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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. 

istock

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.

istock

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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Excerpt
The Plucky Teenage Stowaway Aboard the First American Expedition to Antarctica
The Ohio State University Archives
The Ohio State University Archives

Documentary filmmaker and journalist Laurie Gwen Shapiro came across the name "William Gawronski" in 2013 while researching a story about Manhattan's St. Stanislaus, the oldest Polish Catholic church in the U.S. In 1930, more than 500 kids from the church had held a parade in honor of Billy Gawronski, who had just returned from two years aboard the first American expedition to Antarctica, helmed by naval officer Richard E. Byrd.

The teenager had joined the expedition in a most unusual way: by stowing aboard Byrd's ships the City of New York and the Eleanor Bolling not once, not twice, but four times total. He swam across the Hudson River to sneak onto the City of New York and hitchhiked all the way to Virginia to hide on the Eleanor Bolling.

"I thought, 'Wait, what?" Shapiro tells Mental Floss.

Intrigued by Billy's persistence and pluck, Shapiro dove into the public records and newspaper archives to learn more about him. She created an Excel spreadsheet of Gawronskis all along the East Coast and began cold-calling them.

"Imagine saying, 'Did you have an ancestor that jumped in the Hudson and stowed away to the Antarctic in 1928?'" Shapiro says. She got "a lot of hang-ups."

On the 19th call, to a Gawronski in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, an elderly woman with a Polish accent answered the phone. "That boy was my husband," Gizela Gawronski told her. Billy had died in 1981, leaving behind a treasure trove of mementos, including scrapbooks, notebooks, yearbooks, and hundreds of photos.

"I have everything," Gizela told Shapiro. "I was hoping someone would find me one day."

Three days later, Shapiro was in Maine poring over Billy's papers with Gizela, tears in her eyes.

These materials became the basis of Shapiro's new book The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica. It's a rollicking good read full of fascinating history and bold characters that takes readers from New York to Tahiti, New Zealand to Antarctica, and back to New York again. It's brimming with the snappy energy and open-minded optimism of the Jazz Age.

Shapiro spent six weeks in Antarctica herself to get a feel for Billy's experiences. "I wanted to reach the Ross Ice barrier like Billy did," she says.

Read on for an excerpt from chapter four.

***

As night dropped on September 15, Billy jumped out of his second-floor window and onto the garden, a fall softened by potatoes and cabbage plants and proudly photographed sunflowers. You would think that the boy had learned from his previous stowaway attempt to bring more food or a change of dry clothes. Not the case.

An overnight subway crossing into Brooklyn took him to the Tebo Yacht Basin in Gowanus. He made for the location he'd written down in his notes: Third Avenue and Twenty-Third Street.

In 1928 William Todd's Tebo Yacht Basin was a resting spot— the spot—for the yachts of the Atlantic seaboard's most aristocratic and prosperous residents. The swanky yard berthed more than fifty staggering prizes of the filthy rich. Railroad executive Cornelius Vanderbilt kept his yacht O-We-Ra here; John Vanneck, his Amphitrite. Here was also where to find Warrior, the largest private yacht afloat, owned by the wealthiest man in America, public utilities baron Harrison Williams; yeast king (and former mayor of Cincinnati) Julian Fleischman's $625,000 twin-screw diesel yacht, the Carmago; General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan's Rene; shoe scion H. W. Hanan's Dauntless; and J. P. Morgan's Corsair III. The Tebo Yacht Basin's clubroom served fish chowder luncheons to millionaires in leather-backed mission chairs.

Todd, a great friend of Byrd's, lavished attention on his super-connected pal with more contacts than dollars. He had provided major funding for Byrd's 1926 flight over the North Pole, and helped the commander locate and refit two of the four Antarctic expedition ships for $285,900, done at cost. Todd loved puffy articles about him as much as the next man, and press would help extract cash from the millionaires he actively pursued as new clients; helping out a famous friend might prove cheaper than the advertisements he placed in upmarket magazines. Throughout that summer, Byrd mentioned Todd's generous support frequently.

Two weeks after the City of New York set sail, the Chelsea, the supply ship of the expedition, was still docked at the Tebo workyard and not scheduled to depart until the middle of September. Smith's Dock Company in England had built the refurbished 170-foot, 800-ton iron freighter for the British Royal Navy at the tail end of the Great War. First christened patrol gunboat HMS Kilmarnock, her name was changed to the Chelsea during her post–Royal Navy rumrunning days.

Not long before she was scheduled to depart, Byrd announced via a press release that he was renaming this auxiliary ship, too, after his mother, Eleanor Bolling. But the name painted on the transom was Eleanor Boling, with one l—the painter's mistake. As distressing as this was (the name was his mother's, after all), Byrd felt a redo would be too expensive and a silly use of precious funds. Reporters and PR staff were simply instructed to always spell the name with two ls.

As Billy eyed the ship in dock days after his humiliation on board the New York, he realized here was another way to get to Antarctica. The old, rusty-sided cargo ship would likely be less guarded than the flagship had been.

As September dragged on, Billy, back in Bayside, stiffened his resolve. No one would think he'd try again! On September 15, once more he swam out during the night to board a vessel bound for Antarctica.

Since his visit two weeks prior, Billy had studied his news clippings and knew that the Bolling was captained by thirty-six-year-old Gustav L. Brown, who'd been promoted weeks earlier from first mate of the New York when Byrd added the fourth ship to his fleet. Billy liked what he read. According to those who sailed under Brown's command, this tall and slender veteran of the Great War was above all genteel, and far less crotchety than the New York's Captain Melville. Captain Brown's education went only as far as high school, and while he wasn't against college, he admired honest, down-to-earth workers. Like his colleague Captain Melville, Brown had begun a seafaring life at fourteen. He seemed just the sort of man to take a liking to a teenage stowaway with big dreams.

Alas, the crew of the second ship headed to Antarctica now knew to look for stowaways. In a less dramatic repeat of what had happened in Hoboken, an Eleanor Bolling seaman ousted Billy in the earliest hours of the morning. The kid had (unimaginatively) hidden for a second time in a locker under the lower forecastle filled with mops and bolts and plumbing supplies. The sailor brought him to Captain Brown, who was well named, as he was a man with a mass of brown hair and warm brown eyes. The kind captain smiled at Billy and praised the cheeky boy's gumption—his Swedish accent still heavy even though he'd made Philadelphia his home since 1920—yet Billy was escorted off to the dock and told to scram.

A few hours later, still under the cover of night, Billy stole back on board and was routed out a third time, again from the “paint locker.”

A third time? The Bolling's third in command, Lieutenant Harry Adams, took notes on the gutsy kid who had to be good material for the lucrative book he secretly hoped to pen. Most of the major players would score book deals after the expedition; the public was eager for adventure, or at least so publishers thought. The catch was that any deal had to be approved by Byrd: to expose any discord was to risk powerful support. Adams's book, Beyond the Barrier with Byrd: An Authentic Story of the Byrd Antarctic Exploring Expedition, was among the best: more character study than thriller, his grand sense of humor evident in his selection of anecdotes that the others deemed too lightweight to include.

Billy was not the only stowaway that September day. Also aboard was a girl Adams called Sunshine, the "darling of the expedition," a flirt who offered to anyone who asked that she wanted to be the first lady in Antarctica. (In the restless era between world wars, when movies gave everyone big dreams, even girl stowaways were not uncommon.) Brown told a reporter that Sunshine had less noble aspirations, and soon she, too, was removed from the Bolling, but not before she gave each crew member a theatrical kiss.

As the early sun rose, Captain Brown called Billy over to him from the yacht yard's holding area where he had been asked to wait with the giggling Sunshine until his father arrived. The captain admired Billy's gumption, but it was time for the seventeen-year-old to go now and not waste any more of anyone's time.

As Lieutenant Adams recorded later, "Perhaps this matter of getting rid of Bill was entered up in the Eleanor Bolling log as the first scientific achievement of the Byrd Antarctic expedition."

*** 

From THE STOWAWAY: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Copyright © 2018 by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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Art Lovers in England, Rejoice: France's Famous Bayeux Tapestry is Coming to the UK
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of France’s most prized national treasures, the Bayeux Tapestry, is officially heading to England for exhibition. The loan will mark the first time the fragile 11th century work has left France in nearly 1000 years, according to The Washington Post.

French president Emmanuel Macron announced news of the loan in mid-January, viewed by some as a gesture to smooth post-Brexit relations with Britain, ABC reports. The tapestry depicts the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, a historically important event replete with guts and glory.

Stretching for 210 feet, the Bayeux Tapestry’s nine embroidered panels tell the tale of Harold, Earl of Wessex, who swore an oath to support the right of William, Duke of Normandy, to the English throne once King Edward (a.k.a. Edward the Confessor) died without an heir. But after Edward's funeral at Westminster Abbey, Harold breaks his oath to William so he could be crowned king instead. Believing he was the rightful ruler, William—today remembered as William the Conqueror—decides to wage war and ultimately defeats Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

The historical narrative has endured for centuries, but the tapestry's provenance has been lost to time. Experts think that the artwork may have been created in England, shortly after the Battle of Hastings, although it’s unclear who designed and embroidered the scenes. Its original owner, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, may have commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. He became Earl of Kent after the Battle of Hastings, and this new title would have afforded him access to skilled artisans, The Guardian explains.

The Bayeux Tapestry is currently on display in the town of Bayeux in Normandy. It likely won’t leave France until 2020, after conservators ensure that it’s safe to move the artwork. According to The Telegraph, the tapestry might be be displayed at the British Museum in 2022.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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