The Astor Kick

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March 17, 2011 by David Gillaspie

Or Why Astoria Matters So Much

Through a lens of cinema style digressions, the story of John Jacob Astor played across a super-sized world map on a Portland church stage.

Colored sticky notes marked the way.

It wasn’t high-tech, or low-tech.  It was visually engaging correct-tech, something you don’t often see.

A story as grand as Astor’s doesn’t need much help.  Most presenters fail when they won’t exit the frame. 

How often do you hear a narrative where the medium outshines the message; where you get a ‘why did they do that’ moment, instead of the ‘ah ha’ moment you expected?

Like a blackjack dealer on a high-end table, historian Rex Ziak flipped a paper trail of the Astor lineage from Waldorf, Germany, to New York City, to Oregon.  In turquoise, fuchsia, and blue squares, Mr. Ziak tracked the routes of the richest man in America across the stretched map.

John Jacob Astoria was in the house. 

Six years after Lewis and Clark left the west coast, The Astorians showed up.  It wasn’t Captain Gray and the Boston Men on a furry sail-by. 

These guys came to stay.  

Astor sent the right sort of men to ramp up his fur empire in the west.  Scotsmen, French-Canadians, and French-Indians sailed from New York to the mouth of the Columbia River.

Scotsmen?

Think of Jack London stories of frontier forts dealing fur with the Indians.  It didn’t always work out for the pasty guys with red beards, but they had their say.

They set the tone that defined the Pacific Northwest.

Anytime you hear the words ‘first settlement’ in early North American history, you think of The Lost Colony on Roanoke Island, North Carolina.  Lost doesn’t mean the same as lost and found in this case; lost means dead and gone.

The first American settlement on the west coast had it’s own mystery death ship, the Tonquin

Mass-murder at sea and the War of 1812 may have sunk John Jacob Astor’s plans to trap the global fur market, but his loss was America’s gain.  The Astoria foothold claimed the west coast.  No other city holds such an honor.     

History still happens here.   

By David Gillaspie

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