Remembering a long-dead Red Local hero: A lawyer in Portland, Ore., thinks the city shouldn't forget John Reed, the native son whose enthusiasm for the Bolshevik Revolution made him famous.

Sun Journal

March 11, 1996|By Will Englund | Will Englund,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Charles P. Duffy, a cocky personal injury lawyer and one-time City Hall functionary, can stand by the Lewis and Clark Monument in Washington Park, just a few steps from the site of a long-gone mansion called Cedar Hill, and point to a spot -- just there -- where a monument to the only American hero of the Bolshevik revolution will assuredly someday rise.

Mr. Duffy loves cigars and admires Sinn Fein, but his topic for today is a rich kid from the top of the hill -- a son of Oregon whose radical politics drew him ever more eastward until he reached Petrograd in 1917 just in time to witness the Ten Days That Shook the World. His name was John Silas Reed, he may have been the most famous journalist of his time, and there's nothing in Portland to remember him by.

"He's virtually unknown here. It's incredible," says Mr. Duffy.

Mr. Duffy began to learn about John Reed back in 1987, when he was press secretary to Mayor Bud Clark, and some people approached the city about holding a ceremony to mark Reed's 100th birthday. Mr. Duffy decided he was going to put a committee together to build a monument to a man who couldn't wait to get out of Portland.

"And then the city gets all weird about it -- especially a Commie! So we're hitting hard on the journalist aspect." Mr. Duffy grins. Here he is, a Democrat running for a seat on the City Council, and he's talking about building a memorial to a reporter! Who snubbed his nose at Portland!

"This is a heroic statue -- a statue of a Westerner." The cigar is sweeping out big arcs in the damp Oregon air now. "It should reflect his Western roots and his Western attitude. And it should be heroic."

John Reed's Western roots are not exactly like other people's. His grandfather, Henry D. Green, rounded Cape Horn in 1853 and went on to found the Portland Gaslight Co., the Portland Waterworks, and the Oregon Iron Works. He built Cedar Hill -- a French chateau that was the biggest mansion on the highest hill of Portland.

When John Reed was baptized in Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, his godfather was Judge Matthew P. Deady, a Marylander who had moved here and written the Oregon law code, founded the public library, and served as president of the board of regents of the University of Oregon, among other things. An uncle had served a term as secretary of state -- in the Guatemalan government. As a boy, Reed attended a private school downtown. Every day he walked down the hill from the mansion and through the Irish slum known as Goose Hollow, where his later sympathy for the downtrodden was probably not engendered, because the downtrodden regularly used to beat him up as he passed through.

But before long his views were broadening. If he headed north from Cedar Hill, instead of east toward Goose Hollow, he would find himself in Portland's Chinatown. While in his teens, he would go there with a Chinese household servant and maybe a few friends, looking in on opium dens, red-light parlors and gambling houses.

But he was one of the golden boys of a still-raw West Coast city. He went east to college, to Harvard; when he skipped classes there for a few days and no one knew where he was, it was front-page news in the Oregonian.

The Portland that produced John Reed was a city where a strong Progressive tradition was being established but the rough edges of frontier capitalism were still very much in sight.

Enough lumber moved through Portland every year to build a 30-foot-wide plank road all the way to Chicago. The city had 98 known "disorderly houses," and the profits of vice made their way into some of the more respectable hands in the city. The Republican U.S. attorney, Francis Heney, told business leaders in 1905: "You men corrupt all you touch."

Reed's father, Charles Jerome Reed, was a successful businessman and president of the exclusive Arlington Club. But he accepted an appointment as U.S. marshal and worked alongside Heney in prosecuting timber and railroad frauds that implicated many of the most prominent men in Portland.

For his troubles, Charles Reed was ostracized by Portland society. He was kicked out of his job as marshal when he refused to campaign for William Howard Taft, and he died a broken man in 1912.

Jack Reed, it was said, vowed to avenge his father's death. But he was neither scheming nor cold-blooded enough to make a proper avenger.

A close childhood friend, Nina Lane Faubion, wrote years later about Jack in the Oregonian: "I knew the jolly, joking, emotional, romantic poet, the sympathizer with the underdog the keen-witted Harvard gentleman and the irresistible street gamin."

He had a way, she wrote, of hitching up his pants, over and over, as he grew agitated or excited in a conversation. "His torso was rotund, and his shirttails were forever climbing up. He was unconscious of and so carelessly carefree of the trained decorum and habits of others."

A less sympathetic acquaintance said: "Reed's chief trouble was that he wasn't housebroken."

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