2012 articles About Offbeat Oregon 2012 articles 2011 articles 2010 articles 2008-2009 articles About me Store (the Finn J.D. John Centre for Crass Commercialism and Filthy Lucre)
Links to Offbeat Oregon History podcast page on iTunes Daily RSS feed (text/images) info Offbeat Oregon History page on Facebook. New historic photographs are frequently posted. Offbeat Oregon on Twitter. This is where you'll find most of the "pop history" community. Daily RSS audio edition (podcast) and iTunes feed Links to Offbeat Oregon History podcast page on iTunes
z

you just might ALSO
enjoy ...

This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

"I can make a
six-shooter sing 'come to jesus'!"

Meet Robert Gordon Duncan, the pioneering Portland shock-jock who was the first person ever sent to prison for cursing on the air, in 1930.


This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

When prineville was ruled by masked vigilante riders

In Crook County, the early 1880s were like a Louis L'Amour novel. And it all started with the lynching of an innocent man.


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.


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.


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).


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 ...


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.


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.


z

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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Early anti-prostitution crusade was an embarrassing fizzle

Well-meaning church congregations banded together to offer "wayward girls and fallen women" a place to get away from their profession — but it turned out most of them didn't particularly want to leave it; not yet, at least.

This cartoon ran with Herbert Lundy’s article in the Portland Morning
Oregonian on April 2, 1939, illustrating Portland social reformers’
dilemma in trying to stamp out prostitution. (Credit: Portland Morning
Oregonian)

One November evening in 1885, Portland residents walking past a row of tiny houses at Third and Yamhill heard screams coming from one of them.

Bursting in, they found the mutilated and lifeless remains of a 33-year-old French beauty known as Emma Merlotin. Someone had killed her brutally with a hatchet and then slipped away into the night.

Emma, whose real name was Anna DeCoz, was a well-known “nymph du pave,” as the Evening Telegram phrased it — basically, a courtesan. Her clientele included some of the city’s most prominent bigwigs, and it was widely rumored at the time that her death had come at the hands of one of them — although 11 years later, a Canadian drifter confessed to the crime.

Until this time, most Portland citizens hadn’t given much thought to the city’s prostitutes. Everyone knew they were there, of course, and their trade had been illegal since the early 1870s — outlawed, the rumor was, at the behest of a city councilor who had picked up a social disease from a bordello girl.

Downtown Portland as seen looking south from the tower of the Kamm
Building, located on Pine Street between Front and First, in 1886. The
murder of Emma Merlottin occurred six blocks down and two blocks
to the right of where the artist was standing when this image was made.
(Image: The West Shore magazine)

But in the wake of the Merlotin case, the plight of the poor “fallen woman” and her “life of shame” was a topic that was coming up in conversation — and in Sunday sermons.

It was all just talk until the early 1890s, nearly a full decade after Emma’s death, when a pastor named Charles Locke came to Portland from Pittsburgh. Locke maintained that if Portland wanted the ladies of the evening to give up their profession, they had to be offered some kind of alternative. They couldn’t be simply run out of town. He urged Portland to build a “home for wayward girls and fallen women,” a place of refuge for prostitutes who wanted out and for teen girls at risk of being tempted into the business.

This idea met with immediate approval, and Portland’s church folks got busy immediately. By 1895, the project was well under way. With adorably earnest naïveté, they gave it a somewhat unfortunate name: “The Open Door.”

Eager citizens got busy supplying everything The Open Door might need. In fact, some of those citizens seemed a little too eager. One fellow, Captain Richard Williams, offered the use of a building free of charge; the coordinators turned down his offer, saying the building was too large to be suitable, but their real reason may have had more to do with the captain’s reputation: He was known around town as “Slippery Dick.”

Fortunately, offers from less disreputable citizens came thick and fast — donations of kitchen equipment, furniture, linens. Soon The Open Door had a location, at 25 North Fifth Street. A house matron, Mrs. Lucy Morgan, was hired and moved in. And by late spring, The Open Door was ready to receive its first Fallen Woman.

Now all was in readiness for Phase 2 of the reformers’ plan: A city-wide crackdown on dens of iniquity.

To the great amusement of the jaded newshounds at the Oregonian and the Telegram, a reluctant constabulary was now sent forth to collect suspected prostitutes and bring them to justice. Time and again, the horse-drawn police wagon rumbled forth and returned creaking under a heavy burden of unrepentant Fallen Womanhood.  

Interestingly, the women arrested were the city’s most upscale entrepreneuses. Della Burris and Lida Fanshaw, CEOs of the most exclusive and elegant parlor houses in the city, were among the first arrested. Dozens of their employees and colleagues were nicked too.

The cops had been, if we can believe Holbrook, somewhat reluctant and skeptical about the whole thing at first. But once they started arresting the ladies, they seem to have had a change of heart. Portland police officers suddenly threw themselves into the effort. Soon the city’s police-court docket was full of suspected bad girls.

The first to face prosecution was Della Burris, up on a charge of Operating a Bawdy House. Della coolly pleaded Not Guilty; the prosecution asserted that everybody KNEW she was running a brothel; and the judge promptly dismissed the case.

“Common fame and general reputation are not sufficient evidence to convict anyone of keeping a bawdy house,” he remarked.

The next defendant got pretty much the same treatment. And the next. And the next.

It turned out the cops, in bringing the ladies in, had simply been arresting them, collecting no evidence. The district attorney was simply filing charges against them, making no investigations. Without evidence, there could be no convictions. And this happened again and again.

The most likely explanation for this uncharacteristically cavalier attitude toward law enforcement was articulated very neatly by the editor of the Morning Oregonian on its editorial page on April 10:

“The District Attorney gets $5 for every arrest; $7.50 for trial; and $15 for convictions,” the editor wrote tartly. “In each case, having taken pains to draw all the indictments separately, if there are no convictions, he will make from $500 to $600. The police justices and constables make about $12 out of each case, or as much more, and the county foots the bill. This is the total visible profit of the moral crusade so far — about $1,200 diverted from the pockets of taxpayers to those of officials.”

In other words, some clever devil had figured out that the authorities were essentially working on commission. Reformers having demanded action from them, they’d realized that such pressure was like a license to print money — and who were they to refuse such a clear call to action from the citizenry, anyway?

But the law enforcement pressure looked like it was having its intended effect on Portland’s ladies of the evening. One by one, the Rose City’s Roxannes wandered into The Open Door and settled in, apparently ready to put away their makeup and embrace the clean and sober life. By late June, The Open Door was starting to look like a big success.

Then the logging camps shut down for the traditional “Fourth of July Drunk,” and Portland was suddenly flooded with strapping young lads smelling of sawdust and pitch and whiskey, freshly paid and ready to “blow ‘er in.” And a funny thing started happening: The Wayward Women started melting away from The Open Door. They’d go out shopping and just never come back.

It turned out the opening of The Open Door had just happened to coincide precisely with the least lucrative time of the year for Portland prostitutes — the early summer season, when the loggers were all hard at work in the woods. They’d been happy to check in for a few weeks and enjoy free room and board. But now the boys were back in town, and it was time to go get some of their money.

Soon Mrs. Lucy Morgan was alone in the big empty house, listening to roaring-drunk loggers and Fallen Women cavorting around in the streets outside.

A few weeks later, the demoralized reformers gave up on the whole thing.

(Sources: Holbrook, Stewart. “The Great Moral Crusade,” Portland Morning Oregonian, 2 Aug 1936; Lundy, Herbert. “Vice in Portland,” Portland Morning Oregonian, 2 Apr 1939; “Confesses to a Portland Crime,” San Francisco Call, 28 Apr 1896 www.weirdportland.blogspot.com)