Wednesday, June 25, 2014

HHS alumni recall nutty tradition

In the early 1920s, Hermiston students attended an old sandstone schoolhouse located next to the current Armand Larive Middle School, with all grades in the same building. Four members of the Hermiston High School Class of 1926 gathered in May of 1976 to reminisce about their high school days. Jim Reid of Seattle, whose engineering firm designed the original “Watch Hermiston Grow” water tower, returned to his old stomping grounds and met with Hermiston residents Orrel Lewis, Edith Cable and Robert Woodward for their first-ever reunion. 

Reid’s favorite memory was of a tradition usually held during the spring when children would bring unshelled peanuts to school and hide them in their desks. At a signal from one of the students, the class would begin pelting the teacher with the nuts. Each class had its own shelling, and everyone, including the teachers, considered the surprise attacks “quite normal.”

“I think it dissipated a lot of the resentment kids built up for the teachers during a year,” Reid said with a laugh.

But the shellings came to an abrupt end when a new athletic coach and science teacher came to the school — a former Army sergeant. The man antagonized a number of the boys when he replaced recess with regimented calisthenics. So in place of the usual peanuts, his students that year loaded up with unshelled black walnuts. Instead of a harmless prank, the yearly tradition became a painful assault. Several boys were suspended and the great tradition came to a halt.

A personal note: I attended Linfield College, which had its own annual spring tradition in the campus’ main dining hall until the mid-1980s. It usually started with the fraternities, whose members congregated at table at the back of the hall. Once a year, what started out as a few tossed items escalated into a carefully planned full-scale food fight, complete with upended tables and trays used as shields. In minutes the entire dining hall would be involved, and the mess, I’ve heard, was astonishing. Unfortunately, those involved usually made themselves scarce when it came time to clean up.

The year I started at Linfield, a new food service company had taken over the dining hall and laid down the law in no uncertain terms: Anyone involved in a food fight would be banned from the dining hall for the remainder of their stay at the college. Another time-honored tradition nipped in the bud.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Masked robbers hit passenger train in Blue Mountains

Eastern Oregon was all a-twitter in July of 1914 when a gang of thieves held up the passengers and crew of the No. 5 passenger train between Kamela and Meacham. One of the robbers was killed and a deputy sheriff was wounded during the holdup, but no other injuries were reported and the loot was returned to the penny.

Three men boarded the train at Kamela around 1 a.m. July 2 and first rounded up the train crew, leaving them under guard by one of their number before the remaining robbers looted the express car. The men then proceeded to wake up the slumbering passengers, demanding money and valuables. Deputy Sheriff George McDuffee of Heppner was on the train, returning from testifying in a case in Canyon City. When he realized that a robbery was taking place, he waited until the two masked men passed him by and then leapt up and started shooting, hitting the leader and killing him. Another of the robbers returned fire, and McDuffee would have been killed had not a brass pencil case in his chest pocket deflected the bullet. As it was, the bullet grazed him and he ended up in the hospital for a week.

The second robber jumped out of the train and summoned his remaining accomplice, and the two took off for the timber. No. 5 continued on to Pendleton, where a pair of deputy sheriffs and Chief of Police John Kearney returned to the scene of the crime to begin a manhunt that eventually involved bloodhounds from the Walla Walla Penitentiary, special agents from the railroad and law enforcement officers from Pendleton to La Grande. A $1,000 reward was posted for each of the escaped fugitives.

The identity of the dead bandit was much in contention for days after the robbery. Originally he was identified as Hugh Whitney, a notorious bandit who had plagued Idaho, Montana and Wyoming for years with his brother. A Wyoming man eventually identified the dead man as Charley Manning, his brother-in-law and a friend of Whitney.

The two escaped robbers were caught at Hilgard three days later and brought to Pendleton, where they were lodged in the jail. Clarence Stoner and Albert Meadors willingly confessed to the entire robbery, and led law enforcement to several caches in the Blue Mountains where the loot from the robbery was stashed. Every item that was stolen during the hold-up was returned to its owner. During questioning Stoner claimed that they only joined with Manning for the robbery on the condition that no one would get shot.

It turns out the bandits thought they were holding up the fast mail train and not the passenger train; they were unaware that the westbound fast mail was only known as No. 5 until it reached Huntington, where it changed to the No. 9 train. The total take during the robbery was only about $1,500, and most of that was in vouchers and drafts that the robbers could not have redeemed themselves. The rest was jewelry and around $50 cash.

Passengers from the train inundated the sheriff’s office with claims for money they were relieved of during the robbery, but the claims far exceeded the actual cash recovered. There was also a squabble among the La Grande trackers who brought in the surviving bandits for the reward money.

Manning’s body was returned to his family in Wyoming; he left behind a wife and four children. Stoner and Meadors were held at the county jail until the grand jury convened in September, when they were sentenced to 13 years in the state penitentiary in Salem. “We have been treated mighty square ever since we were arrested both by the officers and newspapers and I want to say we appreciate it,” said Stoner as they departed on the No. 17 train in the custody of Sheriff Til Taylor.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pennsylvania man claims world's longest surname

A June 24, 1964 Associated Press story introduced a man who claimed to have the longest last name in the United States — 666 letters, plus 26 given names. Hubert B. Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff, 47, a Philadelphia resident of German descent, used only the first 35 letters of his last name in signing documents. The computer of the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., which handled Hubert’s life insurance policy, could only handle up to 35 letters. And his Social Security card carried the “shortened” version of his surname as well.

In an interview, Hubert said the Army used a clipped and Anglicized version of his name when he was drafted in 1942, because they wouldn’t go for his full name.

Ready for it?

Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfe­schlegelsteinhausenberger­dorffvoraltern­waren­gewissenhaft­schaferswessen-schafewaren­wohlgepflege­und­sorgfaltigkeit­beschutzen­von­angreifen­durch­ihrraubgierigfeinde­welyche­voraltern­zwolftausend­jahres­vorandieerscheinen­wander­ersteer­dem­enschderrassumschiff­gebrauchlicht­als­sein­ursprung­von­kraftgestart­sein­lange­fahrt­hinzwischen­sternartigraum­auf­der­suchenach­diestern­welche­gehabt­bewohnbar­planeten­kreise­drehen­sich­und­wohin­der­neurasse­von­verstandigmen­schlichkeit­konnte­fortplanzen­und­sicher­freuen­anlebens­langlich­freude­und­ruhe­mit­nicht­ein­furcht­vor­angreifen­von­anderer­intelligent­geschopfs­von­hinzwischensternartigraum, Senior. Eventually he shortened his name to Hubert Blaine Wolf+585, Sr. He was married with two sons, Hubert etc. etc. Junior and Timothy Wayne etc. etc.

So what does it mean? Hubert gave the following loose translation:

“It tells a story of a wolf-killer, a resident of a stonehouse in a village, whose ancestors were conscientious shepherds whose sheep were well fed and carefully guarded against attack by ferocious enemies and whose ancestors 1,200,000 years before the first earth man, in a space ship made with tungsten and seven iridium motors and using light as a source of power, started a long journey across interstellar space, searching for a star around which was an inhabitable planet where they could establish a new race of intelligent mankind and where they would live long, happy lives and be free from attack by other intelligentsia from the outer space from whence they came.”

Hubert was listed in the “Guinness Book of World Records” from 1975 to 1985 as having the longest personal name; the category disappeared in the late 1980s. Hubert died in 1985.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Animals can be alcoholics, too

Think we humans have cornered the market on addictive behaviors? A story from the Chicago Chronicle, reprinted in the Sept. 3, 1902, East Oregonian, shows that animals that have a chance to imbibe can develop drinking problems, too.

The first story was about a St. Bernard from Chicago that had developed a taste for beer, so much so that he shamelessly begged and bullied visitors to his master’s stable for nickels when he thought it had been too long between drinks. In securing his money, the dog would take it to his favorite drinking establishment, put his paws and payment on the bar and receive a small tub of beer. If the client he decided would provide the money for his next drink refused to cough up, the dog proceeded from begging to barking, growling and head-butting the unfortunate person until he got his nickel. And he was smart enough to know the difference between a penny and a nickel, though he didn’t apparently make the connection between a dime and two tubs of brew. But with a large number of patrons from whom to secure his fix, he didn’t really need higher math skills.

The second animal drunk was a horse in the suburbs of New York that  was owned by a contractor. When the horse was temporarily lamed it was allowed to wander around the stable yard while it healed. Next door to the stable was a drinking establishment, and one day the horse stuck its head in the window to see what was happening. The barkeeper at that moment had a tub of drippings from a keg that he was about to throw away, but instead shoved it under the horse’s nose and watched the beer disappear. From that day on, the horse would present itself three times a day at the window for his allotment, and the horse’s master settled the bill once a week.

The last animal with a taste for beer was a white and gray rabbit living in an “otherwise respectable” home. The matron of the family, who had complained of weakness, was instructed by her doctor to drink a bottle of beer each night before going to bed. One evening the rabbit jumped into her lap while she was taking her tonic and was allowed to try a few drops. When the rabbit showed an unquestionable liking for the beer, it was given more and soon was entertaining the family by running around the house in a “most eccentric and ludicrous manner clearly and hilariously intoxicated.” The rabbit continued to get its share every night, and thrived on the addition to its regular meals. When the woman regained her strength and suspended the nightly practice, the rabbit also gave up its nightly drink, though apparently quite reluctantly.