Offbeat Oregon History

Miller on a unicycleBy Finn J.D. John

Many people today still think of bicycles as toys for children or for highly specialized hobbyists and exercise buffs — like fencing foils. Others think of them as indispensable but unexciting tools for modern life. But for most of us, it’s hard to imagine the bicycle as a cutting-edge modern wonder.
But in the early 1870s, that’s just what bicycles were: fast, exciting, dangerous things that could make an ordinary human fly like the wind.

AeroplaneBy Finn J.D. John
On June 8, 1912, the streets and parapets of downtown Portland were thronged with about 50,000 people, craning their necks at the roof of the Multnomah Hotel. Atop the roof of the 10-story building, arranged at the end of a tiny 150-foot-long strip of overlapping 20-foot planks, stood one of the spindly box-kite-like contraptions that were still the state of the art in aircraft design.
They were there to watch something that had never been done before, anywhere, and it was about to happen right before their eyes

S.S. Great RepublicBy Finn J.D. John
If you had been an expatriated American in the South American nation of Costa Rica in the early 1880s, you might have run across a fellow American named Thomas Doig. Perhaps you might have met him at a saloon, or maybe at a dinner party someplace.
You’d soon learn your new friend was a bit of a V.I.P. In fact, he was the top admiral of the Costa Rican navy ... but he’d probably hasten to add that that was not as big a deal as it sounded. In fact, the Costa Rican navy had just one ship, a converted commercial vessel formerly known as the Pelican.

General PatchBy Finn J.D. John
On the crisp autumn day of Sept. 29, 1943, behind their makeshift breastworks and beside their three-inch field pieces, the soldiers of the 94th Infantry “Deadeye” Division knew the end was coming soon.
They were outnumbered two-to-one, dug in near a little grocery store-post office on the high desert. Arrayed against them was a force of soldiers with a large force of tanks. Overhead roared a squadron of heavy bombers, softening them up for the final assault. It would all be over soon.
And the soldiers of the 94th couldn’t wait.

Busloads of tree plantersBy Finn J.D. John

The fleet of buses glided through the ghost of a forest — a forest of silver snags, like millions of weatherbeaten masts of old sailing ships sticking up out of the earth. It was 1949, just ten years after the second Tillamook Burn had ravaged the land anew, and it was showing few signs of recovery on its own.

Burn inspectorsBy Finn J.D. John
Perhaps the most interesting part of the story of Oregon’s Tillamook Burn of 1933 is not what happened, but what didn’t happen.
Three decades before the Tillamook Burn, the wildfire known as the “Yacolt Burn” — really dozens of simultaneous fires all across Oregon and Washington — lit into the states with a savage ferocity and blinding speed. It engulfed whole towns, destroyed sawmills and chased frantic loggers out of doomed camps. And it chased down 35 people and burned them alive.

Tillamook BurnBy Finn J.D. John
The morning of August 14, 1933, was a morning to break a gyppo logger’s heart.

Grain shipsBy Finn J.D. John
In last week’s article, we talked about the most notorious shanghaiing artist of the old Portland waterfront: Joseph “Bunco” Kelley.
Last week we explored what we actually know about this colorful 1890s evildoer.
In this article, we’ll talk about stories we’re pretty sure are NOT historically accurate — that is, the myths.
Most of those myths come down to us through a series of conversations held in a local watering hole in the early 1930s between legendary Oregon raconteur Stewart Holbrook and an aging waterfront thug named Edward “Spider” Johnson.

"Bunco" KelleyBy Finn J.D. John
In the shadowy world of late-1800s Portland waterfront folklore, there’s nobody who quite cuts the figure of a man named Joseph Kelley — better known by the nickname he carefully cultivated: Bunco Kelley.
Kelley was a crimp — that is, one of those tough waterfront characters involved in the trade of furnishing sailors, willing or not, to ship captains in need of a crew.
Kelley was also an easy and chronic liar with a real flair for a dramatic story — which means it’s often difficult to tell his fact from fiction.
In today’s article, we’ll explore the facts of Bunco Kelley’s life as best we are able to know them. Next week, we’ll turn to the spectacular legends that grew up around this unusually colorful bad guy.

Sub chaserBy Finn J.D. John

Rumors of sunken submarines: The government denies it, but ...
Somewhere on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, rusting away among the rocks by the Oregon Coast, lie the remains of at least five sunken submarines — that is, if you believe the stories.
And who believes the stories? Certainly not the U.S. Government, which places the actual number of Japanese submarine wrecks in Oregon waters at a much more boring number: zero. According to official records of both the U.S. and Japan, not a single Imperial Japanese sub was lost on or near the West Coast of the U.S.

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McKenzie River Reflections is the weekly newspaper serving Oregon's McKenzie River Valley. Available by mail for $23/yr in Lane County, $29/yr outside Lane. Digital subscriptions are $23/yr. Subscribe at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/subscriptions-0. Purchase copies online at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/back-issues-0. Read about area communities including Cedar Flat, Walterville, Camp Creek, Leaburg, Vida, Nimrod, Finn Rock, Blue River, Rainbow and McKenzie Bridge.