Monday, February 26, 2018

Fiasco of 1897 Legislature: Eldridge Block Den of Prostitution and Evil!

After The Salem Clique I was interested in reading a Portland-centric take on things, and started Merchants, Money, and Power: The Portland Establishment, 1843-1913. E. Kimbark MacColl doesn't dwell very long on the Dryer-Bush newspaper wars, or even on the Salem Clique very much. He focuses on money-making, merchant activity and banking (then later the railroads), as the main drivers. For him, Democratic party politics are a supporting and side detail, not the main story. (There might be more to say on this later.)

Along the way, there are some humorous episodes in it that involve Salem, and one of them was about the total melt-down during the 1897 Legislative session. It was nuts. US Senators were still selected by the Legislature rather than by direct vote, and the session got stuck quite spectacularly. (Rather than littering the quote with square brackets or footnotes, I have inserted reference links, a few brief newspaper clippings, and the photos of the Eldridge Block. Comments, like this, are in italics.)

Greenbaum's (right) in the intact Eldridge Block, 1954
Commercial Street at Chemeketa
(University of Oregon)

The north part of the Eldridge Block earlier, circa 1905.
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
Shortly after the election of November, 1896, Bourne was horrified to learn from Mitchell that the senator was abandoning his pro-silver friends and planning to embrace the "gold crowd." Bourne warned him, "You are [not] going to be elected." Having won the seat in the Oregon House, with a chance to become speaker, Bourne was in a strong position to carry out his threat. He approached his old friends Simon and Corbett (with whom he had been allied 10 years earlier) with plans to stall the forthcoming session - to prevent it from organizing, if need be - to deny Mitchell reelection.

Start of session, on January 11th
Bourne set up in Eldridge Block - Jan 9th, 1897
As Bourne later recalled:
I then hired the best chef in the State of Oregon; sent him to Salem to fix up apartments in the Eldridge Block; things to eat and drink and entertainment. I said to the chef, 'I pay all expenses. I want to take care of all my friends in the lower House who signed pledges with me, the friends of silver.'
Bourne and Simon gained the support of William U'Ren, the future father of the Oregon System's direct legislation and the leader of the state's populist movement. U'Ren felt betrayed by Mitchell's refusal to honor a pledge to support U'Ren's efforts to enact Initiative and Referendum amendments to the Oregon Constitution.

A contemporary note - February 19th, 1897
To an observant George C. Brownell, the Eldridge Block in Salem, (known as "Bourne's Harem,") became "the den of prostitution and evil." Many of the representatives "were kept drunk and intoxicated for days." Although Bourne admitted that the entertainment cost $80,000, he denied that the money bribed anyone. It was an enticement, he said. He told his secretary, Anson Prescott, that "he was afraid  that if he started to pay...[it] might launch sell-outs." He did, however, pay the living expenses "of a majority of the house members for several weeks, entertaining them so royally that they forgot all about their legislative duties." He never revealed the other sources of funding.

Still No Quorum, January 20th, 1897

Schism! Rump House Organized, January 21st
It was rumored, but never verified, that U'Ren was the bag man. He supposedly picked up the money from Henry W. Corbett at the First National Bank and took it to Salem for delivery to Bourne....

Probably sensationalized a little: Bribery attempted
with Rep. Howser - February 2nd, 1897
Oswald West recalled handling deposits of some of the "subsistence" money while a young teller at the Ladd & Bush bank in Salem. Simon's nephew also informed his friends about the cash that he took from an unidentified source in Portland to his uncle in Salem. Bourne admittedly raised at least $10,000 through blackmail contributions from Portland's Chinese gamblers and North End saloonkeepers.

When the 40 day session ended on March 3, 1897, nothing had been accomplished.

Legislators just gave up and "abandoned" the session
(March 5th, 1897)
A contemporary summary was published on March 5th, with a formal resolution rehearsing the conflict, and providing a reason just to give up and go home. Proper adjournment sine die proved legally impossible to pass and execute. The State of Oregon Law Library has more from a legal standpoint on their blog in "Oregon's Felonious Bigamist Senator and the Hold-Up Session." William Paine Lord, Elizabeth Lord's father, was Governor at this time, but at least in MacColl's telling, he doesn't figure much in the story.

Here and here are a couple of notes on the Eldridge Block's demolition for parking - it's now the site of the Chemeketa Parkade - and about the section that was saved by Greenbaum's. Recently, you may recall, Salem Summit Shop purchased it and ensured another generational transition for the building.

Update, June 20th, 2019

The 1897 version of the story was amusing. But this time it reads more like institutional vandalism. Republicans are striking again.

They bailed in May for a few days and extracted a couple of concessions and promised to be on good behavior.

GOP on strike at the Legislature
(May 8th, Oregonian)
They reneged this morning over the Cap and Invest bill, and the Governor's sending out the cops. (There may be additional notes here as this develops.)

No more levity - via Twitter
...The cops haven't turned them up as of June 27th.

A real nullification crisis, June 27th


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

It got real. What had been an amusing history bit is now happening again.

Anonymous said...

Apparently there were others:
Republicans in 2007
Democrats in 2001 and 1995
Both parties in 1971