"HOW IT ALL BEGAN"
The year was 1869. Native Americans were "out"; honky settlers were "in." The quiet little frontier town of Portland was quickly taking on a civilized air. Thanks to the shipping trade and an energetic business district, Portland was clearly the Northwest's "most livable" city, boasting a population of 9,565 residents. It had its own tanneries, fancy hotels, and churches--as well as a brothel floating on the Willamette, corrupt policemen and a bustling slave trade.
With such colorful characters, it was only natural for Portland to have an even more colorful newspaper. (No, it wasn't The Oregonian). Its name: The Sunday Mercury--a weekly paper dedicated to covering the important stories of the day:
• Mothers feeding children rat poison.
• Teachers engaging in sexual relations with their students.
• Fishermen capturing sea serpents in jars.
• Leprosy epidemics amongst the hoodlum class caused by smoking cigarettes made by "Chinamen."
• Prisoners chewing off the nostrils of their cellmates.
• One-eyed freaks living amongst the Nez Perce Indian tribe.
• And, of course, insane tailors.
A lively paper, indeed. Yet, not all the news covered in The Sunday Mercury was of a sensational nature. The paper also protected the innocent; noting cruel parents beating their children, insensitive husbands cheating on wives, and drunken, 30-year-old lotharios seducing teenage girls (see p 35 for the complete titillating story!).
"THE SUNDAY MERCURY"
However, even a bastion of journalism like The Sunday Mercury had its warts, occasionally suffering an eensy-weensy lapse in judgment--a lapse so small, in fact, we hesitate to mention it but here we go--extortion. Say the paper knew of a prominent tailor in town who was thought to be insane. A salacious article about his malady would be written and, before publication, mysteriously and conveniently "disappear" if a large, expensive advertisement was purchased by the aforementioned insane tailor.
Unfortunately, this highly original method of increasing revenue was not without repercussion. Occasionally, the "extortionee" was unwilling to pay for the "advertisement." The article would then be printed, exposing the paper to a hefty libel suit. Such was the case in 1891, when The Sunday Mercury published an especially randy (but true!) story about a wealthy Portland lawyer, Col. C.E.S. Wood. Displeased with the article's tone, Col. Wood not only had the heroic publisher (O. P. Mason) and virtuous editor (B. P. Watson) arrested, but had the gall to sue the pants off both!
The presiding judge offered the newspapermen another chance, though under strict orders to "make a decent paper of it." And a decent paper it was--until two years later when police once again raided The Sunday Mercury offices. This time, not only were Mason and Watson thrown in jail, but so were the circulation manager, pressmen, and all 56 newsboys.
Though the employees were released the next day, Mason and Watson weren't so lucky. The two were charged with "publishing and circulating an indecent paper" filled with "distasteful stories of lust and crime." At the mercy of an intolerant court system, these maverick newsmen found themselves each fined $1,500 and sentenced to a year in prison. Their careers ruined, Mason and Watson never published again.
Happily noting the demise of a competitor, The Oregonian crowed loudest. On November 19, 1893, the paper issued the following editorial, congratulating the work of the prosecuting attorney and the court:
"[They] have earned the gratitude of all decent citizens.and have abolished a publication insidiously demoralizing as well as unspeakably offensive. It is not probable that the Mercury will ever resume publication."
BUT THEY WERE WRONG!
Though one may find it shocking today, The Oregonian was actually wrong, because in 1931, the Mercury returned once again--full of piss, vinegar, and ready to take on all comers!
Until, three issues later, when the paper was sued for libel and, once again, driven out of business.
BUT THEY WERE STILL WRONG!
Now it is the year 2000. Portland may not be the same sleepy town filled with bottled sea serpents and one-eyed Native Americans, but there are still thousands of stories about crime, lust, and insane tailors that go largely unreported. Yes, it's time once again for the Mercury to rise from the ashes. Though our paper may not have a "stellar" track record, we are nonetheless committed to the Mercury name, and--to quote that old judge with a stick up his ass--"making a decent paper of it."
Luckily, community standards aren't what they used to be, and a "decent" paper today will surely include such topics as police corruption, drunken debauchery, and (our personal favorite) anal sex. Unlike what you see in other local weeklies (i.e., the inside of your eyelids after reading another article on the evils of SUVs), the Mercury solemnly vows to furnish you with the most lively, informative paper in town. Most of all, we hope you'll think of us as a trusted friend.
"THE PORTLAND MERCURY"
A TRUSTED FRIEND
We're like you. We cherish simple American values: We love our families, freedom of speech, and attending the church or strip club of our choice. What's more, we love showing you a good time (and not just in the sexual sense, either).
Whether you're looking for the festive yet cruel advice of Savage Love (p 33), the sharp-as-a-tack weekly news updates of One Day at a Time (p 5), or the self- proclaimed hilarity of I Love Television™ (p 23), the Mercury will be Portland's paper of choice. Of course, there's the 30-percent chance you'll find these columns to be a stupid waste of time. In this case, you may enjoy our smart news section, our incisive arts criticism, or our accurate and highly readable calendar. We really don't know what you'll like (mostly because we spent money intended for "focus groups" on ice cream and cake). However, we do know you'll like something about our spunky periodical. Hopefully, you'll like it enough to return week after week.
Our mission is simple: to furnish you with the tools you'll need to have fun in Portland, as well as documenting the misfortunes of others, which always makes for entertaining reading. Most of all, we intend to uphold the stringent code of ethics our predecessors held so dear. And uphold them we willfor a long, long time to come.
(By the way, to the Northeast Portland business owner who sexually harassed one of our sales reps last week: We think you should buy an ad. A big ad. Like, in the next three days. Or else.)