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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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Oregon embraced Carnegie Libraries like no other state

Of the 32 towns in Oregon offered a grant to build a library, not one failed to raise its matching money; no other state was as successful.

Carnegie library, Albany, Oregon
Downtown Albany's public library, built in 1911 with a Carnegie grant
of $12,500, is still in use today, although it's been augmented with a
larger and more modern library across town. Anyone who's familiar
with Carnegie libraries will instantly recognize this as one of them, based
largely on its dignified, symmetrical design in brick with a stairway
leading up the center into a second-floor entrance; although Carnegie
libraries come in a wide variety of styles, the similarities resulting from
the Carnegie Corporation's planning-and-layout “suggestions” resulted
in some distinctive and noticeable patterns that most of them share.
(Photo: Finn J.D. John) [Larger image: 1800 x 1015 px]
 

If you walked into a city library in the 1880s, chances are you wouldn't even recognize it.

First off, if you were under 12 years old at the time, you wouldn't even be let in the door. Children were simply not allowed in.

But if you were of the appropriate age, what you'd find is a room with chairs and a desk and, usually, no windows. Behind the desk would be a librarian. You would have to know what book you wanted, so that you could ask the librarian for it; at that point, a library clerk would scurry back into the “Book Hall” to retrieve it.

The Book Hall was a massive room with walls formed in alcoves, to maximize shelf space. The bookshelves were two stories high, with a little balcony running around it for the clerk to access the second story's books.

The whole vision of a library, in those years of expensive vellum volumes and great social inequality, was as a treasure house of books, which must be protected from pilferage by an untrustworthy public. Today's vision of open stacks with borrowers freely browsing through the collection would have horrified a 19th-century library architect.

Carnegie public library, Medford, Oregon. Hand-tinted postcard view.
This postcard image of the Medford public library shows the distinctive
architectural signatures of a Carnegie library: central entry with stairs,
main floor above with a basement area below. [Larger image: 1171 x
746 px]

Libraries back then were not designed with the poor, hard-working immigrant in mind. Libraries sought to serve the sort of folks who, with a straight face, habitually referred to themselves as “the better class of people,” the sort who valued great literature — or, at least, valued being seen with great literature.

A literary revolution: Books for everybody

But in the twenty years after 1890, this vision of the library was utterly transformed. The average American city library went from a dark, secretive and magnificent palace like a necromancer's hall, to a light, open, egalitarian place in which everyone in town was welcome to come and paw the collection, in which a special area was set aside for children, with comfortable furniture and shelves anyone could reach.

A big part of this transformation was the spending spree Andrew Carnegie embarked on at about the same time — an industrialized program of library building in towns and cities around the world. And because it happened just as Oregon was starting to build its cities, it had a really big impact here. No fewer than 32 municipal libraries were built in the state with Carnegie money. On a per-capita basis, Oregon built more libraries than all but a handful of other states — roughly one library for every 2,500 citizens. And Oregon is the only state in the country in which not a single community that was offered a Carnegie Library failed to raise its matching funds and levy its maintenance-and-staffing tax (10 percent of construction costs, per year) to qualify.

Running philanthropy like a business

Carnegie library in Baker City, Oregon, photographed around 1940.
Baker City's Carnegie library, as seen circa 1940. Again, the classic
signature of a Carnegie design is evident. (Photo: Oregon state library)
[Larger image: 1200 x 938 px]

Part of the reason Oregon in particular, and the western states in general, responded so well to Carnegie's library program is its basic egalitarianism. Actually, Carnegie revolutionized philanthropy with this program. Earlier philanthropists had taken a direct personal and paternal interest in their projects, making large and magnificent monuments to their own eminence in places they had a personal connection with and expecting gratitude in return.

Carnegie tried this — Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh was built that way — but then threw the model aside and replaced it with an industrialized system. To get a Carnegie library built in your community, you didn't come to the big man himself with cap in hand; you submitted an application to his staff, people who didn't know you and didn't want to know you, whose job was simply to evaluate your city's application. It did not, in theory, matter if you were from the most prominent family in town, or had just stepped off a boat from Sicily.

Resistance from the self-proclaimed patricians

What's not to like? Well, in a number of more easterly states, this approach caused problems. The upper-class folks who formed local libraries' boards of trustees tended to prefer an older model, one in which the library included some built-in barriers to filter out “undesirable types.” A library could be a great place to go be seen cultivating one's upper-class appreciation for literature, if only those scruffy Polish or Italian or Irish immigrants and their unkempt children could be somehow kept at arm's length.

James Bertram, anti-snob

In response to this trend, Carnegie's secretary, James Bertram, became quite strict about library designs. Wastefully sumptuous meeting rooms for the trustees, excessively magnificent entryways, and decorative elements meant to impress were all one-way tickets to his “no” list. Wise towns studied the sample layouts he included with each application packet and built something very similar to something in it. And towns that were committed to the vision of a library as something to reinforce class distinctions either were turned down, or didn't apply.

Sure, that sort of snobbishness was a problem in Oregon too. But the state was young enough that many of its wealthy citizens still remembered what it was like to be fresh off the boat from somewhere with nothing in their pockets. Carnegie's goal of crossing class divisions with his libraries sounded just fine to them.

There were other reasons, too. Carnegie was a ruthless businessman; some of his methods had made him enemies. In general, the farther away from Pittsburgh a city was, the less likely it was to think of his gift as “tainted money” and refuse it on moral grounds.

Carnegie gave 90 percent of his pile

By 1919, when Carnegie stopped funding library construction, he'd given away $40 million of his pile. It was a relatively small slice of the total of $350 million that the guy gave away in his lifetime — which represented roughly 90 percent of his fortune.

In the process, he'd made educational materials and literature available to millions of people, especially children, in Western states like Oregon. Through Bertram's jaded eye, he'd helped transform the popular vision of a public library from the dark, intimidating temple of a hostile god into a bright, wide-open public square. And he'd probably made it possible for children in Oregon and other Western states to grow up and go forth and change the world.

(Sources: Van Slyck, Abigail. Free to All: Carnegie Libraries and American Culture 1890-1920. Chicago: UC Press, 1995; Oregon Library Association Quarterly, spring 1996; Long, James A. Oregon Firsts. North Plains, Ore.: Pumpkin Ridge, 1994)

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