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Link to Web site for Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town z

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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, 2

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.

One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

The man behind Oregon's most famous bridges.

Conde McCullough's genius was in getting the most gorgeous bridge to also be the cheapest, over the long term. Here's the story.

The steamer Telephone, fastest boat on the river in the 1880s and possibly the world -- until it burned to the waterline one day.

riverboat captain had to choose: save passengers, or save his boat?

The steamboat Telephone caught fire at the widest spot in the Columbia; the decision must not have been too tough, because Captain U.B. Scott didn't hesitate for a moment. Here's what happened.

A shallow-draft riverboat of the type pioneered by Uriah B. Scott, on the river at Albany around 1900 or so.

Turns out the 'ignoramus from back east' knew what he was doing.

The big steamboat outfits laughed at the crude, ugly riverboat Uriah B. Scott was building ... until he used it to eat their lunch. Here's how.


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).


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

The Port Orford Meteorite: Was it all a big hoax?

If it's true, the 11-ton space rock is still out there — and worth over $300 million. But the guy who says he found it was in financial trouble, and many geologists today suspect he made the whole thing up.

This hunk of pallasite came from the same 1820 meteor strike in Chile that many scientists believe was the source of the 'sample' brought back from the Port Orford Meteorite. Was the meteorite a fraud? Many think so; others think not.
This chunk of pallasite comes from the meteorite found in Chile in
1820 – the same meteorite that most scientists today believe was
the real source of the piece of the pallasite produced by John Evans
on his return from Oregon. (Image:Christopher Ebel/American
Museum of Natural History) [Larger image: 1800 x 1341 px]

Somewhere in the thickly forested Coast Range, within a few dozen miles of the town of Port Orford, there’s a chunk of intergalactic rock worth well over $300 million.

Or … maybe there isn’t. Maybe it’s all an epic hoax — a huge, audacious practical joke that had the sharpest scientific minds in the world bamboozled for well over a century.

Nobody knows for sure which of these two things the Port Orford Meteorite is. But almost everybody agrees it’s a great story. So, here it is:

Not a real doctor — of geology, that is

The story starts in the year 1856, when a U.S. government geologist named Dr. John Evans found himself on what would shortly become the south coast of Oregon doing some fieldwork, surveying the territory that would shortly become the newest state.

That’s “Doctor Evans,” as in medical doctor. We’re used to seeing the title of “Doctor” used for scientists, to acknowledge their credentials as Ph.D.s in whatever they specialize in — in this case, geology. But Evans was not a trained geologist. How he got involved with geology was by earning international acclaim during an expedition to the Midwest in 1848, in the course of which he happened to be the guy to discover some very important dinosaur bones. This seems to have been enough to change his career plans. Chances are he welcomed the opportunity; medicine in the 1840s was not the prestige gig we think of today.

A strange hunk of rock

This lack of academic preparation for his profession is surely why, when the good doctor encountered a strange-looking boulder buried up to its shoulders in a hillside somewhere between the Umpqua and Coquille rivers, he didn’t recognize it as anything much more significant than a pretty rock.

Evans chipped off a chunk and moved on … leaving behind him a 22,000-pound meteorite made of an extraordinarily rare material called pallasite. Pallasite is the substance that forms right at the borderline between the nickel-iron core and the rocky mantle of a small planet or large asteroid. When that heavenly body is blown apart by a meteor strike or whatever, the chunks that result can be rock, metals or pallasite — and pallasite is by far the rarest of the three.

Upon Evans’ return to Washington, geological professionals with more formal training recognized the sample, and it started a sensation. Congress moved quickly to authorize another expedition to retrieve the rock … but not quickly enough. Before anything could be done, the American Civil War broke out; the day after the war started, Evans died of pneumonia.

The disappearing 11-ton rock

By the time other geologists and explorers had made it out to the site again, dozens of years had passed, and no one could find a trace of the meteorite. Evans had said, before he died, that it was on a grassy slope of “Bald Mountain,” a mountain about 40 miles away from what’s now Port Orford that rises above the surrounding hills and is easily seen from the ocean. (How Evans would know this last bit is unclear.)

Well … no soap. It turns out there are a number of mountains that could have been temporarily deforested in 1856 and could have been perceived as higher than others. The area also is prone to landslides, and it’s entirely possible that the whole grassy slope slid down into a creekbed with the meteorite at the bottom of tons of earth.

And, well, there’s another possibility too.

Was this all a big hoax?

It turns out the sample Evans brought back with him was nearly identical to the material found in a meteorite in Chile in 1820. In fact, scientific examination of the sample in the 1990s has convinced the majority of scientists that it’s from the Chilean strike. Samples of this pallasite meteorite were relatively easy to come by in the mid-1850s. And it turned out that Dr. Evans was in serious financial trouble at the time. Could it be that he had a sample of that rare material in his pocket when he left? Could he have then pretended to find it in the most remote and trackless part of the Oregon wilderness, hoping to generate some buzz and inspire financial backers to step forward and solve his problem by commissioning him to go back and spend unaccountable years looking for it, drawing a healthy salary the whole time and staying a continent away from his creditors? Could it be that the Port Orford meteorite was one of the greatest scientific hoaxes of all time?

Perhaps. But there’s another twist.

The plot thickens, again

After a 1937 article in the Portland Morning Oregonian, a miner named Bob Harrison stepped forward and claimed the meteorite was on his nickel-mining claim, in the Salmon Mountains. He said the debris field from the meteorite’s landing had effectively salted his mine with chunks of nickel, and he’d been making a living scrounging them up.

Talk being cheap, a scientist from the U.S. Geological Survey asked him to send along a sample for testing. He did.

It checked out: Bob Harrison’s nickel chunks were indeed of extraterrestrial origin. But could they have been from a pallasite strike? Now very interested, the federal scientists asked him to send more.

Instead, he dropped out of sight. Given the dollar value of the meteorite if it’s found, this tends to argue against Harrison’s claim to be in possession of it. After all, what miner has ever failed to cash in mineral wealth found on his claim?

Mystery endures

So that’s where we stand. We have no real idea if the meteorite is real or not. If it is real, we don’t really know if it’s buried at the bottom of a landslide under eighty feet of silty clay loam, or parked in a forest someplace waiting for someone to stumble across it. Someone like you, perhaps! Or — let’s be realistic here — maybe someone like the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny.

(Sources: Adams, J.D. “The Port Orford Meteorite,” Strange Horizons Magazine, Nov. 22, 2004, http://strangehorizons.com; LaLande, Jeff. “The Port Orford Meteorite Hoax,” The Oregon Encyclopedia, www.oregonencyclopedia.com; Hult, Ruby. Lost Mines and Treasures of the Pacific Northwest. Portland: Binford, 1957)