Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon

            My latest book, Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon is finally available in paperback and ebook from the History Press. You can use any of the links on this page to order your copy now. This book is the culmination of sixteen years of research on murders in Portland and I had a clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish with it. My book is an attempt to present the history of my favorite city, Portland, Oregon by telling the stories of some of the city’s more interesting murders. Because of the limitations of space I deal with Portland’s history from 1851 to about 1945; in the future I may write a second volume that will deal with the last half of the twentieth century and the first part of this century. In addition to the stories I have collected a great set of historical photos of Portland and some of the people involved with the stories. This is a very attractive book and I have been told that the stories are compelling. You will have to judge for yourself. In the meantime here is what you can expect inside:

            Pioneer Murder --    Portland’s first murder, the long forgotten shooting of a man named Cook, occurred six weeks after the city’s incorporation in 1851. The legendary first Portland murder, the shooting of Mortimer Stump by his father-in-law Danforth Balch, occurred seven years later. Two of the most interesting and controversial early Portlanders, John H. Mitchell and James Lappeus, were involved in the prosecution of this case and its aftermath. To read more click here.

            Mayhem on Morrison Street --   In 1878 14-year-old Louis Joseph, an innocent bystander, was accidentally shot and killed during the commission of a violent armed robbery in downtown Portland. The hunt for, capture and execution of the two killers was one of the biggest public sensations of the 1870s. The execution itself drew the largest crowd of the era of public executions in Portland (1858-1903). To read more click here.

            The Court of Death – The Court of Death, also known as Portland’s Tenderloin, was a square block downtown, bounded by 3rd and 4th Streets, Yamhill and Taylor. It was an area of open prostitution and violence. Two important murders in the 1880s occurred in the Tenderloin. The 1881 murder of J. Nelson Brown, a timber spotter from Washington Territory who had come to Portland on a spree, by Portland brothel keeper Carrie Bradley created a political firestorm that ended the career of Portland’s first Police Chief, James Lappeus. In 1885 the brutal ax-murder of French courtesan Emma Merlotin, ushered in the end of the Tenderloin district and the removal of most prostitution to the North End. To read more click here.

James Lappeus was an early City marshal and in 1870, Portland's first Police Chief. He had a long career on both sides of the law. Photo courtesy of Portland Police Historical Society.

            The Girl in the Strawberry Patch – The 1892 murder of Mamie Walsh, a 14-year-old Milwaukie girl, became one of the most widely read series of posts on my Slabtown Chronicle blog, new research and new content allow me to tell this sad and strange story more fully and put it in context with the development of the city. To read more click here.

            Beneath the Mountain of Gold – I am most interested in history that has not been told. There is no more aggressively untold story from Portland’s history than that of the Chinatown criminal organizations of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This chapter looks at the formation of the criminal tongs by focusing on three violent crimes: The massacre in front of Frank Woon’s restaurant in 1888; the murder of Chin Bow Chong in 1892; and the killing of Gong Fa, a Chinese-American woman, in 1893. To read more click here.

            The Legend of Bunko Kelley – Joseph “Bunko” Kelley is one of Portland’s legendary crimps. Crimps were the men who “shanghaied” sailors to man the sailing ships that visited Portland on a regular basis during the 19th century. The history of shanghaiing and the Sailors Boardinghouses is one of the most misunderstood parts of Portland’s history. In this chapter I explore the life and crimes of Bunko Kelley and debunk some of the myths that have obscured his character. The murder of George Sayres, for which Kelley was convicted in 1894, was bound up in a broader political movement that was sweeping Portland at the time and it played a part in the rise of Larry Sullivan, Portland’s own crime boss. To read moreclick here.

            The Black Mackintosh Bandit and the Great Escape – Another popular Slabtown Chronicle post was the starting point for this chapter. With fresh research and expanded content I was able to take a deeper look at the career of Portland’s own Wild West Bandit, Harry Tracy, and his side kick, Dave Merrill. To read more click here.

Harry Tracy ran with the Hole-in-the-Wall gang before coming to Portland. Photo Courtesy of Oregon State Archive.

            The Unwritten Law – In the 19th and early 20th centuries the lives of women were extremely controlled by the idea of respectability. Respectable women lived tightly limited lives and their activities were controlled by their husbands. Many husbands felt that they had the right to decide whether their wives lived or died. The Unwritten Law was a legal concept that husbands used to assert this authority and it usually was invoked as a legal defense for the murder of a wife or her lover by the husband. During his highly publicized trial for the murder of Stanford White in 1906 Harry Thaw’s attorney referred to the Unwritten Law defense as Dementia Americana. Thaw’s trial disseminated the idea of the Unwritten Law widely and murders along those lines occurred in great numbers in almost every state. Focusing on the killing of a popular musician by a jealous husband, who was a former cavalry scout for George Custer, in 1907 this chapter explores Portland’s experience with Dementia Americana. To read more click here.

            An Enduring Mystery – The bloody ax murder of William and Ruth Hill and their two children while they were sleeping in the new suburb of Ardenwald in 1911 is one of Portland’s worst unsolved crimes. Ernest Mass, the newly elected and inexperienced Sheriff of Clackamas County may have solved the crime in 1911 with the help of Portland private detective L.L. Levings, but his investigation was halted by a court order and all charges were dropped against the main suspect. In this chapter I remind us of a crime that shocked our great grandparents and a man who may have gotten away with murder. To read more clickhere.

            The Dark Strangler – The story of America’s first sexual serial killer and the four women he killed in Portland was another of the most popular posts at the Slabtown Chronicle. With fresh research and new content I was able to go into more detail and give a better sense of the victims of this maniacal killer. To read more click here.

            Taken for a Ride – Much has been written about organized crime in Portland during the 1950s, but most people fail to realize that the empires of Jim Elkins and men like him were built on a foundation that was laid in prior generations. In this chapter I look at the criminal gang run by “Shy Frank” Kodat and the deaths of Jimmy Walker and Edith McLain in 1933. To read more click here.

            The Other Side – Portland’s African American community has always been small, but very politically active. During World War II the black population of Portland increased more than ten times. The huge increase in population dramatically changed the relationship between black Portland and white Portland as discrimination and violence increased. Three killings in 1945, two in the Guilds Lake Housing Project and one in Vanport, had huge influence in the African American community and spurred the creation of an Urban League chapter in Portland. By 1948, when the Vanport Flood occurred, the groundwork had been laid for a vital Civil Rights movement that started in Portland earlier than in many cities. To read more click here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Strange Tale of the Gipsy Smith Auditorium

     It's clear that Portland historian Barney Blalock has been bitten by the Weird Portland bug and I, for one, am extremely grateful.  Barney's book Portland's Lost Waterfront has been out for a while now and mine, Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon will be out very soon. In the meantime enjoy this odd tale from Portland's history. Over to you Barney...

Most evangelists on what was called the "sawdust trail" were happy with a big tent. However, in 1911, when Portland didn't have an auditorium large enough for the world famous, golden-throated, "Gipsy" Smith, the city built one especially for him. 

Rodney "Gipsy" (also spelled "Gypsy") Smith was born in 1860 in a tent in Epping Forest, on the outskirts of London, into a family of Roma.  At the age of 16 he experienced Christian conversion and began to rise up through the ranks of the Salvation Army. He was brilliant and talented, with no formal education he was able to teach himself to read and write, and to preach the gospel. He was also gifted with a remarkable baritone voice that aided in his ministry and at one point landed him a contract with the RCA gramophone company. Virtually forgotten these days, "Gipsy" Smith was the most popular draw of the period. He travelled the world filling the largest halls in the U.S. and Canada. In 1911 Portland was on the verge of becoming a major city, but there was no venue large enough for the crowds Smith could draw.
When laying out the itinerary for a North American campaign, Smith had sadly declared that he would have to bypass the Rose City. The crowds that he drew called for a venue that could seat, at the very minimum, 3,000 souls. Knowing full well that Portland was long overdue for a spiritual revival, the Protestants of Portland united behind this cause. Large sums were pledged by some of the downtown churches, and the city council was brought on board. Portland could not be second bested by Seattle, and even Spokane, cities already on the itinerary; so the gears went into motion to see that such a building would be there in time for the advent of the famous preacher. 

Seemingly overnight plans were made, and an architect was found. Eventually an empty lot in an area that would become the Civic Stadium (now Jeld Wen field) was obtained for the purpose. There was some protest from the nearby Multnomah Club due to worries about fire, but providence prevailed allowing the "Gipsy" troupe to roll into town on the agreed date.

Friday, November 10, 1911 was first night of the Portland campaign—a spiritual marathon lasting 17 prayer-filled days. Thousands of citizens came by streetcar, carriage, or automobile through the rainy streets to the new, brightly lit tabernacle on the corner of Taylor and Chapman (Chapman was later named S.W. 18th Avenue). Governor Oswald West (a devout Protestant) opened the ceremonies and "Gipsy" Smith preached, and sang, and invited sinners to repent. Those who came forward to find the path to repentance were ushered into private rooms to meet with local pastors.
A portion of the offerings taken during this visit went to defray part, if not all of the cost of the structure, which was designed to be temporary. For the next several years it was used as an auditorium while the City Council argued over building a permanent building for the purpose. In the meantime everyone from suffragettes to William Jennings Bryant filled the hall with attendees. A particularly interesting event was in March 1912 when R.S.S. Baden-Powell, the father of the Boy Scouts movement, came to the tabernacle to speak. For reasons too obscure for me to discover the I.W.W. (otherwise known as Wobblies) showed up to protest and heckle. They carried signs suggesting that Baden-Powell was himself a pervert, and child molester. They hooted him down in such a way that the evening was a loss. From the minute British vice consul to Portland, James Laidlaw, stepped on the stage to introduce his famous fellow country man the cat calls and jeers took over. The event was marked up as a victory by the Wobblies and as an outrage to decency and a black-eye for Portland by everyone else.

Even after all this the odor of "Gipsy" Smith's sanctity must have remained in the structure, perfuming the rafters. During the summer of that same year a boxing promoter rented the hall for the purpose of a prizefight between Abe "the little Hebrew" Attell and the British, ex-bricklayer, Jack Bennett. The promoter was met with a blast of opposition from the downtown preachers whose association controlled the site. The manager hired by the association to handle the venue was unhappy as well, having already contracted with the promoter. 

"I do not consider the tabernacle any more sacred than my garage." the manager quipped to the Oregonian. "It is Portland's temporary auditorium and should be leased out for dog shows, cat shows, boxing and wrestling, and other clean affairs."

In September 1912 Teddy Roosevelt showed up to stump for the Progressive Party. Not long after leaving the auditorium he discovered that someone had lifted one of his favorite books (a gift from his wife) from his room at the Oregon Hotel. He left Portland in the kind of a huff that only a Teddy Roosevelt could pull off. Following this the venue was graced by a harvest festival and a poultry show featuring 1,100 chickens.
President Theodore Roosevelt did not like Portland very much.

By December 1913 the auditorium entered into a period in which it was used as a shelter for many of the homeless, unemployed men who walked the streets of Portland. The homeless men housed there were soon "organized" by the I.W.W. who took over the operations of the shelter, much to the dismay of non-members. The Wobblies were accused of having a hierarchy of privilege ruled by cooks and cooks "flunkeys" who gorged themselves on food and starved everyone else. Only 200 of the reported 600 to 1,200 men being housed were actual members of the I.W.W. Conditions were such that within a month the place was closed temporarily to be fumigated. All this activity by men referred to as "the idle," "riff-raff," or "loafers" must have been utterly vexing to the "hoity toity" at the Multnomah Club nearly next door. 
This saga continued until April 1, 1914 when the men were ushered out into the cold and the auditorium (no longer with the lingering odor of sanctity) was once again used for its original purpose for a short period. Its last big event was in May of that year, a rally of prohibitionists, but in July the city commissioners signed the tabernacle's death warrant and the building was sold off as scrap lumber and cord wood. 

This ends the short, but lively tale of Portland's "Gipsy" Smith Auditorium. I have been collecting postcards of Portland for awhile now, and I noticed this building in several photographs taken from City Park (now Washington Park). I was quite surprised to discover the identity of the structure. My father was a Baptist missionary, who had attended school in Portland, and I have lived here most of my life, yet I had never heard of "Gipsy" Smith or his auditorium on Taylor Street at Chapman.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Death By Chewing Gum

Della Ketterman at the bottom enjoying the beach at Seaside.

            Did your mother ever warn you not to fall asleep with chewing gum in your mouth? She was right; it can be extremely dangerous. That’s what Della Kitterman, 42, found out the hard way in July 1910 while she and her husband Alexander were vacationing in Seaside. Alexander Kitterman was a Portland garden tool dealer and inventor, who would patent a weeding device in 1928. One evening in August Della complained of a dry throat and Alexander offered her a piece of chewing gum. The chewing gum helped Della´s dryness and soon she fell asleep with the gum still in her mouth. In her sleep she aspirated the chewing gum into her lungs and woke up making choking sounds.
            It was fashionable for well to do Portlanders to vacation at Clatsop Beach, where the Necanicum River comes out to the ocean, since the 1860s when The Ocean House opened south of the “new government fortifications at the mouth of the Columbia River.” The Ocean House was advertised for invalids of the over-heated sickly country. In 1871 Ben Holladay, Portland’s earliest railroad baron, who had a summer house on the beach erected a new wharf and hotel. The Seaside House became a fashionable destination in July and August.
            Clatsop Beach was very isolated; it was not even possible to get to Astoria by Road before 1908. To get there from Portland you had to take a steamer to Astoria and then a local river boat south to Skipanon, where Warrenton is now. From there you could go on into Seaside by wagon or horseback. The Seaside House was located right on the beach and offered a beautiful rural setting with excellent hunting and fishing. Tillamook Head, just south of the resort offered hiking with incredible views. Before the 1890s summers at Seaside were idyllic. 
A Seaside beach scene in 1896.

            In 1892 a railroad line connected Skipanon with the budding community of Seaside.  At that time the town’s population fell to less than one hundred for ten months out of the year. Tourists flocked to the beach in July and August, swelling the little town’s population to 5,000-10,000 during the summer, but rarely at any other time. The little railroad soon became known as the Daddy Train, by families that spent summers at the beach and were joined by their fathers on weekends. In the first decade of the twentieth century roads expanded and the full time population began to grow.  By 1910 the full time population numbered 1,600. Dr. W.E. Lewis, a Portland physician and real estate speculator, was one of the founding fathers of Seaside and an early city council member. Alexander Kitterman, wakened by his wife’s gasping struggle rushed to get Dr. Lewis.
            The gum that Mrs. Kitterman had aspirated was doing severe damage to her lungs, causing a type of damage similar to that which occurs in emphysema. Dr. Lewis rushed the suffering woman to the Seaside Sanatorium where he spent six weeks trying to dislodge the gum from the woman’s lungs. Therapies probably included manual manipulation pressure therapy and inhaling various herbs and gases to induce coughing. Finally at the end of August, Della Kitterman coughed up the gum.
            Before the 1870s it was common in Oregon to chew sap from spruce trees, but there was no commercial chewing gum available. Although Tutti-Frutti chewing gum was being successfully marketed on the east coast it was rare to find chewing gum in Oregon before 1894. In that year J.J. Newton, a Portland chemist, and his son George F. Newton imported gum making machinery from New York and hired a practical gum maker from Chicago. George Newton had been working in sales for the Portland Cracker Company for three years and new the local market for snacks. They opened a small factory on southeast Water Street and marketed the product as Newton Brothers Gum. Since national brands of chewing gum didn’t become available until the Great War, it is likely that Della Kitterman was chewing a piece of Newton Brothers Gum.
            By the time Mrs. Kitterman coughed up her wad of gum her lungs had been severely damaged. The treatments had left her extremely weak and the next morning she died. It is not common for people to die by inhaling gum, but oddly enough in December 1909 there was a well publicized case in New York City of a small boy inhaling a wad of gum and dying from it. It made the front page of the Oregonian and Della Kitterman may have seen it. Alexander Kitterman didn’t waste time. He returned his wife’s body to Portland and buried her under a nice grave stone at Lone Fir Cemetery. He remarried before 1910 was over.
Della Kitterman´s grave at Lone Fir Cemetery.