In 1853, Portland, Oregon was a one-newspaper town. The weekly paper, the Oregonian, was nothing more than a collection of stories of the End of Times, gruesome logging accidents, and poorly drawn sketches that passed as comics. A young upstart by the name of Henry Pittock bought the paper for $12 and the promise to never, ever drop Mary Worth from its pages.
Henry increased circulation by printing lies, innuendo, and scandal. He tried to change up the comics pages, but reader outcry forced him to keep every strip that originally appeared in the paper. That is why today, after over 150 years, the Katzenjammer Kids can be found causing shenanigans next to Doonesbury.
With funds rushing in from his newspaper, as well as an above-average take from his sheep ranching operation, Henry began planning his masterpiece. It was to be the grandest house west of St. Louis. It would overlook the Willamette River, Portland’s early industrial center, and the grassland that would later become Gresham. Henry would also have a commanding view of Mount Hood, Oregon’s highest peak. Finally, Henry would install a giant telescope with which he could spy on every Portlander at his whim. He would collect this information to put into future editions of the Oregonian.
Pittock Mansion was built on Portland’s West Hills and stands even today as a symbol of the dominance of the American Newspaper. It is said that Henry, forward thinking man that he was, picked the spot for the mansion so that it would block TV reception for all of Portland.
Built on an ancient Indian burial ground, the Pittock Mansion took five years to complete. It started as a sketch on one of Henry’s many, many cocktail napkins and soon thousands of coolie laborers were hauling granite up the hill to begin construction. Over 400 of these nameless workers died during construction, a troubling fact that caused Henry to increase advertising in his newspaper to procure more cheap laborers.
At 16,000 square feet, the Pittock Mansion could easily have housed all of Portland’s orphans, but Henry had better plans.
It was in his mansion that Henry Pittock, the man who brought the printed word to so many barely-literate Portlanders, breathed his last breath. It is said that among the countless curses to his enemies, Henry’s dying words were to his dear readers: “Please, whatever new news-carrying contraption that comes along in the future, do not forget your local paper. And for the love of God, give young cartoonists a shot.” Only time will tell if his last wishes are to be followed out.
Henry’s body, in accordance with his will, was taken into his backyard that looked out over all of Portland. There he was thrown into a giant bonfire fueled by a local rival newspaper, the Portland New York Times (its name was later shortened when it’s offices were moved to the East Coast). The ashes of Henry Pittock rained down on Portland that day, ashes that soon turned to mud because it was raining that day anyway. Though his physical presence is gone, we will never forget Oregon’s Greatest Newspaperman, Henry Nixon Pittock.