Silverton Stories and Tips

Walking Through History: Silverton Mural Tour

The Mammoth Camera by David McDonald Photo, Silverton, Oregon

It was a mural that started the whole thing. That was 1992, trickle-down economics had trickled out, the cupboard was bare. Wondering how to get people on their way to Silver Falls State Park or to Mt Angel to stop in Silverton instead of just driving through, they had the idea -- start small, give them something to look at, not requiring much time commitment, quick and easy, just get them to stop. So they had a mural painted. Look at our mural, they said. And people did. It was quick, it was easy. Some of those people looked around and decided to explore. Let’s do lunch.

Aha, it worked. Quick, paint another one. Hey, all you who looked at the mural, we’ve got another one. Come on back over. People did. As Linda Ellerbe says, "and so it goes." There are now eleven murals in Silverton. And so it goes. The tour is a walk through history, not only of what actually was in Silverton, but reflective of the hopes and aspirations of much of small-town America.

The Mural Walking Tour Map (pdf) contains locations for many city services and amenities, and an error - the lower left two locations should each be one block north. The second from the top left marks the location for two of the murals. Most murals have an accompanying explanatory plaque or panel.

Silverton Mural Society
PO Box 880 Silverton, Oregon 97381 USA
Vince Till, president

~~~~~~~~~~The Murals~~~~~~~~~~
(*d items are subjects covered more fully by entries elsewhere in this journal.)

*Bobbie, the Prodigal Dog
Lori Lee Webb. 2004.
Location: S. Water and Lewis Streets.
When separated from his people in Indiana Bobbie the collie traveled somewhere between 2551 and 2800 miles on his own to return home to Silverton in 1924. The mural illustrates this true story.

The Four Freedoms
David McDonald. 1992/3.
Location: Second and E. Main Streets.
This mural, recreating paintings by Norman Rockwell, and inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt "four freedoms" W.W. II rallying cry consists of five panels, one for each freedom and an explanatory panel. Captions on an easily overlooked sloped ledge define each freedom. From left to right: of religion, of free speech, from want, from fear.

*Gallon House Bridge
Lori Lee Webb. 2000.
Location: Lewis and S. Water Streets.
Commemorates Gallon House covered bridge just north of town. The poem written onto the curve of road refers to events giving the bridge its name (dispensing of illegal alcohol) as well as other events the artist imagines might have taken place there.

Homer Davenport
David McDonald. 1996.
Location: 205 S First Street, at Lewis.
Silverton native Homer Davenport was in his time a well respected and influential political cartoonist (some are reproduced within the mural) and the first importer of Arabian horses into the US. Homer Davenport Days are held the first weekend in August with a parade, food, entertainment, and the quirky ‘Davenport Races.’ The International Cartoon Contest really does draw entries of political cartoons from around the globe.

The Mammoth: The World’s Largest Camera
David McDonald. 1992.
Location: 441 N Water Street, at Park.
This extraordinary image is based upon an actual 1400-pound (fully assembled with plate holder) camera, and upon a photograph of that enormous camera preparing to take an equally enormous photograph, on 8 by 4.5-feet plates, of a train in 1900 (for which it was purpose built). A story you can read here. Compare the photo in the article with the image below. Essentially a publicity ploy (for the Chicago and Alton Railway), this mural serves the same purpose in Silverton.

Old Oak Tree
Lori Lee Webb (?)
Location: 213 E Main Street, between Water and First Streets.
This tree was found guilty of blocking traffic (as Homer Davenport wrote in The Country Boy), so, chop, chop, and... timber. In the early days, wagons just drove round it, and it stayed, like a roundabout, until the city achieved a certain size when its presence became an inconvenience. The trunk is enshrined in a nearby park. A rare preserved instance of an occurrence probably duplicated endlessly worldwide.

Oregon Trail
Location: 1787 Pine Street.
While not the route followed by Lewis and Clark the Oregon Trail (Map showing both routes) was a long incredibly arduous trek requiring an amazing amount of stamina and commitment to complete. Many didn’t, one in ten died, dotting the trail with graves and the detritus of the weary, unable or unwilling to transport it farther. Those following the trail did so for so many reasons: get richer, stop being poor, convert the natives, preserve their own beliefs, ‘advance’ civilization or get away from it, because it was there… Nature abhors a vacuum, real or imagined, and so does America (apparently). They came. Possibility, opportunity, advantage. Maybe the only thing they had in common was the willingness to take a risk. Covering a period of decades this is still perhaps the defining moment of Oregon history. It doesn’t matter that Silverton was not directly on the Trail, any and all Oregon communities can claim decent. Unfortunately, this mural fronts a field that‘s fenced, you can‘t really get close to it (hence no attribution or year of execution -- I couldn‘t see them). After that build up I bet that‘s disappointing. I agree.

The Red Sox
Kelly Farrah. 2002.
Location: 500 block of ‘C’, between James and Water Streets. Behind Silver Creek (bowling) Lanes.
The Red Sox (one of Boston’s minor league teams) played ball, fairly successfully, in Silverton from 1937 to 1954. It was the mill workers of the Silverton Timber Company who filled the roster, supplying also the coach and manager, and community support that made it work. Several players went on to the majors, including Portland native Johnny Pesky. One of the more striking features of the mural is the diamond annotated with the names of all players for every position, all the short stops together, etc.

America‘s game, some say, or perhaps, as other say Baseball as America. (Northwest baseball tip #1: Ichiro!)

Santa and Mrs. Claus
Location: W. Main and Fiske Streets.
Roger Cooke. 2002.
Captioned: Silverton, the town that still believes. The caption says it all.

*Silverton: City of the Falls
Lori Lee Webb. 1998.
Location: Main and Water Streets, by the bridge.
Commemorates nearby Silver Falls State Park and its 10 falls. The fall pictured appears to be South Falls.

Our Twentieth Century
David McDonald. 2000.
Location: C Street between Water and James Streets.
My favorite by far. A collage of events and people significant to and representative of 20th-century America, unlabeled but mostly obvious. Raising the flag at Iwo Jima is such an iconic image as to be instantly recognizable. Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin, Charlie McCarthy. The woman in the long dress draped with sash reading ‘equality’ carrying an American flag seems an obvious choice for the suffragette movement. Other things are perhaps less obvious. The baby may represent Louise Brown, and the other ‘test tube’ babies. Is the breached red brick wall symbolic of the breaking of the Berlin Wall?

The mural is clearly nostalgic, but also cautionary, reminding us of both the successes and failures of our last century, while reinforcing the idea that the events continue their influence. A suited astronaut with the Earth over his shoulder is clearly the moon landing. The shuttle launch reflected on his helmet brings the program into the present.

Many of the images are multi-representational, but not everything can be included after all. The radioactive shelter icon represents not only the shelters themselves, but the entire cold war, nuclear proliferation, possibly even the Cuban missile crisis specifically, a headline for which fades into the painted cement blocks nearby. Louis Armstrong is more than a man with a horn, he’s an entire musical genre. Jackie Robinson stands for far more than the integration of baseball. You could make an entire day of listing the connections branching from the various images, probably surprising the artist with some he never anticipated, or perhaps never meant.

Between the panels are quotes arranged in columns. From the dark tensions of, "We will bury you," to the inspiration of, "I have a dream," through the energetic burst of, "Awop bop aloobop alop bam boom!" to the imaginative blessing of, "May the force be with you," each set of words evokes moments and moods that like the images expand like ripples.

Part of what appeals to me is analyzing the choices McDonald made and considering what choices I would’ve made. Why include the television remote while excluding any overt reference to computers? Why choose a medic helicopter against a peace sign with a purple heart hanging from it to represent the Vietnam War? I can guess, but I could be wrong. It’s a mural made for contemplation, so take your time.

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