Thursday, November 29, 2012

3D Torpedo Boats

I spent many happy hours as a child looking at the world through View Master lenses. It was one way for me to experience the country of my birth from the tatami mats of my room in far off Yokohama. One of my favorite discs was of the wonders of California, from Disneyland to the Redwood Forest. Had I been born sixty or seventy years earlier I would have been gazing into a stereoscope at such curiosities as these U.S. Navy torpedo boats in the Portland harbor. The back of the image doesn't name the vessels, but they are anchored very near to the Wolff & Zwicker Iron Works where several such boats were constructed.

Navy torpedo boats from the Portland waterfront
This image is a very small example of the fact that even though my book is finished, and I should be concentrating on the sequel covering the period from WWI forward, I am still obsessively collecting images and stories from all the periods of Portland's fascinating past.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I Must Learn How to Sign My Name

I will have the immense pleasure of doing some book signings in the near future. Since all my other books were self published, and not promoted in any useful manner, this will be a new experience for me. I am not sure exactly why authors do this sort of thing. Well, I know it is to sell books, but you see, I myself, have never been to a book signing. So I look forward to it. I am very grateful that someone would actually buy a copy of my book, so should they want me to sign it, I will do so gladly.

I especially look forward to meeting people who know a lot about the subject of Portland history. I know you are out there and I am dying to meet you.

While on the subject I had better mention the details:

Meet the Author Events

45th Annual Holiday Cheer Event
A Celebration of Oregon Authors
Sunday, December 2, Noon - 4 PM
Admission: $5, free for OHS members, includes admission to museum exhibits

COSTCO Aloha store
December 8th - Time to be announced
15901 SW Jenkins Road
Aloha, OR

Tom McCall Waterfront Park, between the Burnside and Morrison Bridges
December 16th
Public signing 2pm to 4pm
Members only 4pm to 6pm With a cookie swap watching the Christmas boats

COSTCO Tigard store
December 22nd - Time to be announced
7850 SW Dartmouth
Tigard, OR

More about "Blalock"

I must also get over this strong aversion to self promotion. In some future post I will tell the story of the dread "Blalock Curse." It isn't strongly related to Portland history, or maritime history,  being a North Carolina tale. But it may " 'splain a few thangs."
Mary Edith Blalock "Mom"

By way of a little appetizer, to whet your taste for the subject, here is a photograph of my mother taken in front of the sign at the entrance to the little town of Blalock, Oregon. The town platted in 1881. It was named after my grandfather's uncle, Dr. N.G. Blalock, a big wig in the Paloose of Washington State (where the hills roll as though they were painted by Grant Wood). The little burg was on the south bank of the Columbia River, near Blalock Island, and Blalock Canyon.  Both the island an the canyon remain, although the island is now about a tenth of its original size. But the town is submerged, the dwelling place of sturgeon and crayfish, beneath the waters backed up by the John Day Dam.

The town was once a going concern. It had a post office and a station for the Oregon &Washington Railroad and Navigation Company. There was a general merchandise store, two grain warehouses, some sort of plow and combine factory, a hotel, a livery stable, and a few other things. No saloon has ever been mentioned as far as I can tell. This would fit in with the name Blalock, teetotalers since the days when John the Baptist was feasting on grasshoppers, wild honey, and pure spring water. It was a nice little place, and they probably would have still built the dam, even if it wasn't named "Blalock."

Cheers! All 'ya all!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Portland's Lost Waterfront: Tall Ships, Steam Mills, and Sailors Boardinghouses

The Author Toots His Own Horn, a wee bit


Golden Fleece
Some years back my wife and I were visiting York, staying in a B&B pub called the Golden Fleece, a pub so old that no one could say when it was built,  but it was mentioned in a document penned in 1503. Around the corner was the old York Merchant Adventurers' Hall built in 1357. The curator of this hall was delighted to discover that we were from Portland, Oregon. He had been one of the children evacuated from London during the bombing, and had been sent to live with a family in the Dunthorpe section of Portland. He told us how, as a historian, it seemed so convenient and wonderful to have a city whose entire history was recorded, and could be discovered; unlike York, whose founding was by Vikings and whose ghosts—pagans, Romans, or otherwise—were mostly illiterate and left behind more mystery than artifact.
Merchant Adventurer's Hall
Portland has a relatively short history, but it seems to be one that is just now being discovered. Today there is a new interest in old Portland, and a very good thing that is indeed. Our history may be short, but it is jammed full of larger than life characters who have yet to see their shenanigans brought out into the daylight for us 21st century folks to look at. 

I must say, I was tremendously fortunate to be asked by History Press to write a book on the history of the Portland waterfront at a time when several invaluable resources were being made available for the first time. I am speaking, of course, of the online searchable newspaper databases, such as the ones offered by the Library of Congress, the University of Oregon's "Historic Oregon Newspapers," and the ones made available by the Multnomah County Library from Newsbank Inc. During my first dabbling with these resources, I came upon some surprising nuggets of pure gold (metaphorically speaking). I then proceeded to go at it like a man obsessed. In fact, as my wife will attest, there was no "like a man obsessed" about it. I was obsessed—spending sometimes 12 hours straight searching, researching, and cross-checking leads, and following hunches over volumes of the OCRed scans of yesteryear's newspapers. 

The book that is the result of this obsession covers ground that even Oregon history buffs may have missed. Here are some examples:

1. This book tells the true story of how the discovery of gold was introduced to the people of Oregon City and Portland. For some reason other history books have only told part of this story.

2. This book tells the factual history of Portland's "sailors boardinghouse masters," otherwise known as "shanghaiers." This true story is far more interesting than the bogus "shanghai tunnel" stories being sold to na├»ve Portlanders and tourists today.  

3. The book tells the names and locations of the early docks, such as the O.R.&N. Ash Street, Mersey, Victoria, Greenwich, and (until eaten by flames) the huge Pacific Coast Grain Elevator, constructed of wood timbers.

4. The book tells about Oregon's Naval Militia, with its "squadron of evolution" battleships, the USS Boston and USS Marblehead.

5. It tells about Portland's "Scowtown," too shameful to mention in history books, and then forgotten. 

6. It exposes Portland's best kept secret for decades, how Portland stole Astoria's rightful place as the port city of Oregon. All during the 19th century, supporters of the business community in Portland rarely, if ever, spoke of the fact that Portland was a difficult port to reach during many months of the year. It was, in fact, impossible during some months, when cargo had to be "lightered" to and from Astoria. This subject was so taboo that it rarely made it into the history books. This book describes how a port 113 miles from the ocean was created and maintained by digging deeper and deeper channels over a period of more than 100 years at an enormous expense. It also tells how the railroads, to maintain Portland's position of supremacy, purposefully avoided Astoria up into the 20th century. 

These would be reason enough to buy a copy, but this book is also filled with dozens of previously unpublished photographs, many coming from the seemingly endless depths of Thomas Robinson's Historic Photo Archives, and others from my own collections.

I have finally held a real copy of Portland's Lost Waterfront in my hand, and I haven't yet been hit by writer's remorse. The fact is, I think it is a nice little book, very pretty to look at, and jammed with things you probably have never heard anywhere else.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Favorite Spot for a Photograph

Anyone who has seen many of the collectable old postcards of Portland from the late 1880s up into the early 20th century has seen a view described as the "Lower Harbor." This view usually has some tall ships in the center, a steam tug or two, and the grain docks on the west side and the Albina side. One the west side these will be in this order: Albers, Greenwich, Columbia No. 1, with lumber docks in the misty distance. On the Albina side the docks are in this order: Victoria, Irving, Columbia No. 2, and 1, Montgomery No. 1, and 2, with more of the long grain warehouses in the distance. If the photo is a good one, Portland Flouring Mills will be seen afar off by the east ship channel next to Swan Island.
A casual observer might mistakenly take them for the same photo, but the vessels are always different. It doesn't take a history detective to figure out that these were all taken from the upper span of the first Steel Bridge, which means they were all taken after 1888. A photo from the middle of the river taken from the upper deck or mast of a ship would have been very difficult in those days since it was necessary that the camera and subject be completely still while the image was being exposed. I haven't counted how many of these I have in my collection, but they are quite common, and can usually be found on Ebay for a pretty low price, considering how cool they are. This first one is my favorite, and although there is no date, I have a feeling it is the oldest. The ones with a passing Albina Ferry are the hardest to find, so if you see one, please don't out bid me.

And now for something completely different:
My book, Portland's Lost Waterfront: Tall Ships, Steam Mills, and Sailor's Boardinghouses has hit the stores, from History Press (the publisher), to Powells City of Books, to Amazon, to Barnes and Noble, and more. It is my (not so well kept secret) hope that the book will do well enough for me to continue on with the project and write another book covering the period from WWI to the present (or close to it).

The early days of the Portland waterfront were filled with incredible events, and larger than life figures. But the 20th century may even have better material that has yet to see the light of day in this new 21st century. The years I spent on the waterfront contain some incredible (nearly unprintable) stories. So this is my little appeal to encourage anyone who enjoys this blog to consider buying a copy of this first book in hope that there may be another to follow.