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A few recent columns you might enjoy:

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Over the Bar, by Lischen M. Miller:

A wistful 19th-century short story of a maritime mystery that left an old sea-captain wondering, for the rest of his life, what happened to his two beloved sons. (This story was originally presented in Pacific Monthly as a work of fiction.)

A 1920s hand-tinted postcard showing a massive storm-driven surf
pounding a beach.

Editor's note: Lischen M. Miller was a Eugene resident and wife of Joaquin Miller's brother Melvin. She was a writer and novelist with a nationwide reputation, and the assistant manager of Pacific Monthly Magazine.

On the loneliest of lonely shores, on the very verge of the continent, nestled close against the base of the grassy headland, stands, or used to stand, a little cabin built of driftwood.

From its low doorway one looks out over a stretch of sand and surf and wind­swept sea to the place where the sun goes down. Northward the view is shut off suddenly by the frowning cliff, upon whose rugged front the waves beat ceaselessly. it is a quiet and restful spot in spite of its solemn grandeur, and one grows into closer kinship with Nature there. in those days travelers did not often come that way, for there was no road, only a narrow trail winding in and out among the hills and along the brow of the beetling cliff. The nearest human habitation was a good 10 miles away to the south.

A postcard from the 1910s features a painting of a storm at sea.

 One stormy night in November we gathered about the driftwood fire that blazed upon the generous hearth in the little cabin. Outside the wind shrieked and howled, and the roar of the surf was something awful to hear. The rain beat furiously against the one small window and fell in sheets upon the “shakes” overhead.

 At every fresh outburst of the tempest we shivered, not from fear or cold, but with a delicious sense of contrast — the fury without, the warmth within.

 “If it had happened on such a night as this,” said the captain, breaking through the easy silence. “If it had happened on such a night, I could better have understood the loss.” His deep, full voice had an unaccustomed ring of sadness, and his face, showing like a splendid bronze in the ruddy firelight, wore a retrospective look as he gazed into the leaping flames.

The crew of a stricken schooner tries to flee in a lifeboat in this fanciful
painting, which appears on a 1910s postcard. It's no wonder that
schooner's mainmast has snapped, since she has all her sails unfurled in
the middle of an obvious gale.

 “What was it that happened on a night not like this?” asked Neja, saucily, from her sea-lion pelt in the corner. Neja did not share our respect for the captain. She stood in no awe of him, or of anyone, in fact. She was a law unto herself.

The captain looked up at her question.

“I was thinking of my boys,” he said. “I must have spoken my thought unconsciously.” The captain's wife leaned over and slipped her white hand into his strong brown one. “Tell them about it, dear,” she said, softly.

“Yes, tell us,” we urged, for we bad never heard the story, though we knew that in some sad and unaccountable way the two young men in question had met their fate.

 “It was three years ago,” began the captain, looking again into the fire. “Three years ago. There were not more than a dozen white settlers on the river then, though the country was full of Indians. There was, it is true, the salmon cannery at the mouth of the river where Neja has her claim, but the men who worked there were brought in by the company at the beginning of the season, and taken out at its close. They were in no sense settlers.

A postcard painting showing a ship, which appears to be in some
distress, off a rocky coast.

“We had come up, my boys and I, a few months before, and located our land and built our cabins, making the improvements necessary to establishing claims. My wife was still in the city, and I did not then propose to bring her into this wilderness. The boys were enthusiastic over the evident resources of the country, the excellence of the harbor which they had in a sense discovered, and were full of plans for the future.

 “Well, as I said, we had our cabins up and fairly habitable, and as winter was coming on, and it was unnecessary for us all to remain here, Harold decided to return to San Francisco to look after our interests there till spring. A vessel bad come in to carry out the season’s results in salmon, and it seemed a good chance for Harold to return home without the difficulties and delays incident to the journey overland. Besides, the master of the Mist was short of men and offered him a berth, which in itself was an inducement, for our funds wore running low.

 “A few nights before the vessel was to sail, as I lay wrapped in my blankets before my cabin fire, I had a disturbing dream. It made so strong an impression upon me that I urged Harold to give up his intended voyage. He only laughed at my fears, and, indeed, I had to confess them to myself foolish and ungrounded.”

Here the captain lapsed into silence, seeming to forget his audience in retrospection.

“Tell us the dream,” ventured Neja, softly, and the captain, always responsive to her voice, whether grave or gay, continued:

“It was this: I dreamed that, standing upon the shore, I watched the Mist, with my two boys on board, sail out across the bar. As I looked, a great wave lifted her upon its mighty crest, held her suspended thus a single instant, then, as if she had been a painted toy, snapped her beams asunder, and her parted decks went down forever out of sight in the gulfs of the sea.

“Well, the cargo was all stowed, the water-casks filled and everything made ready for departure. The weather was fine, the bar as smooth as I have ever seen it. The Mist was to sail in the morning at flood tide, which would occur about 10 o'clock. Harold was on board, and late in the afternoon Fred took a small boat and pulled out to the ship where she lay anchored in the bend of the river just opposite the cannery. He meant to spend the night on board and take leave of his brother in the morning.

 “As I came down the coast and climbed the hills above the cannery in the red glow of the setting sun, I saw my brave boys leaning over the ship's rail, and waved my hand to them. They answered gaily, and Fred laughingly called out that he was going, too. Their words came to me clearly and distinctly in the stillness of the evening, and as I rode along the shore I heard the voices of the sailors and the shuffling of their feet as they passed to and fro about their work.

“Late that night the people at the cannery saw the ship’s lights shining quietly, and thought as they retired to rest that all was well with her. At break of day, when they looked out, she was gone.

 “ ‘Strange,’ they said, ‘that she should attempt the bar ln. the night, and at low tide, too,’ and went about their work.

“A bank of fog lay close alongshore and hid the white surf line and the bar. not half a mile distant, whereat the men grumbled, for it was a rare sight to see a vessel sailing by, and they had looked forward for days to the mild excitement of watching the Mist cross the bar and fade away into the distance down the coast. They speculated variously about the absent boat and her unaccountable movements, commenting severely upon the captain in braving a practically unknown bar in the darkness of night and at a stage of tide considered unsafe even in broad day.

 “Along toward noon the fog cleared away, and there, not more than a mile to the southward and just outside the breakers, lay the Mist, motionless, with her sails still furled, evidently riding at anchor.

 “All day she lay there, and the men on shore cast many a wondering glance toward her, but she sent no signal or sign of distress, only at irregular intervals, in the breathless stillness, a long­ drawn, walling cry came up from the sea, the like of which they had never heard before. Whether it came from the ship, or from the sands or further out they could not tell. Sound carries strangely in the dead October calms that hold these lonely regions as in a spell.

“ ‘Sea lions, likely,’ they said, and yet they were mysteriously moved by it.

“The sun went down and the stars came out, and the Mist faded to a dimly discernible shadow. She hung out no lights, which was in itself a thing to cause comment. Something must be wrong, and they resolved that if she still lay there when morning came they would try to discover what it was.Their vague uneasiness would not let them sleep very soundly that night. As soon as it was light someone brought a glass and they observed her long and carefully, only to report that not a soul was to be seen on board.

“Some of the men took a boat and rowed across the river, and, walking over the sand spit, came down to the shore within hailing distance of the vessel rocking idly just beyond the breakers. They called and shouted themselves hoarse, but elicited no response, nor caught sight of any living thing on board.

But as they turned away, above the roar of the surf rose a cry so wild, so weird and mournful that their very hearts stood still. Just once they heard it, and they could have sworn that it came from the deck of the deserted ship.

“No one thought of sleep that night. The mystery surrounding the vessel out there in the darkness was a thing that oppressed them heavily.

 “The morning of the third day found them ready for action. It was out of the question to carry any one of the heavy fishing boats across the sands and launch it through the always boisterous surf, but the day was calm, with not a breath of wind, and the bar lay as smooth as a mountain lake. It would be an easy matter to pull out and back before there should be any change in the weather. Six of the best oarsmen in the place, therefore, set off on the last of the tide in the gray dawn. They pulled a steady stroke, and the swiftly ebbing tide seemed to fairly shoot them along and out across the bar. When well outside they turned southward, and those watching from the shore could note the small boat rise and fall with the swell of the sea.

“As for the men themselves, a silence fell upon them as they turned toward the ship, that was unbroken till they came within a cable’s length of her bows. Then they rested upon their oars and hailed. There was no answer. Again they shouted, and a low, whining cry thrilled the morning air. They rowed slowly all around her. There was not another sound heard from her decks, nor had they sight of anything, human or alive.

“The red and blue shirts of the sailors were hanging aloft as if to dry. Her lifeboats were undisturbed. Everything looked as it had looked when she lay in the bend of the river three days before, save that she seemed a little lower in the water as she swung there in dangerous proximity to the breakers, held only by her kedge anchor. From her stern dangled a rope, evidently the painter of Fred's boat. This rope showed a clean cut, as if it had been severed by a sharp knife.

“They boarded her without difficulty. As the first man stepped over the rail the meaning of that weird cry was clear, for there bounded to meet him Dis, the captain's handsome St. Bernard, gaunt with hunger and wild with joy.

“They searched from stem to stern; they went down into her hold; they looked high and low, everywhere. Not a soul was to be found. Save for Dis, the ship was deserted. How, when or where it was beyond them to determine. Nothing but the men was missing. The sailors' stormcoats and caps were lying in the empty bunks, as if but a moment since discarded; the ship’s log, the captain’s private papers, the compass, all things, in fact, were in place. If master and men had left that ship alive, they had left it empty-handed. Their fate, the strange and sudden disappearance, and the manner of it, are shrouded in impenetrable mystery.

 “I never saw my boys again. But —” The captain paused and glanced toward his wife. There were tears glittering on her long, dark lashes.

“Is there nothing more?” asked Neja softly. “Did you never hear or find even the least little hint or trace, nothing that gave you any clue?”

“No,” replied the captain; “nothing, at least nothing that I could be sure of. It is true that some six months later the headless body of a man was picked up on the beach 20 miles to the north; that was thought by many to be that of the captain of the Mist, from a peculiarly-chased gold ring found on the little finger of the left hand, but no one ever really knew. No; there was nothing, but —” The captain looked again at his young wife. She shook her head and smiled through her tears.

“That is another story, my dear,” she said; “another story altogether, and tonight is not the time to tell it.”

— Edited and republished by Finn J.D. John, March 2013. Please note this entire story is part of the public domain and therefore not subject to Offbeat Oregon History's usual Creative Commons license.