Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The First Girl "Mysterious" Billy Smith Ever Loved

To cover discoveries not directly connected to the old waterfront I have started a new blog, Oregon Ozone. I stole the name from an Oregonian column from the 1890s.

The first girl “Mysterious” Billy Smith ever loved met her tragic death on their honeymoon. Billy had a monument erected over her grave that cost a fortune. Today the beautiful monument—a large sculpted angel—is part of the Historical Monuments on the Cemetery Tour page of the River View Cemetery website. The fact that her husband was a famous prizefighter has escaped everyone’s notice, until now.

Read the story in the very first post on Oregon Ozone

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Asthmatic Weakling Writes Book on Prizefighting in Portland

It is true, an asthmatic weakling, who used to regularly give up his lunch money as tribute to bullies, has written a book on prizefighting. Not only this, History Press has just published it! Oregon Prizefighters: Forgotten Bare-knuckles Champions of Portland and Astoria, will hit the shelves on Monday.

What was it that made someone like me, born without the “sports gene,” to become interested in the bare-knuckles prizefighting of yesteryear? It was the people: brash, na├»ve youths, wracked by passions, ruined by limelight. Then there is the model Portlander, Dave Campbell, for many years “Our Dave,” beloved chief of the Portland fire department. He was self-educated, intelligent, measured, and fearless, and gave up a sure championship career as a boxer to fight Portland’s fires. Add to the mix the original all-time champion, Jack “Nonpareil” Dempsey (died 1895), and “Mysterious” Billy Smith—both legends in the world of boxing history—and you soon begin to wonder why these fellows aren’t at least well known in Portland and Astoria.
A publication by the New York Police Gazette

Both places were big on boxing, and in those days the two cities were joined at the hip due to the shipping business and the shallowness of the rivers in dry season. Much business had to be conducted from Astoria when the waters were too low for deep ocean vessels.

I spent about 3 years researching these men, and have managed to dig up a lot of fascinating detail (fascinating to me, at least), and hard to find material. One of the great finds, for lithograph images, at least (the info is a little sketchy) was The Life and Battles of Jack Dempsey, published by the New York Police Gazette in 1888, while Dempsey was still a champion “nonpareil.” This my daughter, Molly Gunderson, helped me obtain from Tulane University in New Orleans. It comes in handy to have a wife that is an editor, a daughter that is a librarian, and a cat that keeps my chair warm.

It would be more than ironic if this book were to become more popular than my other two Portland history books, and I became known as a sports writer. I prefer either "historical biographer" or "time travel writer."
"Mysterious" Billy Smith lived in Portland most of his adult life. He was once world famous, but he is buried in a pauper's grave in the county cemetery on Southeast 82nd and Holgate.

David Campbell gave up a prizefighting career to fight fires. He became Portland's favorite son, "Our Dave."

This illustration, called "The Champion" shows the awe commanded by prizefighters at the end of the 19th century. Boston Sunday Supplement, 1906

Oregon Prizefighters: Forgotten Bare-knuckles Champions of Portland and Astoria goes on sale October 19, 2015. Anyone extremely anxious to get a copy can preorder now.

click to buy

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The End of Summer—and a new book in time for the Holidays

As the sky takes on more red color, causing the little green plants to spurt forth buds, and the year turns toward Indian Summer I find it necessary (at least for my own conscience sake) to give some explanation, or apology for my slackness in contributing to my own blog.

I was having fun. After eight years of being a, sort of, shut in I have been out riding my bike, going to the pool, working on illustrations, playing my guitar, and visiting folks. My long time relationship with the opium poppy (due to rheumatoid and osteoarthritis) has been over for some time, and other improvements of a nearly miraculous nature have gotten me off my ass and out in the wide world.

I have not been idle. I wrapped up my next book, The Oregon Prizefighters: Forgotten Bare-Knucked Champions of Portland and Astoria to be released by History Press in mid October. The book centers around the three world famous prizefighters who called Portland home: Jack (Nonpareil) Dempsey, David Campbell, and “Mysterious” Billy Smith. As it was with my previous two books, it is remarkable how little was known about the people involved in this business—compared to all the horsefeathers  brought forth by fiction writers disguised as historians.

So the blog goes on.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Riversdale Incident

The full-rigged ship, Riversdale

Back in the palmy days of the Portland sailor’s boarding masters the occasional landlubber that was shipped was small fry compared to the steady trade in deserting seamen. The following article is from the April 1903 edition of the British ship owner’s trade magazine, The Syren and Shipping News. The events mentioned in the article on the Riversdale marked the beginning of the end for the Portland shanghaiers. Within three years the mighty Sullivan, Grant Bros.& McCarron would “throw down their hands in sheer disgust” as reformers got the upper hand in Portland politics.

On Watch
T’ is gratifying to find an Englishman, in this degenerate age, having the pluck to pit himself against the combination of sailors' boarding-house proprietors, their runners and the whole evil fraternity that have long made Portland, Oregon, a place to be avoided by shipmasters, officers and men under the British Red Ensign. Captain Porter, of the Riversdale, belonging to Messrs. Leyland, of Liverpool, deserves the sincere thanks of every right-minded subject of His Majesty King Edward VII., and also of every citizen of the Great Republic who has a reputation to lose, for the fearless stand he has recently made against the hellish combination that is for some reason allowed to dictate terms to masters of British ships with respect to the shipment of seamen at Portland, Oregon.

There are not wanting those who boldly assert that some shipmasters and their employees find it convenient, if not absolutely profitable, to work hand in hand with the remorseless crimps of the Pacific Coast of the United States who make a golden harvest out of the ignorant and defenseless foreigners so often found in the forecastles of British sailing ships engaged in the long voyage trade. But the action of Captain Porter, backed up by the owners of the Riversdale, clearly shows that there are not wanting British shipmasters competent and willing to hold their own against the class of crimp who, in this country, would soon be cooling his heels on the stone floor of the nearest gaol.

British shipowners have for many years past been the best customers of the authorities connected with Portland and Astoria, and, owing to circumstances apparently beyond the control of the City Fathers, the former have been harassed almost in excess of the bounds of belief by a small but malignant band of sailors' boarding-masters who seem to be the very salt of the political earth inside the bar of the Columbia River. Had our shipmasters and shipowners years ago combined forces against the common enemy, and shown the cruel crimps an unwavering front, there would not be prevalent the state of anarchy such as now makes Portland, Oregon, an object-lesson to every civilized nation as to the necessity for local authorities to prevent persons of this undesirable class from becoming a power for evil at the polling booths.

Citizens of Oregon have for some years past been fully alive to the bad odour in which their city is steeped owing to the actions of men whose aim is to keep the sailor in a state of thraldom by the aid of every artifice known to the lowest class of liquor-saloon keeper around the city front; ship him, like a white slave as he is when under the crimp's control, on board some ship of the latter's choice and scoop in the dollars on every deal. San Francisco is bad enough in all conscience, but never, not even in his palmiest days, did the 'Frisco boarding-master hold such a full hand.

When freights are high and men difficult to obtain, we fear that the shipmaster prefers to pay a considerable sum to the crimp-euphoniously known as "blood money" -rather than have h is ship held up by the close combination of the very lowest class of sailors' boarding house master. We venture to say that, if the Shipping Federation could, and would, enter as strongly into this serious business in Oregon as it has done of late with far less important strikes on the Continent of Europe, the Portland crimps would throw down their hands in sheer disgust at the altered run of the cards. As matters stand to-day, the crimps play with marked cards; and there are far too few of the stamp of Captain Porter who will dare call the sharper's attention to the fact that there is a short shrift for rogues of this description.

American deep-water vessels do not visit Portland, and the coasting seamen are, as a rule, of quite a different class from the men who come to the port in foreign ships. Hence the crimp confines his operations solely to vessels under the flags of England, France and Germany, and often grows rich in this nefarious business of inducing sailors to desert and forthwith reshipping them in a strange vessel, after a few hours of dire dissipation, having first taken care to demand and obtain from 30 dols. to 50 dols. for each dissolute white slave and a substantial advance in addition. This class of shanghaied sailorman has positively nothing to lose by displaying a mutinous spirit, and not much to gain by obedience to orders, and it is useless to expect discipline so long as the crimps of Oregon and California are permitted to work their evil will upon the sailors of British ships.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bunko Kelly's Music Video

I needed to get this done so I could spend more time on my newest book (due in March). I still don't feel like publicizing the topic, since it is a little weird for me to show interest in such goings on.

So, I wanted a string band, or a jug band, or a skiffle band to help me along, but instead it did it myself. I didn't practice, I just did it, and recorded it--in spite of having shattered my wrist some time back, and severing my left rotator cuff a few months ago, and having not sung since my early forties. Now I will stop making excuses and cough up the details.

The new video: How the Flying Prince Got its Crew, has been uploaded and can now be viewed here:

 For those wishing to sing along, here are the lyrics:

The Ballad of the Flying Prince

Come gather round you Portland boys
And I will sing to you,
How that low down Bunko Kelly
Got the Flying Prince her crew.

The ship was moored at Ainsworth Dock
For six long weeks and more,
Loading sacks of golden wheat
For England's pleasant shore.

The time came for departure
One evening's rising tide,
The cargo was all battened down
The tug was alongside.

But the captain and the carpenter
Were the only souls aboard,
So they called in Bunko Kelly
Who they offered a reward.

Oh Bunko Kelly,
Oh Lord what shall we do?
The Flying Prince is set to sail
But I fear she has no crew.

So Kelly searched the waterfront
Top down and end to end,
For loggers, loafers, hoboes,
Or able-bodied men.

He searched the dives, he searched the dens,
Alcoves and alleys too,
But he could not find a single man
Who would sign aboard as crew.

He searched through Erickson's resort
Down on Burnside street,
T'was then he thought his luck was gone
And he might face defeat .

He went to the Snug Harbor
The last of the saloons,
Where his heart was chilled by an eerie sound
Like the warbling of the loons.

Oh Bunko Kelly,
Oh Lord what shall we do?
The Flying Prince is set to sail
But I fear she has no crew.

It seemed to come from somewhere near
Behind the basement door,
That belonged to Johnson and Son
Undertakers shop next door.

Then Bunko the shanghaier
Quaked and shook with fright,
As he traveled down the basement steps
He beheld a ghastly sight.

In the dark he nearly stepped upon
A corpse in death's dark throes,
Just then its bulging eyes turned white
And blood ran out its nose.

As his eyes adjusted to the dark,
Of that dank and loathsome den,
It filled with the writhing forms
Of dead and dying men.

Oh Bunko Kelly,
Oh Lord what shall we do?
The Flying Prince is set to sail
But I fear she has no crew.

The ghastly scene did tell a tale
Of foolishness and ruin,
Of men too dumb to realize
The Snug Harbor Saloon

Was the next door down, and this,
The undertaker's side,
Instead of gin they had imbibed
Straight up formaldehyde.

Two dozen men of middle age,
All winos to the core,
Lay writhing in the throes of death
Or dead upon the floor.

Bunko Kelly's eyes lit up
And off he went with haste,
To find some boys to help him keep
This chance from going to waste.

Oh Bunko Kelly,
Oh Lord what shall we do?
The Flying Prince is set to sail
But I fear she has no crew.

The livery stable boys hitched up
Some wagons for the task,
For what Bunko was paying them
No questions would be asked.

They wrapped the stiffs in canvas sheets
And carried them off thence,
To the waiting ship at Ainsworth Dock
The aforementioned Flying Prince.

When the captain saw our Bunko crimp,
Relieved and overjoyed,
Was he to see two dozen men,
Intent to be employed.

Though they were drunk and senseless,
Wrapped up like a cocoon,
As he supposed, from drinking at
The Snug Harbor Saloon.

Oh Bunko Kelly,
Oh Lord what shall we do?
The Flying Prince is set to sail
With a dead and dying crew.

The  boys stowed the men below
In the fo'castle and midship,
Then the captain loosed the ropes that tied
The vessel to the slip.

The steam tug Oklahama
Pushed the Flying Prince along,
Down the rivers to the sea
Suspecting nothing wrong.

Once in the wild Pacific surge
The tug whistled farewell,
And left the Flying Prince to lurch
Upon the bounding swell.

Some say she sails the oceans still
Her ragged sails askew
The captain, and the carpenter,
And a ghostly skeleton crew.

Oh Bunko Kelly,
Oh Lord what have you done?
The Flying Prince has lost its course
Since Portland, Oregon.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Embracing Fakelore

Having seeing the old Stewart Holbrook chestnut, “How the Flying Prince Got its Crew” treated like authentic history by people who should know better, I decided to get into this “fakelore” business myself. For those unfamiliar with the word, the neologism was invented for a 1950 article in the American Mercury by an American collector of real folklore, Richard Dorson. He spends much of the article skewering the likes of one Paul Bunyan as being mostly the invention of a writer hired by a lumber corporation.

There is another interesting article on the subject by Alan Dundes with the overdone title: Nationalistic Inferiority Complexes and the Fabrication of Fakelore: A Reconsideration of Ossian, the Kinder- und Hausmarchen, the Kalevala, and Paul Bunyan. Dundes doesn’t seem to get the picture that lots of fakelore is invented to make some money—to sell a story to a magazine, create a tourist trap with some ghostly tale of evil deeds, or to land an episode on the History Channel.

As most of my readers know by now, I am of the opinion that the city fathers and mothers of an older Portland, Oregon were so ashamed of the wide open past, corrupt cops, and teeming red light districts that they allowed for none of the old tales to take root. Until Stewart Holdbrook Portland history was a collection of bearded and boring men, doing boring deeds, while stealing the public blind (as in the case of the large section of land belonging to the Stevens family) and slapping each other on the back as jolly good fellows.

Holbrook unashamedly rewrote the city’s history in ways that would not be easy to forget. In Holbrook’s little booklet, The Portland Story (written for the Lippman & Wolfe 50th birthday celebration) he starts with the earliest pioneers, rolls in the railroads and the 20th century, and gives his imaginary nutshell history. Holbrook was awarded financial well-being and national notoriety, and all for being an ex-logger who could tell a good tale about the old Northwest.

When I think of all the places around the country—especially the “Wild West”—that increase the tourist income in their area by cashing in on a good piece of fakelore, it appears that this fakelore lark is a good cash cow. So I, not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to fatten my wallet, am sticking my toe in the Portland fakelore business.

Awhile back I penned a bit of verse (whether good or bad, you be the judge) called, “The Ballad of the Flying Prince,” which I foisted on the gentle readers of this blog. I sent the verse to my multitalented friend, J.D. Chandler, to see if he could make it into a song (my own banjolele fingering arm being busted up). He graciously sent me an MP3 of his mouth harp version. As soon as my fingers could caress the strings of my antique banjolele I set to work making the lyric into a song. I was planning to overtrack harmonies and all sorts of fancy things, but upon completion of the first track I saw, to my dismay, the song was too long for my purpose—almost 8 minutes.

I wanted a nice, compact piece of fakelore, which I could turn into a cartoon through the magic of graphics and animation software. The various sections of the cartoon are finished, all I need is song to narrate the story so I can edit the parts to fit—but the song was too long, If I can ever stop blogging, or working on my new book, or taking care of other business long enough I will narrate a Holbrook style version of the tale to go with the images and make a little, 4 minute cartoon for the attention-deprived Youtube generation.

At least that is the plan.

Below are a few stills from the coming cartoon to whet your desire to devote 4 minutes of your life for a little uplifting fakelore.

Bunko Kelly ponders his dilemma

Bunko Kelly leaves the Snug Harbor Saloon to look for the source of the moaning sound

What they were drinking
Bunko Kelly almost steps on a dying wino

The time in the train station tower shows that the tide is high

Bunko Kelly finds the lads at the livery stables ready to help

Coming Soon! How the Flying Prince Got Its Crew