A fascinating and entertaining look at Portland's past...
Oct 13, 2012
I have a fascination with the history of Portland Oregon, especially as it relates to the 1800's when Portland was growing up. Finn J. D. John has a great book on that topic, titled Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town. When you think of the wild west "anything goes" stereotypes of towns during that time, you can pretty much figure that Portland not only met those images, but completely redefined the limits. With the glasses of nostalgia, it's entertaining. Probably not so much if you were living through it...
Contents: A Wide-Open Frontier Town; Portland's Municipal Rascal - Jonathan Bourne Jr.; Portland Saloons and Gambling Dens; North End Girls; America's Most Pernicious Shanghai City; Fixing the Police; Mayors Behaving Badly; World's Dumbest Drug Smugglers; Wicked Politics; The End of the Golden Age; Source Notes; About The Author
When you read about Portland's history, you realize that greed, graft, and money ruled everything (gee, has anything changed?) City politicians were bought and sold, vice was rampant, and you could get away with just about anything if you knew the right people. John's way of telling the stories makes Vintage Portland a book that's hard to put down, as there's a continual stream of headshaking amazement over the audacity of some people and events. One example that qualifies would be the bordello that belonged to Nancy Boggs. Liquor was heavily taxed, and she didn't want to give up those profits. Rather than subject herself to the politics of the various "towns" that make up the area that is now Portland, she built her bordello on a barge, hauled it out into the middle of the Willamette, and hired rowers to bring people over. If any police raid happened (and she usually knew about them beforehand), she simply moved the barge to the other shore and avoided the jurisdiction of the group after her. Everyone was happy... she had her business, men in Portland had their "entertainment", and the police were able to show that they were trying to shut down crime. Only in Portland...
But even with some of these more humorous stories, John doesn't gloss over the very real human suffering that occurred. Portland was well known for shanghai'ing men to work on sailing vessels. Unsuspecting loggers or visitors to the city were "befriended" by men known as "crimps". The liquor would start flowing, and often the person would wake up to find themselves on a sailing ship, "contracted" for a number of years to pay off their debt that they somehow incurred without knowing it. Life on board a ship was basic slavery, with no legal protection of any sort. In fact, escaping from the ship made you a deserter and a criminal. Many lives were ruined and lost to that "business". Again, fascinating to read in historical retrospect, a human tragedy if you were living through it.
At 142 pages, Wicked Portland doesn't take very long to read. But if you live in Portland (or find that historical time period interesting), this should be on your "to be read" list. It's recharged my interest in digging deeper into some of Portland's past, and it's reminded me that I *have* to sign up to take the tour of Portland's underground shanghai tunnels.
Disclosure: Obtained From: Library Payment: Free
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About the reviewer
Thomas Duff (duffbert)
Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more
"Combing through sometimes obscure archival cracks and crevices, John finds little known facts, then takes on the mantle of a tenacious detective in tracking down details to flesh out a fascinating story." --Yamhill ValleyNews-Register