steel trash can of the type farmers often use to keep chicken feed safe from rodents.

Nosen went down the stairs, let himself into one of the rooms, and soon was back upstairs with a generous scoop full of white powder — five, maybe six pounds of it. McKillop, with a word of thanks, tossed it into the eggs and mixed it in, poured the stuff out on the skillet, and a few minutes later was ready to serve his first patient.

Writhing on the floor

An aerial view of the campus of the Oregon State Hospital Asylum, as
it was then called, in 1940. (Image: Salem Public Library/ Ben Maxwell)

Within fifteen minutes of the first mouthful of eggs going down the first patient’s throat, the place was in horrific, lethal chaos. Patients writhed on the floor, unable to stand or sit. Some were vomiting blood. Within an hour, some of them were dead. By midnight, the death toll was at 30 and climbing.

A 29-year-old patient who had barely survived the night told Oregonian staff writer Richard Nokes his story the next day. “As soon as I had swallowed the first spoonfuls of my eggs my face became numb,” he whispered weakly, through lips still blue from the effects of the toxin. “My teeth began to ache. Pretty soon my legs became paralyzed. They have been paralyzed most of the time since, my face is still numb.”

Nokes didn’t mention the patient’s name in his article. But he was far from alone — and he was one of the lucky ones. Forty-seven of his fellow patients were dead by then.

A commercial preparation of roach poison from roughly the same
era as this incident.

The roach poison’s active ingredient was sodium fluoride — a substance that, in tiny doses, strengthens people’s teeth, but in larger quantities quickly becomes deadly. You may recognize the name "Sodium Fluoride" from the label on your toothpaste tube — most toothpaste contains about 0.2 percent sodium fluoride, and this sort of thing is exactly why you are not supposed to let small children eat toothpaste. A lethal dose is about five grains — an amount the size of an aspirin tablet.

“Don’t eat these eggs!”

The hero of the day was a nurse named Allie Wassell, who was in charge of one of the five wards affected. Wassell took a bite of the eggs, found them unpleasant — the fluoride would have attacked her teeth instantly, probably causing them to start aching. She quickly ordered her patients to stop eating them. Hers was the only ward with no deaths in it, although she very nearly supplied one herself; the one bite she’d taken nearly killed her.

Over the next few days, authorities were trying to figure out what had happened. They considered, and rejected, the possibility that it was some kind of particularly virulent food poisoning.

Governor Charles Sprague suspected foul play. “I lean heavily toward the theory that a criminally insane patient at the hospital was responsible for the placing of sodium fluoride, more deadly than a poison-fanged snake, in the dinner dish,” he said.

But McKillop, O’Hare and Nosen knew what had happened. They’d figured it out immediately after the inmates started dying. McKillop had Nosen show him the bin he’d gotten the powdered milk out of, and as he’d feared, Nosen led him straight to the fruit room.

The three of them kept quiet about it for several days, terrified of what might happen to them if anyone found out. Then at last, McKillop couldn’t stand it any more, and confessed. He also claimed responsibility for the whole thing, in an attempt to shield O’Hare.

Both cooks were arrested and prosecuted, but the grand jury refused to indict them. Nosen, too, was never charged, but after that he was a pariah at the hospital.

Nosen’s was a particularly sad story — and an outrageous and shameful one into the bargain. He’d been brought to the hospital by his parents, seeking treatment for his epilepsy, but upon arrival he’d been diagnosed by a staff psychiatrist with paranoid schitzophrenia and involuntarily committed. This has to have come as a surprise to Nosen and his family, since they don't seem to have thought he was crazy when they brought him in. Kind of like asking the IRS for help with your taxes and ending up getting arrested.

The psychiatrist’s justifications and intentions cannot, from the distance of so many years, be really guessed at, but the result was institutionalization for Nosen, for the rest of his life. And whether he was really crazy or not upon his arrival, he was never the same after the egg incident. Two attempts to send him forth into the world failed, and he died in the hospital in the 1980s.

One good thing did come from the whole debacle, though. The Oregon State Hospital was required to get the roach poison out of the fruit room, and put a label on it.

(Sources: Kenck-Crispin, Doug and Lindberg, Andy. “The Eggs,” Kick Ass Oregon History (podcast), March 14, 2011; Portland Oregonian, Nov. 19-20, 1942; www.salemhistory.net)