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Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Magnificent Facts About Oregon

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Founded in 1859, Oregon is known for its wild west past, its quirky present-day traditions, and its many natural marvels (including the world’s largest living organism). Here are 25 fascinating facts about America’s 33rd state.

1. Portland is home to the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland. Built in 1948 by World War II veteran Dick Fagan, Mills End Park is allegedly home to a group of invisible leprechauns, led by head leprechaun Patrick O’Toole. The park, which measures just two square feet, started out as little more than an empty hole created for a light post that was never placed. But Fagan, who worked across the street from the spot, was determined to turn it into something magical, and began planting flowers and spinning stories about the tiny leprechauns who called it home.

2. Crater Lake in south-central Oregon is the deepest lake in the United States (and one of the top 10 deepest in the world). Formed by the collapse of a volcano around 7700 years ago, the lake is close to 2000 feet deep, and is home to two islands: Wizard Island and Phantom Ship. 

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3. Oregon is home to the biggest mushroom on earth. Spanning approximately 2.4 miles in Oregon’s Blue Mountains, the enormous honey fungus is believed to be somewhere between 1900 and 8650 years old. 

4. Mushroom hunting is such a popular (and lucrative) activity in Oregon, the state even has its own mushroom festival. Held annually in Estacada, the Estacada Festival of the Fungus features a mushroom hunt, tastings, fungus-themed artwork, and mushroom identification classes. Oregon’s culture of mushroom hunting was even featured in the 2014 documentary The Last Season, which follows two professional mushroom hunters as they track down rare delicacies.

5. According to one 2012 report, Portland has the most bicyclists per capita of any city in the United States. The famously bike-friendly city isn’t just home to tons of bike commuters, however. An entire bike culture has cropped up in the city, including a popular weekly “Zoobombing” event, in which participants race tiny bikes downhill in the West Hills, and CHUNK bike construction, in which bike parts are combined creatively to make oversized, tall, or strangely shaped bicycles.

Simon Zirkunow, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

6. Numerous movies and TV shows have been filmed throughout Oregon. In addition to the popular IFC comedy Portlandia, classic movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), and The Goonies (1985) were set, and filmed, in Oregon. Plus, there’s always the ever-popular Twilight franchise, which was set in Forks, Washington, but filmed throughout both Washington and Oregon.

7. Forest Grove is home to the world’s tallest barber pole. Built in 1973, the red, white, and blue striped pole is 72 feet high—nearly twice as tall as the previous pole to hold that title, a 40-foot-tall pole in San Antonio.

Casey Bisson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-NA 2.0

8. Legend has it that there’s buried pirate treasure somewhere on Neahkahnie Mountain on the Oregon coast. The story, which dates back hundreds of years, has been passed down for generations, and inspired hoards of treasure hunters, some of whom claimed to have discovered clues—but never any treasure.

9. Oregon is one of only five states with no sales tax (the others are Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana, and Alaska). Though the state does have an income tax, residents and tourists can enjoy tax-free shopping, with one exception: On January 1, 2016, the state enacted a 25 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana until the Oregon Liquor Control Commission takes over the regulation of cannabis sales later this year.

10. Albany in northern Oregon is home to The Historic Carousel Museum, which not only displays historic carousel animals and artwork, but is currently in the process of building its own hand-crafted working carousel featuring a "menagerie" of 52 animals. 

11. During the Great Depression, North Bend used wooden coins as currency. To this day, the coins are considered legal tender, though they’re coveted by coin collectors and rarely spent.

12. Oregon’s flag is the only state flag in the United States with a different design on each side. While the front features the escutcheon from the state seal in blue and gold, the reverse pictures a golden beaver.

 

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13. The University of Oregon's mascot, the Oregon Duck, is based on Donald Duck. Created in 1947, it’s the only college team mascot based on a Disney character. 

14. No one knows exactly how Oregon got its name. Some believe the name is derived from the French word for hurricane (ouregan), others from the Spanish orejon, meaning "big ears."

15. There is evidence of humans living in Oregon as far back as 14,300 years ago. In 2012, Oregon’s Paisley Caves were placed on the National Register of Historic Places after human DNA was discovered on artifacts in the caves. To this date, it’s some of the earliest evidence of human habitation of North America. 

16. The Oregon Trail, which stretched 2200 miles, was the longest of the land routes used in the Western expansion of the United States.

17. Now the fourth largest city in Oregon, Gresham wasn’t officially recognized as a city until 1905. Known as Powell Valley throughout the 19th century—though sometimes referred to simply as “Camp Ground”—the area didn’t have a post office, and so, couldn’t officially establish itself as a city. One local business owner, Benjamin Rollins, petitioned then-postmaster Walter Q. Gresham in the 1890s, promising to name the city after him if he’d grant them a post office. Gresham did—and the rest is history. 

18. Southern Oregon has been trying to secede from the rest of Oregon since 1941. Disgruntled with a lack of representation, a group of southern Oregonians and northern Californians started campaigning for statehood back in the 1940s, proclaiming their independence, and renaming the area “The State of Jefferson.” On November 27, 1941, Jeffersonians stopped highway traffic, and announced their intention to “secede each Thursday until further notice.” Though the southern Oregon secession movement has lost some steam in recent years, there are still folks who proudly display the State of Jefferson flag. 

19. The capitol building in Salem burned down twice. First in 1855, before Oregon was even officially a state, the building constructed to be the territorial capital was destroyed by fire. Then, in 1935, the official state capitol building was engulfed in flame, destroying all but its metal frame. To this day, the cause of the fire is unknown, though reports in later years attributed the fire to “spontaneous combustion” in the building’s basement.

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20. Oregon was attacked during World War II. Starting in 1944, the Japanese military began launching unmanned balloon bombs toward the west coast of the United States in the hopes that some would explode over inhabited areas. Around 350 bombs made it to the United States (some as far east as Iowa), but the U.S. military managed to intercept most of them. The only casualties suffered occurred in Gearhart Mountain, Oregon, where six people (five of them children) on a picnic accidentally triggered one of the balloons. Their deaths are believed to be the only combat casualties on continental U.S. soil during World War II.

21. Hells Canyon in eastern Oregon is the deepest river-cut canyon in the United States. It’s 7993 feet deep, and stretches through Oregon and Idaho. Famous for its spectacular views and whitewater rafting along the Snake River, there are no roads across its 10-mile wide expanse.

22. Reed College in Portland is the only liberal arts college in the world with a nuclear reactor run by undergraduates. Built in 1968, the reactor is used as a research and teaching facility by the school, and is manned by 40 students. 

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

23. The official Oregon state fish is the Chinook salmon, and the official state animal is the beaver. Both animals are indigenous to the area, and Oregon is sometimes unofficially called “The Beaver State.”

24. Mount Hood is often said to be the second-most climbed mountain in the world (the first is usually cited as Japan’s Mount Fuji). Though plenty of humans have scaled its peaks, the record for most ascents may belong to a dog named Ranger, who allegedly climbed the mountain 500 times between 1925 and 1939. After his death in 1940, the intrepid canine mountaineer was buried at the summit of Mount Hood.

25. In 1880, Rutherford B. Hayes became the first United States president to visit Oregon, 21 years after the state was officially incorporated. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, meanwhile, are tied for the most trips to the state, with five visits each.

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History
How the Log Cabin Became an American Symbol
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Many Americans have a special fondness for the log cabin, viewing it as the home of heroic pioneers, or at least a great weekend escape. But it wasn’t always this way. The log cabin was originally disdained here in America—and it took decades of pop culture and political shifts to elevate the structure to the vaunted status it holds today.

THANK THE SWEDES

While there’s plenty of imagery portraying log cabins in the English colonies of Plymouth and Jamestown (established in Massachusetts and Virginia, respectively), these depictions couldn’t be further from the truth. The English had no history of log cabins—they preferred more “refined” frame houses, and would sometimes squat in subterranean dugouts until they could be built. In fact, the log cabin was first constructed in the New World in the short-lived colony of New Sweden, established in the Delaware River Valley in 1638. Such structures had been around continental Europe for centuries, and the Swedish colonists were simply using a skill that had been passed down through generations.

Log cabins might have remained a Swedish anomaly in the New World had it not been for the German and Scots-Irish who adopted them after arriving in the mid-1700s. But none of these log cabins looked much like the quaint, cozy structures we revere today. They often had dirt floors, were crawling with lice and other pests, and were prone to drafts; as one traveler remarked around 1802, the gaps between logs were "filled up with clay, but so very carelessly, that the light may be seen through in every part." Yet as uncomfortable as these cabins were, they offered impoverished immigrants an invaluable slice of freedom. Cheaper and far easier to construct than finer homes, the log cabin thus became the go-to home for newcomers to the New World, helping millions of desperate refugees turn their dreams of settling in America into a reality.

But the practicality of the structure did nothing for the log cabin's public image, or that of its inhabitants. Benjamin Franklin wrote that there were only two sorts of people, "those who are well dress'd and live comfortably in good houses," and those who "are poor, and dirty, and ragged and ignorant, and vicious and live in miserable cabins or garrets." Dr. Benjamin Rush, Surgeon General of the Middle Department of the Continental Army and a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, said the cabin dweller was “generally a man who has out-lived his credit or fortune in the cultivated parts."

As for cabins themselves, they were generally seen as “rude” and “miserable,” and no self-respecting American would deign to live in one. Not permanently, at least. Cabins back then were temporary stepping stones meant to be abandoned once something better could be afforded; barring that good fortune, they were to be covered with clapboard and added to as the cornerstone for a finer home.

LOG CABIN PRIDE

But the log cabin and its inhabitants’ public image got a makeover after the War of 1812. The nation had just defeated the British for a second time, and Americans were feeling good, forging their own identity and distinguishing themselves from the old world. Log cabins—ubiquitous and appropriately rustic—started taking on an all-American sheen.

Soon enough, writers and artists were portraying them in a positive light. One notable example is James Fenimore Cooper’s 1823 novel The Pioneers, where the house of protagonist Natty Bumppo is described as being “a rough cabin of logs.” That scene in turn is thought to have inspired artist Thomas Cole’s 1826 painting, Daniel Boone Sitting at the Door of His Cabin on the Great Osage Lake. Together, these works helped spark an entire movement that saw the pioneer as a hero. Log cabin dwellers were no longer disdained for their rough edges; these same edges were what made them romantic and distinctly American.

A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
Library of Congress // Public Domain

Similar shifts occurred in the political realm during the 1840 election. President Martin van Buren faced an uphill battle for reelection that year, and a politically aligned newspaper thought it could give him a leg up by launching a classist attack against rival William Henry Harrison: “Give [Harrison] a barrel of Hard Cider, and settle a pension of $2000 a year on him, and my word for it, he will sit the remainder of his days in his Log Cabin.” In other words: Harrison was an ignorant hick.

It was a lie—the wealthy Harrison actually lived in a mansion—but most of the public didn’t know it, and his rivals assumed voters would scorn Harrison’s poverty. They were wrong: Millions of Americans still lived in log cabins, struggling day-in-and-day-out, and they were not impressed. (“No sneer could have been more galling,” John McMaster wrote in his 1883 A History of the People of the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War.)

In no time at all, Americans rich and poor were displaying their Harrison love and log cabin pride by holding cabin raisings and patronizing specially-constructed log cabin bars, marching in massive parades with log cabins pulled by teams of horses, and purchasing heaps of Harrison-themed, log cabin-stamped merchandise, including tea sets, hair brushes, and hope chests. With his eye on the prize, Harrison gamely played into this fib, telling frenzied crowds that he’d rather relax in his log cabin than run for president, but that he had heeded their call to run for the White House. That fall, he won handily.

Though Harrison died 32 days into his term, his log cabin campaign became a reliable template for candidates in the years ahead. Franklin Pierce downplayed his family’s wealth in 1852, instead focusing on a brief time spent in a log cabin as a baby. James Buchanan did the same in 1856, and Lincoln’s log cabin youth was brought up consistently come 1860. “Like President Harrison, Mr. Lincoln has spent about one third part of his life in a log cabin,” one biography read.

"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way" by Frances Flora Palmer
"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way"
Frances Flora Palmer, Library of Congress

Log cabins became an even more persistent presence in the arts, culture, and commerce in the decades ahead, making cameos in iconic images like Frances Flora Bond Palmer’s 1868 painting Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way, in which the cabin is the symbol of an ever-expanding American empire. The log cabin also figured into tales high and low, such as The Log-Cabin Lady—a prescriptive memoir about escaping low-class drudgery—and The Log-Cabin Bishop, an uplifting account of a man who brought religion to the frontier. The Log Cabin Library dime novels even peddled swashbuckling adventures to young boys.

FALSE MEMORIES

Most powerful in terms of ingraining log cabin adoration in young Americans, though, were the scores of false histories that projected the log cabin back onto Plymouth and Jamestown. Historians of the late-19th century had heard so much about the log cabin that they just assumed it was key to American growth and expansion, leading to assertions like John G. Palfrey’s 1860 claim, “[Settlers] made themselves comfortable in log-houses,” and images like W.L. Williams 1890s painting, Plymouth in 1622. The latter shows the colony as a smattering of log cabins and was widely distributed to elementary school classrooms, cementing the image of a cabin-laden Plymouth.

A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

From then on, the log cabin was portrayed as the ultimate proverbial rag from which the rich nation of the U.S. had emerged, as when historian Warder Stevens declared in 1916, “The story of America is written in log cabins.” It’s this tradition of myth-making and believing that inspired subsequent outpourings of log cabin nostalgia: Lincoln Logs in the interwar years, log cabin chic of the 1990s, and today’s reality programs showing urbanites fleeing to the woods.

These days, the log cabin is emblazoned on money and sewn onto flags; it fascinates modern artists like Will Ryman (who created a gold-resin-covered log cabin at the New Orleans Museum of Art); and it appears in music of all genres, from country crooner Porter Wagoner’s 1965 track “An Old Log Cabin for Sale” to T-Pain and Lil Wayne’s 2008 romantic rap “Can’t Believe It.” That said, perhaps the log cabin itself is the nation’s greatest rags-to-riches story; it went from being sneered at as a poor immigrants’ hovel to being revered as an American icon. Not bad for something that writer John Filson, discussing Boone’s home circa 1784, described as “not extraordinary.”

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Did Queen Victoria Really Save Prince Albert From Drowning in an Icy Lake?
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Not many British queens have also served as daring emergency rescuers. But when the moment arose, Queen Victoria was ready to save the day. In 1841, she saved her husband, Prince Albert, from an icy lake he had fallen into while skating.

The incident didn't need much dramatization when it was included in an episode of the PBS drama Victoria. It really was a life-or-death situation, and 21-year-old Victoria was the hero.

On a cold February day in 1841, Victoria and Albert, who had married almost exactly a year earlier, went for a walk around the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Albert, an avid sportsman who loved to skate and play hockey, strapped on his ice skates and headed out onto the lake. In a diary entry, Victoria wrote that the ice was smooth and hard that day—mostly. As he skated toward her, she noticed that the ice around a bridge looked a little thin.

"I, standing alone on the bank," she wrote in her journal that evening, "said, ‘it is unsafe here,' and no sooner had I said this, than the ice cracked, and Albert was in the water up to his head, even for a moment below." By her own telling, Victoria screamed and reached out her arm to him, holding onto her lady-in-waiting, the only attendant present.

Albert grabbed Victoria's arm and she was able to pull him to safety. He had cut his chin and was dripping wet, but returned home, took a hot bath and a nap, and was up a few hours later to socialize when their uncle Leopold (Victoria and Albert were first cousins) came to visit.

"Her Majesty manifested the greatest courage upon the occasion, and acted with the most intrepid coolness," an account of the event that appeared in The Times a few days later proclaimed. "As soon as the Prince was safe on dry land, the queen gave way to the natural emotions of joy and thankfulness at his providential escape."

Albert recounted his side of the experience in a letter to his step-grandmother, Duchess Caroline of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. "I was making my way to Victoria, who was standing on the bank with one of her ladies," he described, when "I fell plump into the water, and had to swim for two or three minutes in order to get out. Victoria was the only person with the presence of mind to lend me assistance, her lady being more occupied in screaming for help." (Both the queen's diary entry and the newspaper account give the lady-in-waiting a little more credit, suggesting that she at least served as an anchor for the queen as she reached out to the prince.)

According to The Times, the problem was bird-related. That morning, the groundskeepers in charge of the various waterfowl that called the lake home had broken the ice around the edges of the water so that the birds could drink. By the time the queen and the prince arrived, those spots had frozen over with a deceptively thin layer of ice.

Thanks to Victoria, though, Albert emerged from the incident with little more than a bad cold and went on to live for another 20 years.

Had Albert died that day on the ice, it could have completely changed European history. Victoria and Albert had already had a daughter, and the future King Edward VII was conceived around this time. If Albert had died, seven of Victoria’s children wouldn’t have been born—children who were married to nobles and rulers across Europe (during World War I, seven of their direct descendants were on thrones as king or queen). And if the future Edward VII hadn’t been conceived, Albert died, and everything else remained the same, it’s possible Kaiser Wilhelm II may have become the ruler of both Germany and the United Kingdom.

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