Local Histories- Kumbaya

The last thing one might think of when considering the cultural origins of the ubiquitous hippie-camp song Kumbaya, is early 20th Century Oregon. Even if you did, it would be easy to wrongly assume that the song had its origins in regional Native American culture and was appropriated at some time for the drum circles and festivals of the New Age generation. Not so. In fact, the copyright for Kumbaya (Come By Here) has long been held by a white Pastor from Portland, Oregon, who claimed to have first heard it sung by a street evangelist in the city in the early 1930’s. In truth, Kumbaya, is now widely considered to have originated with slaves in the Southeast, speakers of Gullah, and gained popularity during the scouting and summer camp… Read More >

And We Watch It All Burn Away

There is no possible way at the moment to be a resident of Oregon and not take note that the entirety of the state, it seems, is burning. The skies have grayed, filling valleys with dense smoke, replacing our beloved rain with delicate flakes of ash. And the fires are close. Our safest havens and most treasured places, those that have been protected for so long as to constitute little more than a pile of tinder, are burning towards vistas, lodges, highways and restaurants. It has, finally, become impossible to ignore. Not that we haven’t tried. In truth, forest fires are a relatively new phenomenon in the psyches of Oregonians. For decades, they have been a growing concern but for most residents, they remained intangible. Forest fires to the average… Read More >

Local Histories- Glenwood, Oregon

Between the sister cities of Eugene and Springfield, Oregon sits an unincorporated community that is neither Eugene, though its postal code is, nor Springfield, of which it is an official annexation. It’s wasteland, half trailers, half bygone industrial complex, the few hundred residents squeezed into aging trailer parks along one of the least picturesque stretches of the Willamette River. How did this come about? It’s a story of racism, classism, and greed. In the first hundred years of the Eugene area’s history (and much of Oregon’s) African Americans were legally barred from first residence, then land ownership and were systematically brutalized in retaliation of anyone that challenged the status quo. In the mid and late 20th Century, the area’s staunch refusal to enact or acknowledge civil rights laws was paired… Read More >

The Necessity of Totality

There is one question on the lips of everyone in Oregon these days, “What are you doing for the eclipse?” My answer, looking up, from exactly where I am. I am not jaded. I’m actually a true lover of rare natural occurrences and celestial events in particular. I have often been accused of being a space geek, having worked a summer at Space Camp notwithstanding. My interest in the eclipse has turned to one of morbid curiosity into the nature of the human psyche. You see, I live less than fifty miles from the path of totality and I am fine with that. The rest of the world, it seems, is not. They are in a frantic feeding frenzy and likely destined to spend most of at least one day… Read More >

One More Cup of Tea

There was a lot going on in the United States in 1961. It was the beginning of a cultural revolution and the space race. It was the year of Bay of Pigs. It was a time when politics and the news of the day were primary fixtures in the minds of average Americans and elected officials. Unless, it seems, you were the Mayor of a small, work-a-day town in southern Oregon. Then you might decide you have bigger fish to fry. Jay W. Snider, the Mayor of Medford, Oregon did just that. In 1961 he sent a $1.96 check to the United Kingdom as what he had calculated was the city’s portion of reparations for the Boston Tea Party. In 2016, I am afraid to too-closely contemplate the modern implications… Read More >

Local Histories- College Hill

Eugene, Oregon is nothing if not a college town. Which is why, presumably, no one questions the locals referring to a small lump of a hill in the middle of town more than a mile from campus College Hill. Duck country. What most locals aren’t able to tell you is that College Hill was named for Columbia College, an early predecessor to the University of Oregon and an ambitious undertaking in 1855 for a town of only 200 residents. Like a lot of things in the region at that time, the college was burned to the ground by the end of its first month. The fire was decried as arson, an attempt to oust the anti-slavery and pro-woman board of directors by a pro-slavery group. Undeterred, the University resumed classes… Read More >

Local Histories- Junction City Fire

It takes a special kind of place to resist the urge towards self-preservation. In 1877, the newly-established town of Junction City, Oregon voted down a proposed tax to pay for the establishment of a local fire brigade and the purchase of a fire engine. Just months later, a fire started in the local general store and spread down the main street engulfing several residences, warehouses and the opera house and hotel. Three additional fires in the following year did nothing to sway the residents, who protested so strongly a city council proposition for a fire department was rescinded before a vote. The next year, the issue was returned to the local ballot and rejected, then another warehouse burned. By 1882, fire had wiped out so much of the town that… Read More >

The Hoary Bats of Cottage Grove

Cottage Grove, Oregon is one of those old mining and timber towns that time really has forgotten. Surrounded by mud-track trailer parks, it’s four-block downtown is dominated by century-old Oddfellows lodges and barber shops. The town pride is displayed in mural across brick- Buster Keaton gripping the front of a steam engine in the universally-panned 1926 silent film The General. It’s a short step to ghost town on the best of days. It doesn’t help that after dark, the town is taken over by giant, screaming bats. It’s not something they publicize. Probably because these are not typical bats, meaning the mouse to rat-sized bats that swoop relatively silently and often in large groups in most of the region. The bats of goofy Halloween decorations. The kind of bat your… Read More >

Local Histories- Ping Yang School

In early 2017 the Mowhawk Valley Schools made the belated decision to change their mascot from a Native American caricature to…pretty much anything less offensive. Ironically, this is not the first time the tiny community has had to address institutionalized racism and their schools. In the late 1890’s the then timber boom-town of Mohawk, Oregon built a new grade school and named it Ping Yang. They did this, not to honor their Asian community, as there was none, but rather, it seems, because the ringing of the school bell and shrieks of the playing children reminded the residents of the sounds of battle at Pyongyang- which the locals pronounced Ping Yang. The name was only the first indication of the local’s disdain for the school. It was set on fire… Read More >

Local Stories

Hanford. What I remember about the Hanford site as a child is the birds. On rainy Sunday’s we would take long drives out the Gorge to marshes and preserves to walk, and wait, and watch. I remember driving past the Hanford site, the brown-green vegetation and irrigated areas crowded with migrating birds, geese, blue heron, and osprey. I would call out to my parents to look, implore them to stop; but all my father would say is, “That’s not a place to go, that’s a place to stay away from. It’s a nuclear plant.” I was a child of the eighties, I knew a little about nuclear things. I knew a lot about the cold war. I knew that nuclear meant energy and weapons. These were things that had to… Read More >