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Keep Portland Weird | 16 Weird + Interesting Facts About Portland

  |  Neighborhood Insight, Portland

As you know, the unofficial motto of Portland is “Keep Portland Weird.” But the phrase has evolved into more than just something cute to put on a bumper sticker or a larger-than-life mural. It has become an all-encompassing slogan that promotes a sense of expressionism, local art and talent, individuality, atypical lifestyle choices and the overall free spirit of our beloved city.

In honor of “Keep Portland Weird,” we decided to unearth a few of the many weird or interesting facts about Portland, from the more well-known quirks to some of the city’s greatest secrets. These little tidbits make Portland colorful, unique, and of course — oh so weird.

 

1. Portland is home to the world’s smallest park.

Mill Ends Park Portland, OR

By atul666 from Portland, USA (Mill Ends Park) CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Measuring 2 feet across with a total area of 452 square inches, Mill Ends Park is the smallest park in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records. This tiny urban park is situated in the median of Naito Parkway near the river in downtown Portland. It was designated as a city park in 1948 at the behest of city journalist Dick Fagan for snail races and as a colony for leprechauns, and the park even has a small sidewalk around it for the leprechauns to utilize. For more impressive world records held in the state of Oregon, click here.

 

2. The city’s name was decided on a coin toss.

The founders of what is now Portland, Francis Pettygrove from Portland, Maine and Asa Lovejoy from Boston, Massachusetts, both wanted to name it after their hometown when the name was to be changed from “The Clearing” in 1845. A coin toss was used to decide the new name and Pettygrove (from Portland, Maine) won two out of the three tosses. The toss happened in the Ermatinger House in Oregon City, which now serves as a museum and is the oldest house in Clackamas County. The coin has been named the Portland Penny and is now on display in the Oregon Historical Society Museum.

 

3. The Simpsons cartoonist, Matt Groening, is from Portland — and named many characters after Portland streets and landmarks.

Matt Groening was born and raised in Portland and attended Ainsworth Elementary School and Lincoln High School before going off to college and starting his career as a cartoonist. Groening began animation for The Simpsons in 1989 and named several of the characters after famous Portland streets and landmarks, including Flanders, Lovejoy, Powell, Quimby and Kearney.

 

4. The Unipiper calls Portland home.

Have you seen the Unipiper before? Well, you can’t miss him. Brian Kidd, also known as The Unipiper, is a unicyclist, street performer, musician and local celebrity. He rides on a unicycle dressed as Darth Vader (and most recently, other characters from Game of Thrones and Pokémon), playing flaming bagpipes. You read that correctly! If you don’t believe us, check out his video that went viral in 2011 and his updated flaming bagpipe routine.

 

5. The Portlandia statue in downtown is the second-largest copper repoussé statue in the country.

The first-largest, you ask? None other than the Statue of Liberty. This 34-foot-10-inch beauty was created by Raymond Kaskey in 1985. Depicting a woman reaching downward, adorned in classical clothes with a trident in hand, the Portlandia statue is based on the design of the city seal. It is accompanied by a poem by Portland resident Ronald Talney, which reads, “She kneels down, and from the quietness of copper reaches out. We take that stillness into ourselves, and somewhere deep in the earth our breath becomes her city. If she could speak this is what she would say: Follow that breath. Home is the journey we make. This is how the world knows where we are.”

 

6. Portland is home to the largest forested park in city limits.

Situated just northwest of the city, Forest Park is the largest forest park within city limits in the country. It covers more than 5,000 acres and contains 70 miles of recreational trails, including the Wildwood Trail segment of the city’s 40 Mile Loop system. Whether you enjoy walking, running, biking or hiking, there are endless paths to explore at Forest Park. Plus, if you’re into legends of murder and mystery, check out the story behind “the Witches Castle” tucked in Forest Park.

 

7. We have the largest independently owned bookstore.

Powell’s City of Books Portland, OR

Photo Courtesy of Darius Kuzmickas via Powell’s City of Books

Powell’s City of Books is the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world, as it occupies an entire city block and houses over one million books. Peruse their massive collection throughout nine color-coded rooms with over 3,500 different sections varying in topic. Looking for more bookish things to do in the city? Check out our complete book lover’s guide to Portland, featuring bookstores, libraries, book-loving businesses, literary events and programs, and more.

 

8. Portland hosts the world’s largest naked bike ride.

Originally started in 2004 as a protest against society’s dependence on oil, the World Naked Bike Ride is the largest of its kind, attracting 13,000 nude participants. That’s right — thousands of riders travel through the city on a top-secret route baring it all, quite literally.

 

9. It is one of two cities in the state to have a volcano within city limits.

But don’t worry — it’s dormant. Mount Tabor is an extinct volcanic cinder cone located in Northeast Portland within city limits. Portland is one of just four cities in the country with an extinct volcano within its boundaries. One of the four is Bend, which is home to Pilot Butte, another extinct volcano.

 

10. Voodoo Doughnuts provides legal marriage ceremonies.

Voodoo Doughnuts Weddings

Photo Courtesy of Voodoo Doughnuts | Pictured: Rachel + Brendan Anatole 

You can get more than quirky doughnut flavors at Voodoo Doughnuts — you can get an actual marriage certificate. Voodoo provides legal marriage ceremonies at each of their locations in Portland and their other shops throughout the country. Opt for an intimate gathering with up to nine guests or go for The Whole Shebang, which includes the legal wedding ceremony, air fare to Portland, hotel accommodations, and a personal tour of Portland with the Voodoo owners themselves.

 

11. We have the best airport — with some iconic carpet.

Earlier this year, the Portland International Airport was named the best domestic airport by Travel + Leisure — for the seventh year in a row. It was chosen for its friendly service, local shopping and food options, local art, live music, and more. Not to mention, its iconic geometric-patterned teal carpet has made a name for itself over the years. Although the original carpet was torn out in January 2015, it was replaced with an equally retro and unique pattern. And you can even get your hands on the old carpet at places like The PDX Project, which sells a line of designer furniture, luggage tags, rugs, doormats and small squares of raw carpet.

 

12. The brilliant Bobbie the Wonder Dog is buried here.

If you haven’t heard the story of Bobbie the Wonder Dog, you’re in for a T-R-E-A-T. In August 1923, a Scottish Collie named Bobbie was lost while on vacation with his owners in Wolcott, Indiana. In February 1924, he returned to his home in Silverton, Oregon after covering at least 2,800 miles across the country — which included swimming across mighty rivers and crossing the Continental Divide in the dead of winter. After his return, Bobbie received instant fame and is still celebrated today during Silverton’s annual children’s pet parade. He was buried with honors at the Oregon Humane Society in Portland in 1927.

 

13. Miniature horses are hiding all throughout the city.

Portland Horse Project

Photo Courtesy of Scott Wayne Indiana via the Portland Horse Project

If you’ve stumbled upon a miniature toy horse strapped to the sidewalk, you’re not encountering some strange one-time occurrence. You’ve in fact uncovered one of the 200+ horses hiding throughout the city as part of the Portland Horse Project. After seeing the removal of many horse rings used in the 1800s to secure horses and horse-drawn vehicles, Woodstock resident Scott Wayne Indiana tied a plastic toy horse to one of the rings in 2005. Residents followed suit, tethering model horses to rings all over the city, drawing attention to this unique detail in Portland’s history. See a few of the many horses here and follow the project on Facebook here.

 

14. It’s rumored that a ghost named Nina haunts Old Town Pizza.

If you eat at Old Town Pizza in the heart of downtown, you may just be joined by an unexpected guest. Nina is the resident ghost at Old Town Pizza, and is often seen in a black dress observing diners and wandering the basement below. She has been hanging out in this historic space for more than 100 years. The pizzeria resides in what was once the Merchant Hotel, which has a tunnel system beneath it that was once used to kidnap unsuspecting sailors. We’ll let you read the rest of the story here (and how Nina fits into it!), if you dare…

 

15. The “Benson Bubblers” were donated to the city to reduce alcoholic consumption in the early 1900s.

Those bronze drinking fountains, known as the “Benson Bubblers,” dotting the city serve more of a purpose than just quenching thirst. In 1912, businessman and philanthropist Simon Benson donated $10,000 for the purchase and installation of 20 fountains primarily to reduce the consumption of alcoholic beverages during lunch breaks. In the 1970s, the Benson family asked that the bubblers only be installed within the downtown area to maintain their uniqueness — and unique they are!

 

16. Portland once had a hockey team — the first American team to compete in the Stanley Cup.

Portland, OR Hockey

While many are still hanging onto the hope we’ll get a hockey team, some may not realize we actually once had one! Playing in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1914 to 1918, the Portland Rosebuds was the first American team to compete for the Stanley Cup, losing to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1916 final.

 

What Weird Facts Would You Add?

Help us make this list even weirder by sharing a unique fact in the comments below!

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About the Author

Melissa Peterson, Director of Agent Services and Technology

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