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The burning steamer S.S. Congress, as seen from the deck of the dredge Colonel P.S. Michie, with lifeboats in the water.

The Rise and Fall of the House of Klux in Oregon

A slick marketing campaign and a taste for political power marked the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, which spread through Oregon like a racist virus — and then collapsed.


The burning steamer S.S. Congress, as seen from the deck of the dredge Colonel P.S. Michie, with lifeboats in the water.

Massive ocean liner won its race with fiery death

Calm seas, a cool-headed skipper and a hard-working crew brought the burning S.S. Congress to safety just in time. All 428 aboard made it.


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.

During a conjugal visit at a cheap motel, the prisoner escaped

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.


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? . 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.


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 ...


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.


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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

The deplaning of D.B. Cooper: Getting away with the loot

After demanding four parachutes and a knapsack of $20 bills, the legendary anonymous skyjacker disappeared into the night sky over southwest Washington with $200,000 — touching off a massive manhunt.

<<First | <Previous | —This story is Part 2 of a 4-part series on the D.B. Cooper mystery.— | Next> | End>>
This photo from the FBI’s file on the skyjacking shows Flight 305
parked on the tarmac at an airport, most likely Reno after the airliner
landed there. (Image: Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper by Geoffrey
Gray)

It was sometime after 6 p.m. on the day before Thanksgiving, 1971, and the man who had just hijacked Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 was not  happy.

The man — who was calling himself Dan Cooper, although he’s mostly known today as D.B. Cooper —  had been pretty happy a minute or two before, when stewardess Tina Mucklow brought him all the stuff he’d demanded: four parachutes and $200,000. But now things were getting a bit sour. One of the chutes had a giant “X” on it. The main backpack parachutes had no “D” rings for the front auxiliary chutes to clip to, so they were useless. And the money was in a bag, not a knapsack as he’d specified.

And now, it seemed to him, the authorities were stalling for time by pretending to have trouble fueling the plane.

The aft staircase of the Boeing 727 that D.B. Cooper jumped out of — an
image from the FBI’s file on the case. (Image: Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B.
Cooper
by Geoffrey Gray)

The first fuel truck developed “a vapor lock” and had to back away. Another came to replace it, and developed a “frozen nozzle.” Cooper started getting agitated. When he was told about the “frozen nozzle,” he exploded with rage, threatening to blow up the plane and shouting that a frozen nozzle was ludicrous in a relatively warm place like Seattle, and that they were stalling. It shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to refuel a 727, he shouted, and opened the briefcase up and started fiddling with the wires as if about to blow the plane.

But then a third fuel truck approached, and he simmered down.

The crew of the 727 was getting angry, too. They were pretty sure the “frozen nozzle” story was bogus, and they suspected somebody safely on the ground was playing games. They wished he or she would stop before they all got killed. Just a few weeks before, the FBI had tried getting heavy with a hijacker, refusing to provide fuel and then shooting out the airliner’s tires. It had not gone well; three people had died. Was the Bureau trying the same thing again?

No — it was not. Eventually the plane was full of fuel and ready to go. Cooper had the parachutes and was inspecting them like a pro. He pulled out the packer’s cards, checked them out. Of the two main chutes they’d provided, one was a light sporty chute of the type recreational parachuters preferred — a square steerable airfoil — and the other was a burly Navy chute, round and unsteerable and equipped with narrow straps that would hurt when the chute deployed.

Cooper ignored the recreational chute and started getting the Navy chute ready to use.

He next demanded that the plane take off with the flaps and landing gear down and aft staircase lowered, and that it fly no higher than 10,000 feet. Destination: Mexico City. When asked how many degrees the flaps should be lowered, he replied immediately, like a pro: Fifteen.

What he was asking them to do was fly the plane low and “dirty” so that it would be moving slowly enough to bail out of. The pilot and crew didn’t know this, but 727s had been used this way in Vietnam, to perform covert airdrops of goods and people. Was Cooper involved in that operation? Perhaps — he seemed to know a lot about how to do it.

They took off again and headed south. The plan now was to go to Reno, refuel, and then head to Mexico City. But everybody seems to have known that somewhere along the way, the man was going to bail out. He was busy and professionally strapping on the parachute — a very complicated process that one has to be trained to do properly — and tying the money to his waist in a bundle using parachute cord scavenged from the other parachute.

Finally, he sent Tina to the cockpit, telling her to close the curtain and turn off the light. Shortly thereafter he called up to the cockpit to tell the pilots to slow down; he was having trouble getting the aftstair open. They complied.

At 8:13 p.m., the flight crew felt a bump, and the cabin pressure fluctuated a bit. “There he goes,” someone said. Tina called back on the interphone. There was no response.

Just to be on the safe side, the 727 finished its flight to Reno. When they got there, the pilot got on the P.A. system:

“We’re making our approach to Reno now,” he said, according to Himmelsbach’s account. “We can land with that rear stairway down, but it may damage the stairway. We may not be able to take off again. Do you need help in getting the stairway up again?”

No reply.

So the airliner landed in a shower of sparks and crash of rending metal before hundreds of wide-eyed onlookers who had heard about the situation on the news. There was no sign of Cooper, the money or the Navy parachute.

Cooper had, it seemed, stepped off the back staircase of the airplane at 8:13 p.m., somewhere over southwest Washington. He had, in the words of Portland historian Doug Kenck-Crispin, "deplaned like a [expletive]ing boss."

Before Cooper had even stepped off the plane, the manhunt had begun — and so had the legend. The story of the skyjacking was crystalizing into a romantic tale of one man against The Man, a Robin-Hood-type folk legend that still angers some of the people involved — especially the ones who thought they might die by Cooper’s hand that night. It persists to this day.

We’ll talk about both of these things next week.

(Sources: Gray, Geoffrey. Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper. New York: Crown, 2011; Tosaw, Richard T. D.B. Cooper: Dead or Alive? Ceres, Calif.: Tosaw Publishing, 1984; Himmelsbach, Ralph P. Norjak: The Investigation of D.B. Cooper. West Linn, Ore.: Norjak Project, 1986)

<<First | <Previous | —This story is Part 2 of a 4-part series on the D.B. Cooper mystery.— | Next> | End>>