OR Day 3 - Snow, State Hospitals, and the Shining: A Very Jack Nicholson Day in Oregon
Today I decided to branch out of Portland, because my friend Dana was going to be visiting tomorrow and I wanted to save the big ticket Portland stuff for when she got here. To fuel up for the day of drivin’ and sight-seein’, I stopped at a cute coffee shop at the base of Mt. Hood, the tallest mountain in Oregon, called Coffee House 26. I don’t know what happened to the other 25 coffee houses, but this one was very lovable with great coffee and a cozy cabin vibe. They also for whatever reason had lots of silly crafts and homegoods, which were a little cheesy but did make crack a smile or two.
After fueling up, I made my way part of the way up Mt. Hood to see my first stop of the day, which also happened to be the first of two locations from famous films starring Jack Nicholson that I would see today: The Timberline Lodge. The lodge is probably more familiar to readers as the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. The movie wasn’t actually filmed at the Lodge, but it was used for all the exterior shots of Jack Torrance’s spooky hotel so the look of it is unmistakable.
Just because the no famous Kubrick movies (or moon landings) were filmed inside the hotel doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have more to offer beyond some familiar architecture. The Lodge actually has a pretty cool non-fictional history as well because it was part of Works Progress Administration project during the Great Depression designed to provide as many jobs as possible for unemployed Oregonian laborers (skilled and unskilled alike) and produce a beautiful tourist destination out of it. There were always 100 workers helping build the lodge at any time, but workers were on rotating schedules so as many people were provided with work as possible and there was always a mix of skill levels. Thanks to clever use of local stone and timber, as well as lots of recycled materials, the WPA was able to save so much on building materials that 80% of its funding went into paying for labor making it a pretty huge success. This sweet story of people from all walks of life joining together to learn and ply skills for the purpose of making something beautiful is told through several displays and artifacts in the first floor of the Lobby which makes for a fun educational surprise for tourists largely coming to look at a big haunted house. In terms of spookiness, the entire WPA project went off without a hitch, and the only remotely ghostly thing at the lodge didn’t happen until 1982 when the director Boris Sagal was killed in a freak accident while he was filming a show called WWIII and he accidentally walked into the tail rotor blades of a helicopter that was in the lodge parking lot. Honestly I’d much rather see a ghost than witness something like that.
After reading about the history, I took some time to enjoy the WPA’s handiwork, because the lodge really is stunning. The most amazing thing (to me at least) was the 6-sided 92 ft. tall stone chimney located at the center of the hotel, with six openings on the ground and first floor that make them toasty places to relax and lounge in comfy couches. It was quite the dramatic center-piece.
In partnership with the WPA building the lodge, the Federal Arts Project set aside funds to fill the hotel with works by some of Oregon’s finest working artists. The Lodge was nice enough to provide a map of where all that good art was sprinkled throughout the premises, and they really had some pretty amazing pieces of every medium from oil paintings to glass mosaics to wood carvings and they all added an immense amount of charm and character to the already lovely setting. My favorites included: a stunning carved wood relief by Melvin Keegan and Valentine Weise depicting different pioneer scenes in ridiculous detail (I loved all the art but these were the only ones where I had no idea how they were even possible); a whimsical oil painting by Howard S. Sewall of the lodge being built in a style meant to grandly evoke hieroglyphics and the building of the pyramids; and some lyrical oil paintings of different mountain scenes by Darrel Austin that skew realistic but have some impressionistic and modernist flourishes, particularly the almost cubist painting of skier flying above a crowd (bottom right). I love how all the paintings beyond just being really nice to look at also capture this moment of American history during the Depression where you have a blend of nostalgia for an imagined America of the past as well as a more modernist discontentment with the America of the present.
Lastly, I would be remiss to not mention the views from the overlook of the one-time Overlook Hotel. Located pretty close to the middle of Mt. Hood, whether you looked up or down the views from the Lodge were just breathtaking.
After getting my Shining on, I started to make my way to Oregon’s state capital, which is shockingly not Portland but Salem. I took the scenic Mt. Hood Byway, which made for a beautiful drive but a slightly longer one so to prepare myself, I stopped at the hilariously named town of Boring, Oregon to get some pretty great coffee at a place called Cat’s Moon Coffee.
The Boring coffee did the trick and I made it to Salem safe and sound, but very hungry and surprised at how few witch themed buildings there were compared to the Salem I’m more familiar with back home. I stopped at a really cute local bistro called Word of Mouth. The restaurant lived up to its name, because it had garnered quite a reputation as a must-visit brunch spot, with Oprah herself famously claiming that they had the best turkey burger in the world. I make it a point to try to always listen to Oprah so I had to go with the Turkey Burger, which was made of Ground turkey mixed with chutney, apples, chipotle, lemon zest, celery and scallions on a Ciabatta bun with more chutney, lettuce, onion, tomato and mayo on top. This was a bit out of my comfort zone (though I did ask for no mayo, because I can only grow so much as a person) because I’m not super used to chutneys and I generally don’t like warm fruit, but bless her soul the big O did not lead me astray. I don’t know what they do or how they do it, but this was an utterly fantastic sandwich. All those seemingly disparate flavors really complemented each other and made for a harmonious whole, and the turkey meat was smokey and tender. If you’re ever in Salem, no matter how skeptical you may be of Turkey burgers in general or this one in particular, I urge you to give this sandwich a shot.
After my excellent brunch, I made my way to my second Jack Nicholson hot-spot of the day: Oregon State Hospital. The Hospital is the oldest continuously operating psychiatric hospital in Oregon, and it served as both one of the inspirations for Ken Kesey’s original novel and the primary filming location of the film of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Currently patients now reside in a more modern facility, but the original building has been preserved and turned into a museum about the history of mental health treatments in the United States. The history of the hospital certainly has some pretty ugly spots, but it’s hard to deny that the building itself is quite a beautiful architectural throwback.
The hospital’s Museum of Mental Health started with a room whose walls were covered with a timeline of key moments in the history of psychiatry in the United States as well as with this hospital in particular, with artifacts and photographs adding some authentic details from the different time periods. The organization and curation of the exhibit was super well done, but the actual content was bleak. I was a psych major for four years so I know a lot of the unfortunate history of the field’s ethical violations, sexism, and cruel treatment of the intellectually handicapped, but the added human element of the hospital’s own involvement made everything hit so much closer to home being able to put names and faces to the mistreatment. To the museum’s credit, they were pretty unflinching about their own historical involvement truly horrible human rights violations. Patients were involuntary sterilized, lobotomized, abused, and, especially during the world wars, completely overcrowded and understaffed, with patient to staff ratios getting as ridiculous as 10:1. Perhaps the most horrific aspect is that all the most awful practices continued until the 1970s when new hospital management made addressing dehumanization its chief concern. Beyond these sadly prevalent issues, Oregon State Hospital also had its share of unique tragedies including an undertrained employee accidentally poisoning 500 patients killing 47 of them and influenza outbreak that took 67 lives in one year. It all made for some heavy reading, but it’s an important story to tell, because you learn so much about a society from how they treat their most vulnerable populations and for the most part we’ve really failed them.
After the timeline the rest of the museum featured more artifacts that painted portraits of the daily lives and the personalities the many patients there. These included medical instruments both useful and highly questionable, as well as more personal artifacts. It was nice that these various pieces helped give voice to the patients’ stories making them feel like real humans as opposed to statistics. Some of these stories were heartbreaking, showcasing insanely callous world views. These included the facts that women could just be involuntarily committed if they were caught masturbating, or that children with developmental disabilities were housed in the same rooms as adults who were sent to the hospital after being convicted of committing violent crimes. Worst of all for a while in the 60s (!), patients were encouraged to go into the underground tunnels that connected different hospital to have sex with one another as “tunnel therapy”. It was dark, gross, and many of these patients had questionable grasps of reality and yet this was a real thing medical professionals advocated, despite sounding more like something from an urban legend, which is unbelievable. Not all the stories are as hellish fortunately, as when the hospital began its campaign to end dehumanization it started including more arts and outing programs make sure patients had real lives and that neither their illnesses nor their treatments took that away. Some of the patients’ artwork was so great, and it was nice to see that as low as the lows got eventually a kinder more empathetic patient-focused facility did begin to emerge. Destigmatization of mental illness and effective humane treatments are still works in progress but its comforting to know that things have at least moved somewhat in the right direction. It was also especially nice that the museum gave a shoutout to Dorothea Dix, an amazing woman who basically single-handedly started the country’s first national efforts to care for the mentally ill.
My favorite photo from the main collection was from an unusual bright spot in the museum’s track record during the first half of the 20th century when they organized a hospital baseball team. I used to take my little cousin to basketball and soccer games for kids with disabilities and they were such sweet and fun games to watch even if the variance in athletic abilities was huge (my cousin in particular would much rather sit and cheer from the sidelines), so it made me happy to be reminded of those games and picturing these guys getting to actually have some fun:
The last exhibit was dedicated to thing that probably brings the most people to the museum: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In a really kind of brilliant deal, the director of the hospital insisted that if they wanted to film there they would have to include patients in the film’s cast and crew because a movie would be such a disruption of their daily lives and routines that it would be unfair to not include them in some ways, and that it would also be a good way to practice learning new skills and handling different social situations. Documenting this highly unusual filming experience, the museum collected photographs from the set (including my favorite of Danny DeVito dancing), notes from the journal of Dean Brooks (the hospital’s superintendent), and props from the film including the hydrotherapy machine the chief eventually uses to break out of the hospital. I didn’t know any of the behind the scenes aspects of the film, but it honestly made for almost as good a story as the movie itself, and I’m happy to see just how much thought went into the decision to film there without exploiting the patients. It was really heartwarming.
After the museum, I got one more coffee for the day to get me back to Portland. I stopped at an impressively spacious Salem spot called IKE Box which is named after the owner’s son who passed away as an infant due to a rare genetic heart defect. To make up for the loss of their son, the owners decided to give the love they would have given him to the entire community creating a coffee shop, event space, and community center with good food, good drinks, and lots of warmth. It was really a wonderful place, and a sweet story of turning unimaginable loss into something really positive.
IKE Box’s love and coffee got me back to Portland in time to sign up for the night’s open mic which was at a wonderfully bizarre circus themed bar called the Funhouse Lounge. They had a very creepy room decorated entirely in clown paintings, they supported all sorts of local arts, and they had pretty darn good pizza and drinks (See my blurry-ass photo below), so naturally I loved it there. For boozin’ I went with the Kingpin Double Red Ale from Bridgeport Brewing. I’d never heard of a double red ale before, but it was very strong and full-bodied with a hint of local hoppy spice that wasn’t too overpowering so I was a fan.
The open mic itself was very solid, but I almost just liked hanging out with the comics beforehand a little more. After three mics, there were some familiar faces and I finally worked up the courage to actually talk to them (I think having my own friends to talk to in LA and SF completely made me forget how to make new friends in new places and I had been pretty shy for the most of the week). Everybody was really nice, and I was very excited to find out that some of them had been doing it long enough to know one of my favorite Oregon comics, Ron Funches, before he really took off. I was finally able to get an answer to a question I’ve always had about him which is he has such a slow laid back delivery, how did he ever manage to do three minute sets at open mics when he was starting out? Their answer: “Oh he ran the light all the time, but he was basically the only guy who was funny enough that nobody cared”. I really liked having an answer to that, and it’s a good lesson that if you’re starting out and you’re thinking of going over the time limit you better be as funny as a national headliner.
My favorite thing that happened at the mic was that two comics who used to date for several years had just broken up and both did sets about the other person. It was fascinating to witness as an outsider who had no memories of either of them before the break-up, because they were both good enough comics that the jokes were funny in isolation, but the break up seemed brutal enough that the fact that they both have to listen to the other person’s jokes that everyone in the room knows is about them is wildly uncomfortable. I guess that’s why so many comics have the advice, “Don’t date comics” which is easier to hear than follow when you spend so much time with only comedians. After the second person in the break up went up, there was definitely some tension hanging over the room which the host, Sean, hilariously broke by just saying “This is why I do open mics. I’ve been doing this too long to care about any of your jokes, I just want the heartbreaks and sadness. Oh it’s so good”
Cole Robinson- My dog is traveling abroad. People tell me he's lost and I should find him but I think he's trying to find himself
Thomas Lundy- My dad was the Alex Jones of my sexuality (I’m not entirely sure what this means, but it’s still a very funny funny phrasing)
Brian Bixby- I took a shit so big it wouldn't flush. So I just had to leave it on the counter (gross but you gotta appreciate a joke that doesn’t go where you expect)
For my own set, I went up pretty late even though I had signed up early because I made the rookie mistake of not introducing myself to the host so he had kept bumping me because he didn’t recognize my name and assumed I was new. I know that kinda thing can annoy newer comics, but after seeing more mics and talking to more hosts I really do think it’s a healthy thing to do to maintain a consistent tone in the room. It can screw you over occasionally, but rather than complain about it, the best thing you can do is do a set that’s good enough to prove that you shouldn’t be bumped. Taking that to heart, I spitefully did the best set I could do and it went really well even as the audience energy was starting to fade so I felt pretty happy about that. Sometimes doing pretty well in front of a tired crowd honestly feels like more of a win than crushing in front of a perfectly warmed up crowd.
To celebrate the end of a fun night, I went to a cute and exceedingly quirky dessert and coffee bar in a spooky old house called The Rimsky-Korsakoffee House. The shop is loosely classical music theme with macabre flourishes such as each table being named after different dead composers and just generally creepy art all over the place including an incredible themed upstairs bathroom that’s more fun to leave as a surprise. I absolutely loved it there. It didn’t hurt that they also had absolutely fantastic fantastic desserts and drinks. I split the difference and got an affogato which was a mix of ice cream and espresso (how did I ever sleep?) which was served in a faux-fancy glass with a tasty dipping cookie on top. There was also live piano music adding to the mood of the space, and it was such a lovely silly space to wind down for a night. The only downside is that the dim mood lighting makes it hard to take good pictures to share what a cool bizarre place it is or how great their treats are. You’ll just have to take my word on both.
Favorite Random Sightings: Government Camp; Sandy Decor; Boring brewing; Nuts on Sports
Regional Observations: I think Oregon has the most impressively windy roads I’ve seen outside of the East Coast
Albums Listened To: Stallone on Stallone by Request by Frank Stallone (if that title isn’t clue enough this is a terrible album that my cousins gifted me as a joke, and honestly it does still always make me laugh when one of these “gems” comes on my shuffle); Stand Back: The Anthology by the Allman Brothers Band (super solid); Stand Up by Jethro Tull (their second album, but really the first one where there mature genre-bending style comes into its own)
People’s Favorite Jokes:
None today but here’s what the old internet provided:
Two blondes are walking around a zoo, when one says, "Look at that lion with one eye!"
The other blonde covers one of her eyes and says, "Where?"
Songs of the Day:
Bonus Oregon Comedy: