Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Wedding cake and singing bridges

I've been having a great time seeing the state of Oregon, and searching for more curiosities gives me a sense of purpose. I doubled up on the oddities during a drive out to Hood River Sunday morning. I don't think the weather could have been any better or the view of the Columbia River Gorge any more breathtaking.

So, with my car sunroof open and the stereo cranked up, I hit Interstate 84 on my quest to see what is possibly the world's oldest piece of wedding cake, which resides at the Hood River County Museum. Most of the museums I've visited lately have been no more than a small room with some artifacts, and I was expecting more of the same during my most recent outing.

But I got more than I bargained for in the Windsurfing Capital of the World. This museum had lots of displays and exhibits that covered quite a bit of ground. But I wasn't really there to see an early 20th century dental office with a foot-powered drill or toys that my grandparents grew up with. Although they were both quite interesting, I was there for that piece of cake. From 1887. And it's still holding up pretty well today in a glass container inside a glass case.

As the story goes, Jennie Boynton married Joseph Shoemaker in Pendleton in 1887. The fruitcake survived the couple's move to Hood River about two years later. It even survived long after the couple died -- Joseph in 1922 and Jennie in 1936. For some reason, someone hung on to the piece of cake before donating it to the museum in 1963.

This is what I love most about Oregon. When people find things like giant hairballs or old fruitcake, their first thought is not to throw it away. Their first thought is that there must be some worth in such oddities. And somewhere along the way, someone clearly agrees with them and puts said oddities on display. And it gives curious tourists like me something to do and look forward to. It's a harmonious system.

The Shoemakers were pioneers to the Hood River area, so it makes sense that the cake should be kept around. There's some conjecture that the cake lasted so long because fruitcakes are typically laced with alcohol, which could have preserved it. It is hard to kill a fruitcake. Even if a nuclear bomb wipes out the Earth, I'm thinking cockroaches will be munching on them and Twinkies.

I expected little else to captivate me at the museum once I saw the celebrity cake, but a worker pointed out a wind surfboard in the back. It was one of the first 10 ever manufactured in 1964 and certainly the first to be used by a woman. There's even a picture of the woman riding the board, which looks a lot like a barn door with a sail. The accompanying explanation also says the surfboard warranted a mention on "The Price is Right."

The worker also noted the rail station display and pointed out that the Mount Hood Railroad turns 100 this year. Taking an excursion is on my list of things to do, even if it isn't quirky.

I wrapped up my fun at the museum and headed over to the so-called Singing Bridge, a mile-long structure that connects Hood River with White Salmon, Wash. When the bridge was built, it had a wooden deck. But that was replaced with steel grating in 1950. Since then, people have noticed a hum as they crossed, and many locals often roll down their windows to listen in.

I was sure to do the same as I crossed the toll bridge, but I have heard that song before. There's a bridge in my hometown of Williamsport, Pa., that crosses the West Branch of the Susquehanna River that sings a similar tune. It didn't dampen my excitement, however.

And when I turned around to cross back into Oregon, I saw the most amazing view of Mount Hood. You can't see that in Williamsport. I was so tempted to stop right in the middle of the bridge to take a picture, but that certainly would've been frowned upon by my fellow motorists coming up behind me. Instead, I turned back around, paid another 75-cent toll and crossed back to Washington. I found a lot on that side that afforded me a great view and took some pictures. I think they are postcard-worthy.

Next on my list is a tour of the shanghai tunnels in Portland. According to the Web site, the tour is rated PG-13 and not for the faint of heart. I'm hoping to have a ghost story to tell after that.
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