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Oregon Trails: Klamath Myths

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KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Just about every town has its share of tall tales and legendary stories. But Klamath Falls may have more than its share. Many of them have been gathered by Klamath County Museum Director Todd Kepple. For instance, what about the story that Ella Redkey Municipal Swimming Pool was built with money collected from the town’s red light hotels?

“One of the most popular myths in Klamath Falls is that our municipal swimming pool was built with proceeds, or ‘taxes,’ from the red light district in town,” Kepple said.

That was in the late ’40s and early 1950s.

“The problem with that story is there is just a small element of truth to it, but for the most part, our swimming pool was built the good old fashioned way with property taxes,” Kepple said.

In fact, he says most of the money from the so-called “community development fund” went to build or maintain the county jail. It was abolished in 1953.

Another fascinating story that keeps cropping up is that there are mysterious tunnels under Klamath Falls streets, especially Ninth Street.

“There are some passageways that were constructed, in particular, for the Oregon bank building, which opened in 1930. They had a couple of underground passageways that went across the street to parking areas, etc. And we still don’t know exactly where those tunnels went or how far they went, but they didn’t go very far, as far as we know,” Kepple said.

When I was growing up, my dad, who also grew up in the Basin, told me a story many times that it was against the law in Klamath Falls to kick the heads off of snakes! I found that hard to believe, but if you remember that sidewalks originally were boardwalks, maybe it makes some sense.

“So there’d be times when snakes would poke their heads up between the cracks or through knotholes in the boards. And if you caught it just right, you could kick a snake and its head would just pop off, and I guess go flying through the air. And I’m sure that was great fun, but then the carcass of the snake would lie there and rot and create quite an odor. And so it was prohibited to kick the heads off snakes,” Kepple said.

Ducks and geese are also quite common in the Klamath Falls area, especially around Klamath Lake. but when winter comes, so does the ice. And the story has gone around for a long time that once ducks froze in flight and came crashing to the ground. Kepple says that’s actually a true story.

“Ruddy ducks in particular I guess are susceptible to falling as they are trying to fly and if they get too wet, or if their wings ice up, then they can’t maintain altitude, and so they’ll come crashing down. And so there’s a case where there were ducks falling out of the sky. They landed in fields and people’s yards and on the street. They were just all over the place. And there were hundreds of them!” Kepple said.

That was in 1938.

And what about Link River blowing dry? That’s true too, and apparently more than once whenever there’s a very strong, prolonged south wind.

“Whenever these events occurred, it presented an opportunity for Native Americans, and then later on white settlers that had moved into the area to go out into these streams and catch fish that had been trapped in pools,” Kepple said.

Kepple says he’s actually seen it happen. These are two pictures he took several hours apart near Moore Park.

And what about the falls in Klamath Falls? They are still there. More of a rapids really, in Link River that connects upper Klamath Lake to Lake Ewauna. They’re just overgrown and harder to see now.