On the way home from our travels in Central Oregon, we were driving up highway 97, admiring the views of the many snow-capped dormant volcanoes visible in the distance. The area we were in was relatively flat, and had been for some time, but then, about 9 miles north of Redmond, Oregon, the scenery changed in a startling way. This deep, deep canyon opened up, just like that. This merited further investigation.
Fortunately, the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint is right by the highway, on the south rim of the canyon. And from there, you can also walk out on the Crooked River Bridge, which is 295 feet above the canyon floor. It’s a beautiful area. I was really glad we stopped. Check out this video about it.
Despite the beautiful surroundings, I got this odd vibe from the place from the very start. Perhaps it had something to do with this weird little sign in the parking lot.
I mean, yes, it’s a deep, deep canyon, and one should be careful. But this sign seems to indicate that a) dogs are more valuable than children, b) there isn’t a waist-high wall protecting you from the drop off, when in fact there is one, and c) an awful lot of Oregonians must be “helping” their valuable dogs over that wall to plunge to their deaths.
And then, to add to the strange atmosphere, there seemed to be more cars in the parking lot than people in the park. Where had all these folks gone? I shuddered to think.
But we did encounter two people. Along the path that leads to the cliff, there were a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses, armed with their ubiquitous pamphlets. This struck me as a rather odd place to stand if your goal is to increase your flock. We probably were the first people they had encountered in hours, and they could tell just by looking at us that they would be wasting their time even trying to talk to us, so they didn’t.
I don’t know. Maybe a lot of people go there who are in despair. It kind of bugged me to think that this duo was attempting to proselytize to people who are vulnerable. But I suppose any help is better than none. Perhaps their intentions were good. (I do tend to forget that, when crossing paths with people who are trying to convert me, because I would never presume to do that to someone else. I believe everyone should choose their own spiritual path.)
Anyway, then we approached the cliff. I was almost afraid to look down. I half expected to see a bunch of dogs along with the owners of the parked cars, all in a grisly, twisted heap. But no. Nothing but the beautiful river below.
After enjoying this view, we then walked out onto the Crooked River Bridge. This two lane bridge used to be highway 97’s bridge across the canyon, but traffic has since increased, and Oregon’s Department of Transportation began constructing the current highway bridge in 1990. I could imagine Model A Fords puttering across this old one, and it made me smile.
After we left, I still couldn’t shake the eerie feeling about the place, though. And then I started doing research for this post, and here’s what I discovered.
According to this article, in 1961, Jeannance Freeman and Gertrude Jackson decided that Jackson’s children were interfering with their love affair. So they took the children to this park. Jackson left the vehicle, and came back to discover that Freeman had stripped her son of all of his clothing and then beat him unconscious with a tire iron. Jackson then took off her daughter’s shirt. The couple then threw both children, still alive, off the bridge. (Fair warning about that article, though. There’s a rather disgusting image of what one assumes is the son, now inexplicably clothed, dead on the floor of the canyon.)
Jackson later turned state’s evidence and was sentenced to life in prison, while Freeman was sentenced to death. She was the first woman ever sentenced to death in Oregon. The sentence was later commuted to life. Jackson only served time for seven years, and Freeman was released on parole after 20 years, but violated that parole by threatening a new lover with a knife because she refused to go to the store to buy cigarettes. She died in prison in 2003.
So, yeah, that’s the crooked story of the Crooked River Bridge. Needless to say, none of that information was put on a cheerful little information placard in the park. It’s a place well worth visiting, but don’t be surprised if it feels a little bit off to you, for a variety of reasons.
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