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Chloe Effron

25 Magnificent Facts About Oregon

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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.

 

iStock

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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Getty Images (Johnson) / iStock (ghosts)
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History
When Lexicographer Samuel Johnson Became a Ghostbuster
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Getty Images (Johnson) / iStock (ghosts)

Dr. Samuel Johnson is today best known for his Dictionary of the English Language (1755), which remained the foremost authority on the English language until the Oxford English Dictionary appeared more than a century later. The dictionary took Johnson nine years to complete, for which he was paid the princely sum of 1500 guineas—equivalent to $300,000 (or £210,000) today. Although it wasn’t quite the commercial success its publishers hoped it would be, it allowed Johnson the freedom to explore his own interests and endeavors: He spent several years editing and annotating his own editions of all of Shakespeare’s plays, and traveled extensively around Britain with his friend (and eventual biographer) James Boswell—and, in 1762, helped to investigate a haunted house.

Johnson—who was born on this day in 1709 and is the subject of today's Google Doodle—had a lifelong interest in the paranormal, once commenting that he thought it was “wonderful” that it was still “undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it, but all belief is for it.” According to Boswell, however, he was more of a skeptic than an out-and-out believer, and refused to accept anything without seeing the evidence for himself. So when the news broke of an apparently haunted house just a few streets away from his own home in central London, Johnson jumped at the chance to perhaps see a ghost with his own eyes.

The haunting began in the early 1760s, when a young couple, William and Fanny Kent, began renting a room from a local landlord, Richard (or William—sources disagree, but for clarity, we'll use Richard) Parsons, at 25 Cock Lane in Smithfield, London. Soon after the Kents moved in, Richard’s daughter, Betty, began to hear strange knocking and scratching sounds all around the house, and eventually claimed to have seen a ghost in her bedroom.

Richard soon discovered that William was a widower and that Fanny was in fact his deceased wife's sister; under canon law, the pair couldn't be married, and Richard became convinced that the ghost must be that of William's deceased first wife, Elizabeth, blaming William’s presence in the house for all of the strange occurrences. He promptly evicted the Kents and the noises soon subsided—but when Fanny also died just a few weeks later, they immediately resumed and again seemed to center around Betty. In desperation, a series of séances were held at the Cock Lane house, and finally Fanny’s ghost supposedly confirmed her presence by knocking on the table. When questioned, Fanny claimed that William had killed her by poisoning her food with arsenic—an accusation William understandably denied.

By now, news of the Cock Lane Ghost had spread all across the city, and when the story broke in the press, dozens of curious Londoners began turning up at the house, queuing for hours outside in the street hoping to see any sign of supernatural activity. According to some accounts, Parsons even charged visitors to come in and “talk” to the ghost, who would communicate with knocks and other disembodied noises.

But with the suspicion of murder now in the air, the Cock Lane haunting changed from a local curiosity into a full-blown criminal investigation. A committee was formed to examine the case, and Johnson was brought in to record their findings and investigate the case for himself.

On February 1, 1762, one final séance was held with all members of the committee—Johnson included—in attendance. He recorded that:

About 10 at night the gentlemen met in the chamber in which the girl [Betty] supposed to be disturbed by a spirit had, with proper caution, been put to bed by several ladies. They sat rather more than an hour, and hearing nothing, went down stairs, when they interrogated the father of the girl, who denied, in the strongest terms, any knowledge or belief of fraud … While they were enquiring and deliberating, they were summoned into the girl’s chamber by some ladies who were near her bed, and who had heard knocks and scratches. When the gentlemen entered, the girl declared that she felt the spirit like a mouse upon her back.

But the committee were suspicious. Betty was asked to hold out her hands in front of her, in sight of everyone in the room:

From that time—though the spirit was very solemnly required to manifest its existence by appearance, by impression on the hand or body of any present, by scratches, knocks, or any other agency—no evidence of any preternatural power was exhibited.

Johnson ultimately concluded that it was “the opinion of the whole assembly that the child has some art of making or counterfeiting a particular noise, and that there is no agency of any higher cause.” And he was right.

As the investigation continued, it was eventually discovered that Richard Parsons had earlier borrowed a considerable amount of money from William Kent that he had no means (nor apparently any intention) of repaying. The two men had a falling out, and Parsons set about elaborately framing Kent for both Fanny and Elizabeth's deaths. The ghostly scratching and knocking noises had all been Betty’s work; she hidden a small wooden board into the hem of her clothing with which to tap or scratch on the walls or furniture when prompted.

The Parsons—along with a servant and a preacher, who were also in on the scam—were all prosecuted, and Richard was sentenced to two years in prison.

Although the Cock Lane haunting turned out to be a hoax, Johnson remained open minded about the supernatural. “If a form should appear,” he later told Boswell, “and a voice tell me that a particular man had died at a particular place, and a particular hour, a fact which I had no apprehension of, nor any means of knowing, and this fact, with all its circumstances, should afterwards be unquestionably proved, I should, in that case, be persuaded that I had supernatural intelligence imparted to me.”

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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery
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geography
The Mountains of Kong: The Majestic West African Range That Never Existed
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The King of Kong © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

If you look closely at a 19th century map of Africa, you’ll notice one major way that it differs from contemporary maps, one that has nothing to do with changing political or cartographical styles. More likely than not, it features a mountain range that no longer appears on modern maps, as WIRED explains. Because it never existed in the first place.

A 19th century map of West Africa
From Milner's Descriptive Atlas, 1850

The “Mountains of Kong” appeared on almost every major commercial map of Africa in the 1800s, stretching across the western part of the continent between the Gulf of Guinea and the Niger River. This mythical east-west mountain range is now the subject of an art exhibition at London’s Michael Hoppen Gallery.

In "Mountains of Kong," stereoscopic images by artist Jim Naughten—the same format that allowed Victorians with wanderlust to feel like they’d seen the world—reveal his view of the world of wildlife that might have existed inside the imagined mountains. As the gallery describes it, “he imagines a fictitious record made for posterity and scientific purposes during an expedition of the mountain range.” We’ve reproduced the images here, but to get the full effect, you’ll have to go to the gallery in person, where you can view them in 3D with a stereoscope (like the ones you no doubt played with as a kid).

Toucans fight a snake in two almost-identical side-by-side images.
The Toucans © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

Naughten created the images by taking two photographs for each, and moving the camera over some 3 inches for the second photo to make a stereoscopic scene. The landscapes were created by shooting images of Scottish and Welsh mountains and dioramas in natural history museums, using Photoshop to change the hues of the images to make them seem more otherworldly. His blue-and-pink-hued images depict fearsome apes, toucans sparring with snakes, jagged peaks, and other scenes that seem both plausible and fantastical at the same time.

The Mountains of Kong appeared in several hundred maps up until the 20th century. The first, in 1798, was created by the prominent geographer James Rennell to accompany a book by Scottish explorer Mungo Park about his first journey to West Africa. In it, Park recounts gazing on a distant range, and “people informed me, that these mountains were situated in a large and powerful kingdom called Kong.” Rennell, in turn, took this brief observation and, based on his own theories about the course of the Niger River, drew a map showing the mountain range that he thought was the source of the river. Even explorers who later spent time in the area believed the mountains existed—with some even claiming that they crossed them.

Two colobuses stand in a tree on a mountaintop.
The Colobus © Jim Naughten. Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

The authority of the maps wasn’t questioned, even by those who had been to the actual territory where they were depicted as standing. Writers began to describe them as “lofty,” “barren,” and “snow-covered.” Some said they were rugged granite peaks; others described them as limestone terraces. In almost all cases, they were described as “blue.” Their elevation ranged from 2500 feet to 14,000 feet, depending on the source. Over the course of the 19th century, “there was a general southward ‘drift’ in the location,” as one pair of scholars put it.

Though geographers cast some doubt on the range’s existence as time went on, the Mountains of Kong continued to appear on maps until French explorer Louis-Gustave Binger’s Niger River expedition between 1887 and 1889, after which Binger definitively declared their nonexistence.

By 1891, the Mountains of Kong began dropping off of maps, though the name Kong still appeared as the name of the region. By the early 20th century, the mountains were gone for good, fading into the forgotten annals of cartographic history.

[h/t WIRED]

All images courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery.

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