More 50th anniversary articles
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The following articles are a small sample of those written on or around Novermber 12, 2020, to comemorate the 50th anniversary of the Oregon's Exploding Whale.
Fifty years ago, Oregon exploded a whale in a burst that ‘blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds’ - The Washington Post
By Katie Shepherd
On a clear November day in 1970 in Florence, Ore., state highway engineers lit 20 cases of dynamite to blow apart a 45-foot sperm whale carcass that had washed up on the beach and festered for three days.
Unfortunately, the explosion did not go as planned.
The engineers intended for the eight-ton carcass to be thrown into the ocean in pieces. Instead, chunks of flesh flew toward the beachside town and fell from the sky, crushing a car a quarter-mile away and raining down on a crowd who had gathered to watch the pyrotechnics.
The spectacular failure, and the remarkable local newscast that captured the event, have since become enshrined in Oregon history, so beloved that Florence residents voted to name a park earlier this year after the detonated sea mammal. To celebrate the event’s 50th anniversary on Thursday, the Oregon Historical Society released a remastered video of the original broadcast and the TV station interviewed the former employees who recorded it.
“I was asked about it, virtually every day of my life, or commented on it, by everybody, strangers alike,” Paul Linnman, the on-camera reporter, told KATU.
When the whale washed ashore on Nov. 9, 1970, as Linnman reported at the time, it had been so long since the community had encountered a beached cetacean that no one knew how to dispose of the animal.
As officials pondered the problem, the body began to decay, festering until the surrounding beach smelled of rot. The state finally enlisted engineers from the Oregon State Highway Division three days later to disintegrate the body using a half-ton of dynamite, hoping most of the pieces would be washed away by the sea or eaten by scavengers.
“I’m confident that it’ll work,” engineer George Thornton told Linnman, who was 23 at the time, in the moments before the explosion. “The only thing is we’re not sure just exactly how much explosives it’ll take to disintegrate this thing, so the scavengers, seagulls, and crabs and whatnot can clean it up.”
When the dynamite detonated, a cloud of sand and whale puffed into the air. Onlookers sitting on the sandbanks about a quarter-mile away erupted with cheers and laughter.
Linnman and cameraman Doug Brazil, who had arrived at the beach near the midpoint of Oregon’s coastline with cameras in hand, captured the moment the excited crowd suddenly realized the rancid blubber that had propelled into the air would soon plummet back onto their heads.
“Here come pieces of … uh … whale,” a woman said, her tone incongruously calm as the flesh came hurtling back to the ground, landing with a stomach-flipping squelch. Linnman, in his news report, said “the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”
Although the story was well-told in Oregon, it didn’t lodge itself into the national imagination until 20 years later, when Miami Herald humorist Dave Barry found a copy of the video and called it “the most wonderful event in the history of the universe.”
“This is a time to get hold of the folks at the Oregon State Highway Division and ask them, when they get done cleaning up the beaches, to give us an estimate on the US Capitol,” Barry wrote.
Since then, the event has been recounted in news stories, humor columns, interviews and even a book that Linnman wrote. And the two journalists who documented the shocking event never heard the end of it.
“I’d come out of Starbucks at 7 a.m., run into someone, they’d say, ‘Hey, I bet no one’s mentioned the whale to you yet,’ ” Linnman told KATU on Thursday. “Yeah, the guy at the Oregonian box an hour ago mentioned it to me.”
Despite the chaotic mishap, the incident wasn’t the last time explosives have been used to dispose of dead whales. Others have since used controlled explosions to break apart carcasses, though they often set the explosives off in the ocean, away from the shoreline.
In the end, besides the crushed car, the near-disaster ended without any serious injuries or lasting damage to Florence. In fact, the event became the city’s claim to fame, and Florence in June christened a riverfront park “Exploding Whale Memorial Park” to mark the 50th anniversary.
“To have it live as story still on the Internet after 50 years is just amazing,” Brazil told KATU.
Watch Remastered Footage of Oregon Whale Exploding 50 Years After the Event - Newsweek
Footage of a 45-foot sperm whale being blown up with dynamite on an Oregon beach has been remastered and re-released 50 years after the event took place.
The dead whale had washed up on a beach near Florence in November, 1970. Weighing in at around eight tons, officials needed to find a way to dispose of the rotting flesh, eventually settling on the idea of exploding the carcass with dynamite.
The plan, from the Oregon Highway Division, came to fruition on November 12. KATU reporter Paul Linnman and cameraman Doug Brazil went to observe and recorded the explosion in what would become a viral video decades later.
To mark the 50th anniversary, the Oregon Historical Society commissioned the footage to be remastered. The original film, which was shot on 16mm color reversal motion picture film, was transferred by audiovisual experts, who scanned the footage at 4K resolution.
"As opposed to the degradation that happens with video tape from making a copy of a copy of a copy, the original 16mm film—what was shot that day on the beach—still projects a crisp image with bright vibrant colors," the society wrote in a blog post. "KATU donated the original 16mm footage to the Oregon Historical Society in the late 1980s."
According to the Oregon Historical Society, the footage came back into the public eye in the 1990s after a columnist from the Miami Herald mentioned it in a piece he wrote. Years later the film made its way onto the internet and was quickly shared, making it one of the first viral videos, the society said.
One copy of the video uploaded to YouTube 12 years ago has been viewed 3.2 million times.
Linnman and Brazil filmed the whale explosion from around a quarter of a mile from the carcass. Despite this distance, they were hit with bits of flesh from above.
"When the blubber started hitting the ground around us, we realized we weren't far enough away," Linnman wrote in his article about the event. "We were running away when we heard a second tremendous explosion in front of us. A piece of blubber the size of a coffee table hit the top of an Oldsmobile and completely flattened the roof."
Speaking in the news report, he said: "It might be concluded that should a whale ever was hashore in Lane County again, those in charge will not only remember what to do, they'll certainly remember what not to do."
Whales that wash ashore on Oregon beaches are now buried, but the 1970 event has become a feature of the state's history. In June, it was commemorated with the opening of the Exploding Whale Memorial Park. The name was chosen after city officials asked the public for suggestions. A shortlist of nine was then put to a public vote.
New Footage Marks Anniversary Of Oregon's Infamous Exploding Whale Incident Of 1970 - IFLScience
Today is the 50th anniversary of the infamous Exploding Whale of Oregon incident of 1970. In celebration of that, the Oregon Historical Society has released new footage of the frankly baffling event, in which the highway patrol, under the guidance of the Navy, turned a beached whale into a meaty rainshower.
The video puts the incident into glorious 4K, having been restored by AV Geeks in Raleigh, North Carolina, on behalf of the Oregon Historical Society. For those of you who don't yet know the tale, a recap:
In November 1970, an 8-ton sperm whale managed to beach itself just off the Oregon coast. As far as send-offs go, bobbing your way onto the beach isn't the most dignified of affairs. For instance, you'd never suggest it for your nan. However, things were about to get a lot worse for the whale, and about a thousand tonnes more dynamite-y.
At the time, for some reason, the whale fell under the jurisdiction of the highway division. If you ever come across a whale carcass, I'm sure you'll note how similar the problem of getting rid of it is to telling a driver to fix their tail lights, please.
In their wisdom, and following a call with the Navy (who are world-renowned for solving their problems by blowing them up), they decided to solve the whale problem by, yep, blowing it up. The plan was to get some dynamite and obliterate part of the whale, firing the rest of it out to sea. The theory was that the dynamite would propel most of the carcass far enough out that it would drift into the ocean, leaving the smaller, more digestible (and let's face it, cooked) bits of delicious whale corpse for the smaller animals like seagulls to eat.
So far, so grim, but hardly something to name a park for.
Now, you'd think if you were going to blast a whale to smithereens you'd sit down and have a bit of a think about how much dynamite was necessary, rather than just put 20 crates underneath it and "see what happens". Or maybe you'd at least listen to somebody with explosives training when they tell you, "I think you've overdone the old dynamite if I'm honest." Well, you'd be wrong.
Enter businessman Walt Umenhofer. He was on a drive around Florence, Oregon in a brand new car bought a few days earlier from a car dealership offering a "whale of a deal" promotion (this will become relevant later, for fans of whale corpse-based serendipity) when he happened upon the scene. Umenhofer had received explosives training during World War II and was not convinced the highway division had got their calculations right. He told them they either needed much fewer explosives to push the whale out to sea – he suggested 20 sticks, where they were using 20 crates – or a hell of a lot more, in order to completely obliterate the carcass into tiny chewable whale nuggets.
The head of the project dismissed him, so Umenhofer retreated as far as he could to watch the inevitable disaster, behind his shiny new whale-free car. Joining him were local journalists documenting the whole thing and citizens who just fancied a bit of a gawp. (Look, I'm not saying I'm proud of myself but if someone said "There's a bunch of people at the beach who have never blown up a whale before about to try and blow up a whale," I'm not not pushing my way to the front.)
All that was left to do was for highway engineer and project manager George Thornton to tell reporters – and this is a direct quote, as you'll see in the video below – "I'm confident that it'll work, the only thing is we're not sure how much explosives it'll take to disintegrate this thing."
At this point, I'm going to insist that you watch the newly-restored footage because it is the best thing available on the Internet, cats included.
The explosion caused massive pieces of blubber to get blown quite some distance onto buildings, cars in parking lots, and people who had previously been minding their own business and enjoying how whale blubber wasn't currently raining down from the sky.
“Explosions in the movies usually look like a blast of fire and smoke," journalist Paul Linnman said later, describing the incident in a book. "This one more resembled a mighty burst of tomato juice.”
The whale debris rained down such a distance some hit the shiny new car belonging to Walt Umenhofer, completely caving in the roof, which you'll remember from a few paragraphs prior, he bought in a whaley good deal.
"My insurance company's never going to believe this," Umenhofer reportedly said as a highway worker removed some blubber from his car with a shovel.
After all this, Thornton told reporters that "it went just exactly right," except for the blast creating a hole underneath the whale, thereby causing the whale to be blasted towards the onlookers rather than the ocean, creating the meaty downpour of partially cooked whale soup.
Luckily, the people of Oregon have decided to embrace their heritage and celebrate the unusual event, even naming a memorial park after it.
50 Years Ago Today, Oregon Blew Up a Dead Whale. With Dynamite. On Live TV . - Popular Mechanics
BY CAROLINE DELBERT
The blubber chunks were... everywhere.
Fifty years ago, an Oregon news report captured the incredible demolition of a whale carcass.
Attendees weren't just splattered with raining blubber—they were in danger of injury.
News reporter Paul Linnman became a icon for his role in the event.
Today, we’ve reached the 50-year anniversary of something so bad, it belongs in 2020. On November 12, 1970, Oregon ABC affiliate KATU sent a reporter to an unusual event: the TNT-based “removal” of a huge whale carcass from a beach. The resulting footage, where the entire beach is splattered with different size pieces of blubber, has become iconic for its combination of newsy pathos and total chaos.
Reporter Paul Linnman’s voiceover is very calm in the produced final piece. An unusual whale carcass had washed ashore in Florence, just 60 miles west of Eugene and the nearest beach town. Authorities decided to use TNT to dispose of the carcass, and an expert says on camera that the local group wasn’t really sure how much to use. That expert, Paul Thornton, was a highway engineer who made a plan to basically vaporize the whale into small enough pieces to be washed away or consumed by birds.
Thankfully for video history, Thornton chose to use half a ton of TNT. For perspective, that’s a sixth of what workers used to blast George Washington’s entire face into Mount Rushmore. Washington, however, is 60 feet high, while the whale carcass was just 45 feet—and made of rotting flesh, not stone.
Immediately, it’s clear that this explosion is, well, overkill. First, a gigantic explosive radius dwarfs the carcass, and the camera operator has to shift to even cover it. Then, pieces of different sizes start to fall from the sky. The explosion is so big that it creates a brief, blubber-based weather phenomenon. Thornton’s reasonable-sounding plan had turned into a blubber rain that frightened all the wildlife away and didn’t even fully break up the full bulk of the corpse.
“When it blew up, it looked like an explosion from movies,” Linnman told Popular Mechanics in 2017. “Then, things started hitting the ground around us. I realized blubber was hitting around us. It took several seconds, but blubber is so dense, a piece the size of your fingertip can go through your head. As we started to run down trail, we heard a second explosion in our direction, and we saw blubber the size of a coffee table flatten a car.”
Blubber is almost entirely solid animal fat, and a bowling ball-sized amount of it would still weigh about 7 pounds—the real bowling ball weight a child might use. Imagine launching hundreds of bowling balls 100 feet into the sky and letting them rain down wherever.
The observers ran for cover, and thankfully, no one was hurt. But it’s easy to see how a larger piece destroyed even a giant, steel-frame contemporary car.
The legacy of the great whale rain of 1970 continues to bounce around, especially in the internet era. “This thing never died,” Linnman told Popular Mechanics. “We were news people at the time. That was the day's news, and we moved on. We started receiving requests from hazmat teams, police departments, and all branches of military.”
When the footage hit the early forerunner of the internet, people traded it like a hot commodity. Linnman left KATU in 2003, but the story—and the unforgettable, regrettable video—is immortal.
The 50th Anniversary of the Iconic Exploding Whale - Kottke.org
By Jason Kottke
Fifty years ago today, on the beach outside a small town in Oregon, local officials used way too much dynamite (a half ton!) to dispose of a beached whale with a result that seems predictable in hindsight: chunks of whale absolutely everywhere. The explosion was captured on film by local TV station KATU and in the 90s, it went viral on the internet.
As it turns out, that was overkill. Mammalian marine guts spewed everywhere, raining down on townsfolk. A quarter-mile away, cars were smashed with chunks of cetacean carcass.
This story remained a local legend for two decades, until the early ’90s , when the newspaper columnist Dave Barry mentioned seeing footage of the exploding beast. Soon after, this video clip — originally reported by Portland news channel KATU — went viral on the internet, long before “going viral on the internet” was even a thing.
You should watch it if you’ve never seen it, and if you have, you should definitely watch it again today in all of its digitally remastered 4K glory above. I clearly remember the day at work in the mid-90s when someone discovered this video and the entire office came to a halt as we all watched it over and over again in a tiny QuickTime player window on a small computer screen — it’s just as hilarious today as it was back then.
Veteran newsman recalls infamous Oregon whale explosion on 50th anniversary - New York Post
By Tamar Lapin
It’s a whale of a tale.
On the 50th anniversary of the “Florence whale explosion” Thursday, a former Oregon TV newsman recalled what it was like to cover the infamous event — where authorities used half a ton of dynamite to blow up a beached whale.
“I was asked about it virtually every day of my life, or commented on it, by everybody, strangers alike,” Paul Linnman told KATU-TV in Portland.
On Nov. 12, 1970, Linnman and his cameraman Doug Brazil were just 23 when they were assigned to capture the blubber blast on a beach in Florence, Ore.
The Oregon Highway Division had decided the best way to remove the dead 8-ton sperm whale that had washed ashore was to stuff it with 24 cases of dynamite and blow it up.
The idea was that the rotting whale would be nearly disintegrated by the blast, and that any smaller pieces left over would be taken care of by seagulls or other scavengers.
But it didn’t go as planned.
As Linnman’s deadpan segment covered, chunks of the sea creature flew in the air like shrapnel, sending screaming onlookers running and even flattening a car.
“All of a sudden, we realized blubber is coming down … There was that momentary ‘Oh … This stuff is landing.’ And it could have hit us,” Linnman recalled.
In his alliterative voice-over of the clip, Linnman quipped that “land-lubber newsmen” became “land-blubber newsmen … for the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”
The whale explosion footage gained national fame in the 1990s, and received renewed attention on YouTube, becoming a viral hit.
“To have it live as a story still on the internet after 50 years is just amazing,” Brazil said.
For the anniversary, the Oregon Historical Society released a remastered version of the 16mm print original, which has been under the museum’s care since the 1980s, according to the Willamette Week.
It includes Linnman’s iconic closing line: “It might be concluded that should a whale ever wash ashore in Lane County again, those in charge will not only remember what to do, they’ll certainly remember what not to do.”
Infamous Exploding Whale Video Gets a 4K Remaster - Nerdist
by Matthew Hart
Back in November 1970, a dead, 45-foot-long whale washed ashore on a beach in Florence, Oregon. The behemoth aquatic mammal, however, unfortunately did not wash back out to sea, and, to remove it, authorities chose to blow it up with TNT. It was a choice. Now, the original footage of this infamous “Exploding Whale” incident has been remastered. And, fair warning: things do get chunky.
Digg found this remastered version of the incident, which KATU News posted to its YouTube channel. KATU News, an Oregon-based news station, recorded the footage of the exploding whale 50 years ago. And now, the station has released a 4K version of the segment to celebrate its quinquagenary (its 50th anniversary).
For those unfamiliar, people consider this event as “infamous” rather than “famous” because the whale removal plan didn’t work. The state’s Highway Division and the U.S. Navy devised the plan, which called for blasting apart the 16,000-pound whale with 1,000 pounds of explosives. And then simply leaving behind the flesh parts for nearby birds and other scavengers.
Instead, the authorities didn’t use nearly enough explosives to properly blast apart the whale, and massive chunks of it remained on the beach—ones that bulldozers eventually had to remove. On top of that, the explosion put a lot of people in serious danger. Nobody was hurt, however, as the gigantic hunks of whale raining down post explosion didn’t land on anybody’s head.
“[T]he humor of the entire situation suddenly gave way to a run for survival as huge chunks of whale blubber fell everywhere,” the KATU correspondent says in the video. “The dunes were rapidly evacuated as spectators escaped both the falling debris and the overwhelming smell,” he adds.
Incidentally, for anyone wondering, it seems like dead whale-removal methods aren’t much more sophisticated today. A cursory search shows the top methods consist of trying to drag the whale back out to sea or simply burying it. Exploding dead whales is still apparently a valid way to remove them too, although we can imagine a lot of ocean-loving people aren’t a fan of it.
Remembering one of history’s greatest whale explosions - Popular Science
By Sara Kiley Watson
We’ve learned a lot since that messy day on an Oregon beach.
The year is 1970. Richard Nixon is president, bell-bottoms are a hot new look, and Simon & Garfunkel is playing on everyone’s radios. But on the Oregon coast, people are only buzzing about one thing: blown-up whale bits.
Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the infamous Florence whale explosion. After the 45-foot-long carcass of a sperm whale washed up on a town beach, the Oregon Highway Division decided to blast it to smithereens with a half-ton of dynamite. Families gathered near the beach to enjoy the spectacle—only to be showered with rainstorms of flesh, blood, and bone.
“The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds,” Paul Linnman, a journalist for the television station KATU, reported from the scene.
Today, the people of Florence take pride in the whole debacle. “It’s kind of a legend,” says Heidi Pearson, a whale expert at the University of Alaska Southeast. Back in June, the town even named a new city park after the blubbery blunder.
While methods for dealing with dead whales have improved since the ’70s, the giant mammals do explode from time to time—no pyrotechnics needed. “The risk of a spontaneous explosion is always there with a decomposing whale,” says Michael Moore, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. When gases from the rotting body parts build up underneath the fiber-elastic blubber, it pops like a balloon. To avoid that, marine experts like Moore puncture the abdominal cavity with a knife to slowly let out the gas.
Once the whale bomb is defused it can be buried on the beach, chopped up and toted to a landfill, or dragged out to sea. The last option often takes up a lot of time and money, Moore says, and there’s always a chance the parts will float right back to the beach later.
And though it may not make the evening newscast or earn a historical landmark, the safest way to dispose of a whale, Moore says, is to compost it by spreading it over the dunes or layering it between fresh wood chips like a giant, salty lasagna.
“At the end of it you’ll end up with a clean skeleton that you can study and put in a museum,” he says. “And some good fertilizer.”