Pennoyer for your thugs?

I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about Portland history lately. I have many questions and ideas, but the first thing I wanted to address was why was the police force replaced twice in the space of of two years?

I suspected an interesting story, and I was right. It revolves around then-Mayor Sylvester Pennoyer, aka “Silpester Annoyer.” He’d already been governor for two terms–you’d think we’d learn. But no. This charismatic rapscallion became Mayor at the age of 65, and per his usual M.O., he was iconoclastic, eccentric, loud, and brooked no dissent.

Pennoyer was Mayor during the presidential election year of 1896. McKinley stumped for the republicans (and found considerable favor with The Oregonian), and Bryan was the Dem, and in deep cahoots with the Populist party. The election was about coinage. Bryan was campaigning for “free coinage”, meaning he wanted to take us off the gold standard of the time. To paraphrase a contemporary editorial: “We now have a 200-cent dollar. Under Bryan’s plan, it will be a 100-cent dollar–half the value! Is there any question about this math?”

Silpester was a Bryan man, and wanted everyone within his reach to vote the same way. Members of both the police and fire departments were threatened with firing if they did not become “bryanized”. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened–those who were intent on voting for McKinley were sacked, and replaced with firefighters and patrolmen of questionable competence.

I’m still in the middle of the saga, and need a bit more time with the microfiche. There are still gaps to be filled–did Mayor Mason put the old police force back in? What happened to Pennoyer? What happened to everyone after McKinley won the election?

This, and the Kenealy murder, are on my list.

Related, Bix! shares my interest in history, and has some great entries. Also, for an engaging overview, I’ve just started Jewel Lansing’s Portland: People, Politics, and Power, 1851-2001.

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