Thursday, November 20, 2014

In and Around the Sanitarium

I have been away from my beloved blog for many days. The story of why would be boring for you to hear, and painful for me to tell (involves--among other things--a new, titanium knee). So here, then, by way of apology:

On Hawthorne Lane

I have left my garden to grow alone,

Like the god of the Unitarians,

For you see, my dears, I have been away

For a rest in the sanitarium.

& while I was there I met a man,

Who spoke of Joachim Miller,

When Mount Hood was just a hole.

He was a crazy kind of feller.

There was an English lass—a faded rose—

She said her name was “Lizzy,”   

She had a heart of earth wrapped up in stone,

But she’s still God’s little missy.

There were dark men on shadowy stairs

Ashamed to show their faces.

So we kept the gaslights turned down low,

One of life’s redeeming graces.

The sun outside was mostly veiled,

When the weather wasn’t rainy,

& the light was stored in a wooden box,

Filed away under miscellany.

I was shown this light by “Crawdad” Pete,

A “sourdough” from the days of old.

He had seen a doctor hide it there,

& he had dreamed that it was gold.

Pete had no use for light, he said,

“There ain’t no way I can constrain it.

When it’s out it’s out, free as the wind.”

At least that’s how he explained it.

Liz and I sneaked out that night,
To stroll on Hawthorne Lane,
With the moonlight brightening our eyes,
It was hard to say which one's insane.

We met an old bearded gent named George;
He said he once worked for Lincoln,
But he moved his family to the great Northwest,
Because the "whole east coast was sink-un."

He asked me of my folks and home;
I only said I was a stranger
& my home was where my heart found love,
A mighty shield from every danger.

"Those are fine words, my friend," he said,
"Just like some Romantic poet,
But death and pain must come to all,
& I think that you must know it."

"Pain and death must come," said I,
"I am sure I can't ignore it.
But should things work some other way,
We would be the poorer for it."

The old gent smiled and tipped his hat,
With the knob of his silver cane,
& Liz and I turned back towards home,
The big house on Hawthorne Lane.

So I've been gone these many months,
In the house with a rolling lawn,
& I am cheered to find on my return,
No one noticed I was gone.

To those interested in obscure political intrigue I must say, the staid and righteous figure of Dr. Hawthorne has a few flies on it. Dr. Hawthorne’s Asylum was the asylum for the state of Oregon, taking court-committed mental patients from the entire state. Once when the legislature was debating opening a state hospital at Salem, Dr. Hawthorne went to see his old friend, then governor Lafayette Grover, and with tears running down his face, begged the governor to put a stop to the project—or, Hawthorne wept, he would become bankrupt, and his family desolate.

His kindly old friend, the governor, stuck his neck out and nixed the state asylum project, much to his political disadvantage. Many in the business community of Salem were anticipating the arrival of the state hospital as a pork-bellied sow awaits the chow bucket. Opposing the plan was a slap in the face to many a friend and foe alike. As Grover put it some years later while under oath:

"My course toward Dr. Hawthorne in maintaining the asylum in his hands was purely the act of a friend—I was a friend in need, and became a friend indeed. But it cost me money, and it cost me friends. For all those in that town (Salem) who moved to secure the asylum there in 1872 opposed my administration throughout, scandalized my public work, opposed my election to the United States Senate, and came near defeating me."

In 1910, after Dr. Hawthorne’s death, Lafayette Grover and his wife found themselves in dire straits—without money for food, or daily needs. Mrs. Hawthorne, however, was wealthy, mostly with wealth Lafayette Grover had helped her husband accumulate as friend and attorney. Much of her real estate wealth came from 45 acres in the West Hills that her husband had acquired in a deal with Grover. Ten years earlier the Grovers were land rich and money broke. 

Lafayette Grover worked out a loan from Dr. Hawthorne based on the 45 acres mentioned before. All this came to light in 1910 when, in desperation, the impoverished couple took Mrs. Hawthorne to court, trying to arrange a way for them to get their fair share of the West Hills property.

It is hard to imagine a once United States Congressman, Senator, and governor of Oregon on the doorstep of the poor house. Under oath, Mrs. Hawthorne had sputtered in her defense that she had, “furnished them money to get through this financial stringency.”

M.O. Collins, the son-in-law of Mrs. Hawthorne had shown how vehemently his family opposed this lawsuit by threatening to do bodily harm to John Manning, one of the Grover’s attorneys.

While in the witness stand Manning asked Collins point blank:

"Did you threaten to lick me at one time if I commenced this suit?"

In a heated reply Collins said that he had threatened him for the “scandalous allegations” in the lawsuit, not to try and stop him from commencing the suit.

This “very Portland” sort of historical soap opera may be of great interest to someone who cares to go dig up all the dirt. I merely stubbed my toe on it while wandering in the dark.

From: West Shore, April 1880