Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Jim Turk and God

What I hope my readers will find as fascinating as I did is this, another first hand report of Jim Turk boarding a ship on its arrival in Portland. The incident takes place around 1880 and the teller of the tale is Frank Thomas Bullen, a British sailor who later became a famous writer of sea stories.

At the beginning of the 20th century Frank Bullen was as famous as any other writer of his day. He wrote about the two things that mattered to him most: the sea and God. He went to sea at the age of 12 and over the years he rose to the rank of first mate. His first book, The Cruise of the Cachalot: Around the Word After Sperm Whales, was first published in 1898 by Smith, Elder & Company. In a world where the works of Melville were devoured by an adventure-craving public Frank Bullen’s semi autobiographical works found high favor.

In the new world of the American west it was a time when the “sons of perdition” had run their course. The era of unbridled vice had enriched many powerful men, and enraged many other powerful men. Repentance and reform was in the air, pushing forward politicians bent on eliminating the evil of liquor, and bringing to the forefront of politics the suffrage of women, many of whom were pro-prohibition as well. Frank Bullen wrote for these types of people, bringing them with him into the wild seas and a world where sailors who managed to escape shipwreck at the hands of the raging waves would find shipwreck in the Devil’s snares, the dens of iniquity lining the waterfronts of the world. The only escape, Bullen prophesied, was to find strength and solace in faith.

Bullen is an easy read—a  sort of guilty pleasure. His books are the kind of books I would have enjoyed as a young boy, lying in my sleeping bag, on vacation in some forest campground.

The Cruise of the Cachalot received the enthusiastic endorsement of one of the stellar writers of the day, Rudyard Kipling, whose note to Frank Bullen is quoted here in its entirety:  

Dear Mr. Bullen,
It is immense—there is no other word. I've never read anything that equals it in its deep sea wonder and mystery; nor do I think that any book before has so completely covered the whole business of whale-fishing, and at the same time given such real and new sea pictures. You have thrown away material enough to make five books, and I congratulate you most heartily. It's a new world that you've opened the door to.
Very sincerely,
Rudyard Kipling

The Cruise of the Cachalot, and most of Bullen’s other books can be downloaded at no charge from Google Books. Here is an except describing the trip upstream and the visit of sailor’s boardinghouse master, Jim Turk.

At last, with the usual amount of excitement, as none of us had been there before, we made the bar of the Columbia River, and far inland saw the snowy peak of Mount St. Helena towering purely skyward like a conical stationary cloud, being only about ninety miles away. We took steam and towed in across the bar, learning with a good deal of satisfaction that we were shortly to proceed up the noble river before us to the city of
Mount Saint Helens of old

Satisfaction for two reasons: we wanted to see the river scenery, and we did not fancy the loneliness of Astoria, the port at the river's mouth, where one large ship, the ' Desdemona,' was lying loading. It may seem strange that a sailor should talk about the loneliness of a harbour after the vast solitudes of the ocean, but it is so. The privacy of the sea he takes for granted—it must be so ; but an unpeopled harbour he resents—it is as if he were being defrauded of his right to company after being so long away from any other than that of his shipmates.

For myself, I longed more than anything else to view the scenery of this wonderful part of the world. It was new to me, and I was told that it was very beautiful. And ever since the awakening of my soul I had grown more and more in love with the beautiful things of earth, and sea, and sky. What people call the aesthetic sense of beauty in its true light is, I believe, more strongly fostered by the knowledge of the love of God than anything else. I know of people whose religion is of that gloomy, distorted, God-dishonouring kind that almost looks upon enthusiastic admiration for the work of God in creation as sin. Poor souls, they mean well, but what envious spirit can have bewitched them into the appalling belief that He who considered the lilies and the sunset glow, spread the world with beauty indescribable, enriching every nook of earth with loveliness for His own delight, should desire His dear children to blind themselves for His pleasure! No, I do not believe that there is any education in a love of the beautiful so thorough, so effective, as that gained by an acquaintance with Jesus Christ.
Willamette Chief
In due time we left our moorings, and in tow of one of the stately, towering river-steamers that Americans delight in, we departed. The Willamette Chief our imposing motor—it seemed almost irreverent to speak of her as a tug, so splendid did she appear by our side—glided up stream against the considerable current with great ease, at no time exerting all her power. That great stern-wheel of hers seemed irresistible.

The view as we turned bend after bend was truly enchanting, especially to me, whose opportunities of looking upon inland scenery had been so small. Those solemn, endless avenues of pines coming right down to the water's edge and reflecting the tall pillars of their stems in the placid surface of the river, especially appealed to me—I could not help comparing them with the vastly different vegetation on the banks of the Clarence, in New South Wales, up which I so often steamed when lamp-trimmer in the Helen McGregor.

I do not remember how long we were towing up: I only know that the time seemed very short, and before we could realize that the long upward tow was nearly at an end, Portland, with its rows of double-tiered wharves, its fine buildings and clusters of shipping,
Jim Turk rows out to drum up business
burst into view. But who is this coming off in a four-oared boat, bumping alongside, and climbing over the rail with a strange air of proprietorship? Without taking any notice of the after-guard, he strolls forward and introduces himself to us as we all stand grouped together staring at the city. He is, it appears, one James Turk, who keeps a respectable boarding-house for seamen, to which he has come to invite us. He informs us casually that wages for A.B.'s are at present forty dollars a month, and that the paltry formality of getting a legal discharge need not trouble us. It appears they don't go much on discharges here.
Jim Turk

“An' ye'll git tew mont's' advance, y'know, 'fore ever ye go aboard,”he adds.

This last is rather much for me to listen to silently, so I say, with the utmost politeness;

“Who'll get two months' advance, did you say?”

“Anybody as ships here,” he replied excitedly; ”you ef ye like ter be man enough t' git yer dunnage an' stip into my boat thet's 'long side.”

“Thanks,” I murmured, “I thought the boarding master usually got the advance, and the sailor that was fool enough to have anything to do with him got a broken head and a few bruises if he ventured to ask for what belonged to him.”

Swift as thought the wild-beast stood revealed—man-stealer, murderer, criminal of loathliest shape. Can any term of opprobrium be too severe to apply to these demons of the American ports, whose awful trade has been a blot upon the fair fame of the great Republic for so many years. This particular devil burst forth into a flood of flaming blasphemies against us all, and myself in particular, lurid language to which none of us answered a word. Until presently big Jem stepped forward quietly and said:

 “My vrient, jou vants de crace of Gott fery batt.” (My friend, you want the grace of God very bad.)

Shall I ever again see such a transformation? The truculent villain looked stupidly first at Jem, then at us all, one after the other, and then wearily turned away, ejaculating his formula:

“Well, God damn my soul t' hell.”

So he passed from our ken and we saw him no more. But afterwards we heard that this particular specimen of the Pacific Coast boarding master had a reputation for evildoing second to none in all that foul fraternity. And we were assured that we might be exceedingly grateful that none of us had been waylaid by his orders and brutally done to death. But I do not know. It has been my experience that in most cases where sailors have been thus evilly treated it has been because they themselves have been consenting parties in a measure, that they have willingly gone to those places where they were most easily trapped. Poor brother seamen! as if you had not sufficient enemies without you yourselves giving those enemies all the facilities they require to work you harm.

Vessel on its way to sea

Friday, July 18, 2014

Portland by Night

The Evil Deeds of Darkness

An Evening in Whitechapel and Its Celebrated Resorts of Crime and Dissipation

This article was written by an unnamed Oregonian reporter and appeared in the Sunday Oregonian, May 14, 1893. Note: Please try to overlook the racial insensitivity in a few remarks. It is mild compared to many news articles from the period. I added paragraph breaks. The article had none, and was a bit difficult to read. I believe this article is a valuable first hand account of the life in the North End at the beginning of the 1890s.

When darkness has settled down upon the western Heights and blotted from sight the near and distant scenes of which Portlanders love to tell, there is still presented to the eye a beautiful view, for art takes possession of the landscape nature leaves to rest.  Spread out at one’s feet is a vast sea of deep, mysterious darkness, interspersed with glistening points of a radiance—brilliant arcs scattered here and there, long rows of glowing incandescents and twinkling stars of household light.  

How diverse are the scenes upon which these flameless fires shed their rays!  Some shine out from homes of splendor, some light the way to hurrying steps or over the pavements, some standout serene and high above the river’s darkly flowing tide, and others can scarcely pierce the gloom of the resorts of crime and the abodes of misery and squalor.  Sundry forms of municipal legislation and a general scarcity of spare money for the past three years have made Portland’s night scenes quite humdrum affairs to what they were when three or four variety theaters were thriving, and half a dozen big gambling houses within a stone’s throw of each other were running all-night games.  What does go on however, is about the

same kind though less in extent.  Twelve o’clock is about the time when good people fade almost utterly from the street.  There are those, of course, whose duties keep them out—policeman, street sweepers, reporters, but aside from these those who “roam the streets” after that hour should be elsewhere.  

No one who has witnessed a great fire at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning can have failed to wonder at the presence of so many people who have evidently not retired, but appear in their evening dress without a trace of dishabille.  Wherever they come from, they show up in sufficient numbers to prove that a large proportion of the city’s population find other occupation than sleep for the night hours.  Many of these, of course, have duties of the day which will suffer for the dissipation, but still the night side of Portland affords honest work for many toilers.  Most of it to be sure is furnished by those questionable pursuits.  

Protection against lawlessness is the chief of mission of the police at night; and the hack men, and messenger boys who  scurry hither and thither do so by almost uniformly at the instance of the criminal element or the “sporting class.”  After the theater-goers have finished with their jostling but short-lived processions, and the last cars have whisked away with their belated loads, quiet settles over the streets.  

The last places to close up, except the saloons and restaurants, are the cigar and refreshments stands.  About 12 their folding doors are put together, their windows put up and a solitary light burning is all that tells of their previous activity.  But within the saloons there is still life and activity.  They are at anytime the brightest of places along the street. From out their hidden mysteries float sounds of merry clinking glasses, snatches of laughter and song, and sometimes voices in wordy discussion.  Within groups of men before the bar are reflected in the burnished mirrors, others sit at the card tables, busy with paste-board and chips.  

Down in the North End there are more people on the streets.  The varieties are in full blast, and a constant stream of patrons pours in out of them and the saloons which thickly besprinkle the section from Pine street north to Hoyt.  Some of these places are frequented by a very low class of customers—“friends” of variety actresses and women of the town, hoboes, petty criminals, back-number bartenders, relics of brighter days from all classes of employment, sailors and ‘longshoremen.  

To cater to this class of trade, music (so-called) is provided.  Sometimes a piano suffices; in other resorts there will be a violin and piano, or harp and piano; and in one place on Third street there is furnished nightly an unique picture.  A big, burly negro saws away monotonously on a violin, eyes closed in oblivion, a half-consumed cigarette in his mouth.  By his side a white man pounds fiercely upon a piano that has seen better days, while from a neighboring eminence a Jap doles out Irish stew of fearful and wonderful composition as a “grand free hot lunch every night with one glass of beer.” The guests sit around the sloppy tables, and while the night wanes the “Irish Washerwoman” and the grand free lunch go down with the beer.


Other places have feminine attractions. Most of these are the French cribs or the saloon attachment.  These are generally conducted in colonies—three or four ostensibly distinct establishments working under the common headquarters, generally a corner saloon.  In this central establishment is the saloon, and in its rear a dining-room and kitchen or the ladies on the block board and by their cognac and claret. All have connection with the source of supplies and will bring drinks for their thirsty guests in the twinkling of an eye.  

At the corner of Fourth and C is a typical colony of this sort.  The proprietress, a dark, voluptuous Frenchwoman of 33 or thereabouts, has a lease on the entire quarter-block.  The houses on both streets from the corner to the center of the block are cut up into small rooms, the occupants renting from her, boarding with her and patronizing the corner bar for red wine, strong brandy, absinthe and benedictine.  

Those immediately adjoining the saloon often come into the common parlor, which connects with the barroom and vary the monotony of their window campaign by hanging around the bar and accepting chance customers with, “Can’t I have a drink meester?”  Their request is rarely unsuccessful to those who go into such places to drink know what they will meet and expect to be sociable.  The French girl has her faults, but they are not those of her Anglo-Saxon co-laborer.  She does not squander her money and riotous living, make the night hideous with drunken orgies, or
brazenly parade the streets to advertise her calling.  Generally her slender earnings go to her macquereau,1 who manages her as exactingly as the sideshow proprietor does his freaks, and frequently punishes her shamefully for ill success, whether occasioned by sickness or slack business methods.  

There are many saloons were in English speaking women have connecting rooms.  These usually spend much of their time in the barroom or its adjoining “parlor.”  They are clamorous in their pleas for drinks, though it is usually done for the sake of their percentages rather than from a state of ceaseless thirst.  It is not uncommon, however, to see them the worse for liquor, and as long as they are jovial and increasing their “jag,” they do not want for friends to ply them with liquor until they become maudlin.

But not all the women who are out late can be found in saloons.  Some are in the private rooms of fashionable restaurants, slated with champagne and oysters, talking wildly, laughing and immoderately, experimenting with cigarettes and essaying skirt dances.  They have a plausible excuses for parents or husbands in the morning about missing the last car and staying with a lady friend.  There is another large class known to the police as “grafters” who lure their perspective victims into wine rooms, reached by the frequent sign, “Private Entrance,” “Ladies Entrance” or “Family Entrance,” where, with drinks more or less doctored, and with deft fingers, they rob their companion. Sometimes they take him to their lodgings, where silent hands through a panel, or hooks through a transom, do the work she despaired of in the wineroom.

One of the jolly combinations one meets on the streets is that of the drummer and his country customer.  Be sure the merchants sees all the sites at night, from the luxurious bagnio2 to the Whitechapel den, from the tiger to the crap game, and that the house defrays all the expense of the excursion.  Night is not the professional gambler’s time for taking pleasure walks.  He is assiduously employed, dealing, on the lookout, or perhaps playing his own “systems” from the outside. When his work is done he is glad enough to seek his rest.  

The men on the street are chiefly hangers-on of various places, variety roustabouts, saloon porters, hobos pure and simple, alert to sponge meals or drinks or assist in petty misdemeanors which will give him a pittance.  Curiously enough the beggars have vanished.  They must rest sometime from the arduous duties of their profession and at night they find the most congenial company in which to spend their incomes.  

“Sure thing” men at cards or dice are active, keenly on watch for possible victims.  Back in forth among these scenes, the hacks and messenger boys hurry, the street-cleaners’ machines go along with its wake of dust and subsequent shovelers with their carts, police patrol their beats, picking up an occasional drunk or sneak thief, until the gray dawn streaks the eastern sky and another day is ushered in, the rattle of the produce and milk vendors’ wagons is heard over the bridges and the streets become alive with laborers going to their early morning tasks.

1.macquereau:French: Pimp, Procurer
2. bagnio: As per the usage in the Oregonian of the period the word means a prostitute's boudoir. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

2014 Hidden Portland Museum Guide

I would like to draw your attention to the Portland “Museum Lady,” Carye Bye. Carye has become a real Portland treasure, and I am delighted to have made her acquaintance. Her insatiable curiosity has led her to research all of the museums in the area—not just the ones you know about, but strange, out-of-the-way kinds of places, where you need to contact someone before visiting. For several years now she has be developing a wonderful little guide book. Yesterday I received the 2014 version and I recommend it highly. The booklet itself is a work of art, carefully designed and printed.

The Museum Lady

 This guide lists current information and Museum Lady picks for 56 Museums & Collections in Portland. First Printing July 2014
Don’t be bored, turn off the TV! For a mere. $6 get your copy of Museums and Collections of Portland 2014 and spend that rainy (or not) day exploring. Go here

The guide lists current information and Museum Lady picks for 56 Museums & Collections in Portland. First Printing July 2014

Friday, July 11, 2014

Powell’s City of Books Experience

I want to thank everyone who came for helping to make last night wonderful thing (to paraphrase a Steely Dan lyric). I would say that it was "awesome," but I am no longer a teenager.

From the young man who helped us park to the young woman in charge of the events space the employees were friendly and helpful. The tech person helped work out a difficult problem in getting my presentation onto the large screen, much to my relief. I felt as though I was among friends.

Having a great audience made me more animated than usual and I enjoyed rattling off the top of my head for about 40 minutes while showing pictures, maps, and diagrams pertaining to my book, The Oregon Shanghaiers. Following my talk I answered some very good questions and then signed a pile of books. It was, for me, a flawless, wonderful experience.

Barney Blalock at Powell's City of Books

Warning: Complete Subject Change

Someone who works in local TV just told me, with the voice of authority, that when the "shanghai tunnels" were underwater the crimps used wheelbarrows to take their victims to the ships. Everyone is an expert on this subject, but me.

I have read that for many years Front Street was deep mud in rainy weather. From Turk’s boardinghouse to Mersey Dock was about an even mile. Now I can’t get this image out of my mind: Charles Turk pushing a wheelbarrow with a landlubber-soon-to-be-sailor draped over it in a stupor.

I can also imagine Harry White pushing a wheelbarrow up and over the old Steel Bridge to Montgomery Dock in lower Albina. Hard work, that shanghaiing lark! I hope that all y'all know that I am kidding and still hold fast to my research that shows no one ever shanghaied anyone through a tunnel in Portland. Wheelbarrows? Maybe for someone too cheap to pay for a wagon. But Bunko Kelley was too scrawny to push a grown man in a wheelbarrow.