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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).

The four-masted schooner North Bend, stranded on a sandy spit, 'sailed' through two and a half miles of sand and relaunched itself on the other side.

The stranded sailing ship that salvaged and re-launched itself.

The North Bend was the last tall ship ever built on the West Coast. When it ran aground on Peacock Spit, it just kept on sailing through the sand, crossing two miles of sandy beach to reach Baker Bay. It took over a year. Here's the story.

The Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra on its “giant violin” float, after riding it through the town of Burns in the Fourth of July Parade, 1915.

america's first youth orchestra came out of tiny sagebrush town.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic says it was founded in Portland in 1924. Actually, it's older than that -- and much more rural. Here's the story.

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.

Shipwreck ended Astoria's 1840s bid to become the Nantucket of the West Coast

astoria could have become a mecca of whale hunting ...

... had it not been for the Columbia River Bar, which wrecked the only whaling ship that ever dared try to cross it with a full cargo hold. It was a total loss. 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.

Delake Rod and Gun Club as it appeared in 1960.

mysterious mansion was haunted only by olympic medalist's dream.

OSU Wrestling legend Robin Reed, an Olympic gold medalist, was never pinned once in his entire career. But his plan for the Delake Rod and Gun Club ended in defeat. Here's the story.

U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers save sailors' lives, but get thrown in jail anyway.

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.

Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Bobbie the wonder dog's 2,400-mile odyssey.

Left behind in Illinois, the big collie dog walked home to Silverton, Oregon. It took him six months. Here's Bobbie's story.

A modern reproduction of a classic Concord Stagecoach.

a few legends of buried gold and treasure ...

Some of them might even be true. Here's a selection of them — as far as we know, the loot from any of them has never been found.

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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THE SHIPWRECK VICTIMS WHO THOUGHT THEY WERE GONERS ... UNTIL A TRAIN SHOWED UP.

Usually when something steams out to sea to rescue shipwrecked sailors, it's not a railroad train. Here's the story of the one (and probably only) time it was.

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Far-out guru "enlightens" Central Oregon.

What happens when a colony of acolytes of an East Indian guru move in, then try to take over Wasco County? Check out the four-part story of the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram ...

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this oregon youth went on to save half a billion lives...guess who?

A local Willamette Valley teen-ager named Bert Hoover, an orphan sent from Iowa to live with his uncle, went on to save millions of lives and become a singularly ill-starred U.S. president.

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oregon's most spectacular shipwreck ever.

The steam schooner J. Marhoffer was almost brand-new when, burning fiercely from stem to stern, it piled onto the rocks near Depoe Bay. It's the remains of this fiery shipwreck that gave Boiler Bay its name ...

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the gallant rescue of portland's floating brothel.

Maritime madam Nancy Boggs kept her bordello on a barge floating in the river, until a police raid cut it loose. But the captain and crew of a sternwheeler came to save the day. Here's the story.

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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.


Astoria man set out to do something nice for his wife, ended up inventing cable TV

The nearest TV station was in Seattle. But Ed Parsons figured out he could catch a very weak signal on top of a building in town. All he had to do was figure out how to boost the signal without boosting the noise as well, and ... the rest was history.

John Jacob Astor Hotel in downtown Astoria.
This photo of the John Jacob Astor Hotel in downtown Astoria shows
the building that was used for the first cable TV system, just after World
War II. (Image: Historic Preservation League of Oregon, www.
historicpreservationleague.org)

Every term in the History of Telecom class I teach at Oregon State University, I always ask for a show of hands from students: “How many of you get your TV from an antenna?” I ask. “Not a satellite dish, an antenna. Rabbit ears, or a big thing on the roof.”

I usually see two or three hands, out of a class of 70 students. The fact is, broadcast TV is a ghost of its former self. Cable TV is how almost everyone gets his or her television these days. Cable TV — CATV, or “Community Antenna Television” — is a huge industry today.

And it all started, believe it or not, with a guy on a rooftop in Astoria, Oregon, pursuing the sweet and simple goal of doing something nice for his wife.

Here’s how it happened:

Television was great ... if you lived in Seattle

In the summer of 1946, Ed Parsons, owner of Radio Station KAST in Astoria, went to the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Chicago with his wife, Grace. Grace — like millions of Americans — was enchanted by the demonstrations of television.

But, also like millions of Americans, Grace Parsons lived in a small city. There were only a handful of TV stations in the country, and they were all in big metropolitan areas — and the FCC had put a moratorium on new TV station licenses while they worked out some technical issues. It looked like Mrs. Parsons would have to wait years and years before she’d get her TV.

But Mrs. Parsons, unlike those other millions of Americans, was married to somebody who had the technical know-how to do something about it.

A year or two later, Grace Parsons was watching her TV. And the world would never be the same.

The breakthrough: Rebroadcasting

What Parsons figured out was that if he could bring in a really feeble signal from a faraway TV station, he might be able to pick it up, massage it, strengthen it and serve it up locally to televisions that would otherwise be far out of range.

When KRSC-TV (since renamed KING) started broadcasting in Seattle in late 1948, Parsons saw his opportunity to try this out, and in the process give his wife the TV she wanted. All he had to do was figure out a place in which signals from Seattle reached Astoria.

Parsons started building equipment and running experiments. He scouted all over the Astoria area. He started, of course, with the mountaintops and high places; there, he got nothing. Moving lower and looking around, he started picking up signals in odd places – the sides of hills, a small collection of blocks downtown, random places like that.

Hunting for a signal

Eventually he figured out that the signals came in like fingers, just a block or two wide and a few hundred feet high. The trick was to find one of these fingers that just happened to land on a place that was practical for an antenna. Every one he found was in some inconvenient place, where experimentation would be impossible.

Then he discovered that one finger pointed directly at a place he’d never thought to look: His apartment, located a few buildings away from the John Jacob Astor Hotel in downtown Astoria.

After that, the experimentation kicked into high gear. While Grace monitored the signal in the couple’s living room, Ed fiddled with equipment on the roof of the neighboring Astor Hotel; they talked back and forth on handheld radios. Finally the picture came in.

Success — and a new problem: Popularity

It’s not clear how long it took for them to realize their success had generated a new and unexpected problem. Suddenly Ed and Grace were the most popular couple in town. Dozens and dozens of friends packed into their home every time KRSC was on the air.

“Literally, we had no home,” Parsons told the Portland Oregonian.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, Parsons kicked everybody out of the house and resolved to figure out how to solve this new problem.

Ed had built signal-boosting devices to bring the weak signal from Seattle in clear enough to see. It was simple enough for him to make a bigger signal-boosting device, and split the signal onto coax lines leading to several other TV sets.

Thus was born the first CATV network on the West Coast, and possibly the first in the nation.

The FCC’s accidental guidance

Ironically, Parsons didn’t initially plan to use cables at all. His initial plan, after receiving the signals from Seattle, was to rebroadcast them on an unused UHF television frequency – you know, the frequencies on the “little knob” on old TV sets, numbered 14 through 83. If he’d done this, it’s hard to say what would have happened to his plan. It might have gone no farther than experimentation. After all, you can’t charge people to receive UHF signals, and you can’t sell ads on someone else’s rebroadcast programs. Without a means of collecting revenue to cover his expenses, Parsons would probably have had to abandon the whole thing.

So it was probably lucky that the Federal Communication Commission was taking a fairly dim view of the whole concept, pretty much from the start. And when Parsons came to them with hat in hand asking for permission to use a UHF channel, he was turned down flat. Parsons’ only alternative, then, was to send the signal out on coax cables strung from house to house.

(You may be thinking, why did Parsons ask them in the first place? Why not just go for it, and ask forgiveness later? The reason that couldn't have been a possibility is, Parsons owned a radio station. He had to stay on good terms with the FCC ... they had the power to yank his license at any time, for any reason.)

Ironically, the Federal Communications Commission’s response to Parsons’ project had a huge impact on its future influence over television broadcasting. This is why you can watch explicit sex scenes and learn new curse words on HBO and Showtime; they’re never broadcast over the air, so the FCC lacks jurisdiction to tell producers what they may show.

The FCC did try to assert regulatory authority over cable distribution at one point, but courts threw this idea out, noting that all CATV did was enable more than one person to share an antenna; it was really no different than having a second TV set in the kitchen hooked up to the same antenna as the one in the family room.

Many inventors

It must be noted that CATV was an idea whose time had come; there was tremendous demand for TV signals and many people were racking their brains trying to figure out how to bring them in. We know that at least one other inventor came up with the same idea at roughly the same time, out in Mahanoy City, Penn. We don’t actually know for sure who did it first.

But we do know that when Ed Parsons put that tower on top of the hotel, he was leading a movement that would utterly transform the world. And it happened right here in River City.

(Sources: Phillips, Mary A.M. CATV: A History of Community Antenna Television. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1972; Long, James A. Oregon Firsts. North Plains: Pumpkin Ridge Productions, 1994; Portland Oregonian, Sept. 11, 1967)