"A dead whale is worse..."


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The following article appeared in the Eugene Register-Guard newspaper on Sunday, November 15, 1970. It ran just a few days after officials blew up a dead sperm whale on the Oregon coast. The article recounts a bizarre story from 1915 when a crazy Eugene farmer had a months-old, rotting whale carcass delivered by train to the University of Oregon campus. Naturally, city and university officials intervened and prevented the final delivery. The rotting hulk was ultimately buried in a vacant lot on the outskirts of town. As for the crazy farmer, he could never get over being spurned by the university. After years of unsubstantiated allegations against university officials, he ended up being indicted for, and convicted of, libel.

A dead whale is worse than a white elephant

Sunday, November 15, 1970

One laid on city’s doorstep in 1915

EDITOR’S NOTE: For at least the second time in this century, whale disposal last week became a problem in Lane County. Register-Guard reporter Marvin Tims recalls a previous whale case in the article below, condensed from a 1964 Emerald Empire Magazine story.

Of the Register-Guard

Odor problems from a dead whale on the beach at Florence were nipped in the blubber last week when a dynamite charge reduced the carcass to bits.

A different tact was taken 46 years ago when another whale body beached near the coastal community. On that occasion, the animal ended up in Eugene — to the consternation of Eugene residents.

It was all the work of James Fullerton, a 65-year-old farmer who lived near Eugene in that year of 1914.

Fullerton, who often admonished the Eugene Chamber of Commerce for not encouraging construction of a loganberry processing factory in the community, suddenly got a notion that the decaying carcass would be a fine addition to the University of Oregon campus. Students could gaze at the mammal in wonder, and the whales’ [sic] bones could even be used as the framework of a campus teahouse, said Fullerton.

After weeks of effort, Fullerton obtained enough contributions from students and other friends of the whale to ship the remains, prepaid, to Eugene.

Shipped on a flatcar in January, 1915 (several months after it had died), the reeking animal was detected by Eugene’s 10,000 or so citizens long before it ever reached the Southern Pacific railroad yards.

Fullerton, unfortunately, had neglected to tell university officials of his plans. When the whale arrived in Eugene, the railroad agent telephoned L. H. Johnson, head of the university business office, and asked the school to accept the dead mammal.

Johnson flatly refused, telling the agent to keep it.

“I won’t, it smells,” the agent protested.

Johnson told a newspaper reporter the next day:

“A dead whale is worse than a white elephant. I wish it were a white elephant and alive; we could take it out to the woods and shoot it… The university has had a good many cases of junk shipped in on it, but this takes the cake….”

After university officials turned up their noses at Fullerton’s offer, the farmer wrote city officials in Portland, asking whether the Rose City wanted the now-putrid mammal. The officials politely declined.

Meanwhile, the whale continued to grow [… unreadable…] and smellier [… unreadable…] odor emanating [… unreadable…]yards became almost unbearable. Fullerton, who had spent long hours digging the sea-going creature out of the sand, finally realized he would have to get rid of his prize.

According to a January, 1915, news item, the disappointed farmer had an immense grave dug for the whale in a vacant lot at the outskirts of the city — the location of which is now unknown.

Eugeneans could breathe easier again — at least for a time.

But Fullerton, highly incensed by the university’s rejection of his whale, brooded for two years on how to gain revenge. Finally, he hit on the scheme of publishing a series of stinging charges in his Oregon Hornet — a four-page newspaper which sold for 25 cents an issue.

He used the publication to levy sensational — and libelous — charges against the university and some of its officials. It was in his second issue — June, 1917 — that the publisher openly invited a libel action. In what he labeled an “open letter to President (Prince Lucien) Campbell,” he wrote:

“As you are aware, I wrote you that you are a liar. I am prepared to go on the stand and swear to it… You have stood in with graft at the university that has robbed the taxpayers of thousands of dollars.”

As each issue of the Hornet rolled off the press, charges became more drastic. In mid-summer of 1917, Fullerton received a warning from U.S. Atty. Clarence Reames of Portland that the newspaper was inflammatory. Reames even had one issue barred from the mails.

But this didn’t deter the publisher-farmer in the least. By November 1917, the Hornet was charging that President Campbell had turned the university into a “hotbed of Germans.”

Finally, university and state officials, unable to remain patient any longer, testified before a Lane County Grand Jury. On Feb. 20, 1919, Fullerton was indicted on five counts of criminal libel.

After a week-long trial filled with sensational testimony, none of which Fullerton could substantiate, a jury found the defendant guilty of criminal libel — possibly the only time in the county’s history a person has been convicted on this charge.

On March 9, 1919, Fullerton was sentenced by Judge G. F. Skipworth, a tall solemn man who didn’t tolerate any foolishness in his courtroom.

“I sentence you to one year in jail,” Skipworth said, “one month to be served, and the other 11 months to be suspended on good behavior.”

In passing [… unreadable…] said he was exercising some leniency because of Fullerton’s age and “evident ill health.” The old man, head partly bowed and tears in his eyes, promised he would discontinue publication of the Hornet.

Although court officials were glad to see the Fullerton trial concluded they agreed it had been one whale of a case.

© 1970 Eugene Register-Guard