Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween games in early Pendleton

Halloween is one of those holidays just about everyone loves. Mobs of kids in imaginative and/or scary costumes roam the streets in search of candy, usually with parents in tow. Nowadays kids are more likely to attend a community Halloween party such as the ones sponsored by the cities of Hermiston and Pendleton in Umatilla County, complete with bounce houses, face painting, carnival-style games and (of course) lots of candy and treats. It’s a safer (and warmer) way for kids to celebrate the holiday, and much less worrisome for their parents.

In searching for how Halloween used to be celebrated in Pendleton’s early history, I came across a story from the Oct. 30, 1905 East Oregonian. It seems there were still superstitions about being out and about on the “picnic night” of All Hallow’s Eve, or Hallowe’en, when all the ghosts were said to roam free, and people stayed indoors and played party games instead. The article said nothing about trick-or-treating, and the party games described were for young adults, not little children.

The first Halloween tradition sounds a bit like a fraternity hazing ritual: The loving bowl consisted of a large punch bowl full of milk into which was put baked apples, boiled potatoes, peeled oranges and other fruits. Each party-goer was required to dip into the milk and bring out a “prize,” with the winner being the person who found the biggest apple or orange. The article didn’t say whether the players were required to eat their prizes.

In the second game, a candle was lit and placed on a table. A person was blindfolded and turned around three times, then instructed to walk three steps and blow out the candle. If he or she was successful, it was a sign that the player would be fortunate in matters of romance in the coming year, and in addition would be rewarded with a loving spouse before another Halloween rolled around.

A third game was called cross meetings. Three young men and three young women, all single, were blindfolded and then led to separate places in the house. At a given signal, the six players tried to find each other, stumbling and groping their way through the house. When two of them met, they embraced and were considered paired for the rest of the evening. “Of course,” the article said, “a master of ceremonies or a mistress of ceremonies accompanies each one of the blindfolded victims, to be sure that no accidents happen, and also to prevent fate from causing two men to fall into each other’s arms, or two young women to embrace each other when they should be, as are all well regulated young women, on the lookout for a man rather than a woman.” This was, after all, 1905.

The last game in the article is the fagot party (a fagot being a stick of firewood). As the party was winding down and everyone was settled in comfortably to chat, the master or mistress of ceremonies would suddenly throw a fagot on the fire and then call out the name of one of the party-goers. That person had to tell a story as long as that stick of wood was burning.  When it fell to ashes, another stick was thrown on the fire and another party-goer had to tell a story, and so on. I would imagine a lot of ghost stories were told at Hallowe’en fagot parties.

Most of these games have morphed into something similar in modern times — bobbing for apples, blind man’s bluff and others — and have been adapted for young children’s parties.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

'Laughing situation' turns into fight for life

What started out as a lark at Cold Springs Reservoir near Hermiston on October 21, 1972, turned into a desperate two-hour struggle for life when a 13-year-old Hermiston boy became trapped in quicksand.

David McCune and two friends, Junior Demery, 14, and Duck Stubbs, 12, were camping at the reservoir and playing at being stuck in the mud. McCune said the day went instantly from a laughing situation to panic and tears when he discovered he was stuck and sinking in quicksand, and there was no apparent means of escape. Demery and Stubbs returned to their campsite for a rope, which they put around McCune’s chest and started pulling. But the rope broke, and by that time McCune had sunk to his chest in mud and a foot of icy water. He figured he “might be a goner.”

One of the boys went for help. Al Hartley, an Oregon City truck driver, was camping at the reservoir with his family. Hartley found Arnold Weber and H.T. Burns, both Hermiston farmers, and loaded his pickup with material to rescue McCune. Two Hermiston pheasant hunters, Steve Broyles and Eugene Hale, of the Navy Bombing Range at Boardman, also joined the rescue effort.

Hartley dug down around McCune’s legs, desperately trying to free the boy from the mud. Using belts around McCune’s legs and chest, the men pulled and tugged and finally yanked him free.

After two hours stuck in the quicksand, McCune was so cold, exhausted and frightened he couldn’t walk. He was taken to Arnold Weber’s home, where he soaked in a warm bath. McCune returned to school Tuesday with no ill effects.

McCune’s pals returned to Cold Springs Sunday night for another campout and invited him along. His reply: "No, thanks."

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fire tanker shot after rollover wreck

A water tanker owned by the Echo Fire Department responding to a series of fires along the railroad tracks west of Pendleton rolled down an embankment and was shot before being towed away by employees of Woodpecker Truck in October of 2001.

The tanker rolled off Yoakum Road near Rieth Road when a volunteer driver apparently turned too hard on a gentle uphill curve and hit the shoulder, which gave way. The truck was totaled but the driver, who was using safety restraints, was uninjured.

A crew from Woodpecker Truck arrived to tow the rig back up the hill, but the tanker, which held 5,000 gallons of water, was too heavy even for two heavy-duty tow trucks, and the vehicle also came to rest on its side, burying the valves used to empty the tank. So the Woodpecker crew improvised — with a handgun. After the tanker was emptied, it took two hours to pull the truck off the hill.

Fire district officials said the tanker, an early ’80s model, would likely have its initial purchase cost covered by insurance, but were unsure how long it would take to replace. Echo Rural Fire Protection District Chief Merle Gehrke said the fire district purchased the truck from a Portland truck company for $10,500, but spent thousands of dollars converting the former gasoline tanker for its new role as a water tanker. It had been in service less than a year when the accident happened. “Whether we can find a replacement for that amount, I don’t know,” said fire district treasurer Kaye McAtee. “We were lucky on that one.” Winter weather and fewer fires would give the fire department time to look for a new tanker.

It was a interesting situation for Woodpecker Truck, too. Supervisor John Rehberg said, “Once in a while fire departments might have a tanker break down and we have to tow it in, but nothing like this.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hunting dog excels despite tragic injury

In the summer of 1985, 15-year-old Greg McCallum of Pendleton was training his new yellow Labrador retriever for bird hunting. Then tragedy struck.

“Molly” was hit by a car in Pendleton, and Greg was sure the dog would have to be put to sleep. But the veterinarian looking after Molly was sure the dog would pull through, impressed with her will to live after her left front leg was amputated.

“I didn’t think she’d ever be able to hunt but she was doing so well I decided to keep her,” Greg said in October of 1985, as Molly was running through her paces at the Southeast Washington Retriever Club field trial at the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge near Irrigon. After the accident Molly was unsure of herself and had very little stamina, but bounced back quickly and the casual observer could hardly tell the rambunctious pup had only three legs.

During the field trial Molly had a little trouble with the first test involving pigeons, but caught on fast. Greg beamed after his dog paddled right to a downed duck, marked and retrieved it from a pond. The Pendleton sophomore knew he had a great hunting dog in the making.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Interrupted study thwarts jailbreak

A county clerk trying to find some peace and quiet in order to do a little studying thwarted a jailbreak on October 4, 1922, in Pendleton. The attempted escape made a strong case for the construction of a new jail building in Umatilla County.

C.C. Proebstel, deputy county clerk, returned to his office after working hours that evening in order to do a little reading in the peace and quiet of the empty courthouse. An unusual noise disturbed his study, but he paid little attention to it at first. After the noise had gone on for a while, Proebstel came to the conclusion that someone must be using a saw in the jail. He went to the sheriff’s office to report his suspicion, but no one at the office was able to go to the jail to investigate.

Proebstel returned to his studies, but the suspicious noise weighed on his mind and he returned to the sheriff’s office several times until he was able to find a deputy that could look into the matter. When Deputy Sheriff Dave Lavender arrived to inspect the jail, he found Fred Blake coming down a ladder on which he had been standing to saw through boards in the ceiling of the jail (which was the floor of the courtroom above). Blake was using a case knife that had been notched for use as a saw.

Blake had been arrested as one of four men that held up and robbed men in the Huron road camp the previous spring. The sheriff’s office theorized that someone outside the jail had supplied Blake with his improvised saw and that it had been notched before it was given to him. Blake had made considerable headway, sawing through three boards before his efforts were discovered. If Proebstel had not been irritated by the sound of the saw, Blake may very well have won his way to freedom.