Cool Stuff Series: Pittock Mansion

Since its centennial year coming to a close, I figured I’d give a shout-out to Portland’s Big House on a Hill. I’m referring, of course, to Pittock Mansion.

You can’t get much more Portland than the Pittock Mansion. Paid for with profits from The Oregonian newspaper, built by Oregon craftsmen out of Northwest-sourced materials. Its original owners, Henry and Georgiana Pittock, were pillars of the community, active in charity work and in the early years of the Rose Festival.

Members of the Pittock family occupied the iconic French-influenced chateau with its brick-red roof through the late 1950’s. Then this gorgeous historic building fell into peril. The owner at the time had put it up for sale and didn’t want to pay for expensive repairs necessitated by storm damage. Developers with no interest in either history of craftsmanship eyed the valuable land it stood on. For a while, it looked like this beloved edifice would be torn down.

But with true Northwest spirit, Portlanders rallied with fundraisers, and the City of Portland, driven by public outcry over the threatened destruction of this landmark, purchased the house, repaired it, and opened it for public tours.

The Pittock Mansion truly belongs now to the people of Portland.

If you want to visit, drive up Burnside toward the Skyline District and follow the signs. You can park there and walk around the surrounding woods and gardens for free. (For best results, go on a sunny day and pack a picnic lunch that you can eat while enjoying the spectacular views from the lawn.)

I highly recommend forking over the $10.50 for the self-guided tour, especially if you love well-crafted old houses and/or are working on a steampunk novel and need some inspiration. (Yes, it’s a bit late-period for steampunk, but the overall feel and many of the details are the same.) The grand staircase is heart-stopping, the moldings on the ceilings are works of art. And then there’s The Bathtub. It’s a steampunk dream, or maybe something out of Hogwarts. Faucets not only for hot and cold running water, but also for a selection of liquid soap. It actually inspired a scene in that steampunk Victorian detective novel I’m still shopping around, a scene I’ve mentally subtitled Inspector Royston Jones v. The Tub.

I could go on about the chandeliers, the period furnishings, but really. Just go see it. (And, OK, I find conspicuous consumption more palatable in a historic setting. I don’t pretend to defend the logic of this position.)

Of course, no self-respecting historic house is complete without its ghosts. Rumor has it that visitors have sensed and heard, perhaps even seen Georgiana and Henry. If they happen to be about, don’t worry. They’re just being good hosts and making sure that you are enjoying their lovely home.


Samhain-kitty here. Just wanted to say that the writer-person abandoned me ^all weekend^ to go to some silly steampunk con. Sure, she came home every night to check my food and water, but, what if there was an emergency? Like I needed a lap to sit on, or someone to throw a toy for me–


Oops, gotta go!

Ahem. Sorry about that. Writer-person, er, Shawna here. And yes, I did go to Gearcon this weekend.

As I am an introvert, cons are a bit of a mixed bag for me. Even if I have fun, even if the people are lovely and friendly and fun, by the end of each day I feel like I could sleep a week to recharge my battery. But usually it’s worth it, and Gearcon was no exception.

I was dealing with the added adrenaline of this being my very first con as a panelist. Right before my first panel, I was so nervous that I was ready to throw up, but, the funny thing is, as soon as I got up there with my fellow authors and started talking historical research, I felt totally at home. It was one of those great panels where we were all taking notes while the others were talking. (Fellow panelists, I am sure, will be looking up Lee Jackson’s Daily Life in London: An Extraordinary Anthology. I know I will be looking for Bill Bryson’s At Home, which I’m told is an historical look at home life down the centuries.)

Due to concom deciding to leave panel descriptions out of the program (yes, it was deliberate; a cost-saving measure, I am told) I almost missed the panel on crowdsource funding, as it was titled, somewhat oddly, ‘Westward. Ho!’. Glad I found it. . .I learned all the things I didn’t know enough to ask regarding Kickstarter. Will definitely be checking out Jonathon Burgess’s blog for more details.

Saturday’s reading was lightly attended, possibly because I was scheduled opposite the panel on Victorian Working Girls. Honestly, if I wasn’t *giving* the reading, I would have gone to that panel! Still, the audience was appreciative, which warmed my writer heart.

Saturday afternoon I acquired some useful information at the Victorian Good Cop/Bad Cop program. Saturday night was playtime– my very first swing dance lesson. Or lessons, I should say. They scheduled beginner, intermediate and advanced back-to-back. Two and a half hours is an awful lot of lesson. Still, it was fun. Music wasn’t as good as ceili, (Irish social dance) but the style is much more knee-and-tendon friendly. I was surprised to see how much skills learned in ceili dancing translated.

Sunday morning I was scheduled for the Mega Writer’s Panel. I said ‘was scheduled’ because I certainly didn’t volunteer and wasn’t sure how good an idea it was to put all the writers together in one big panel to Talk About Steampunk. It turned out to be brilliant, mostly because of my wonderful fellow authors, who were very respectful of one another and who all seemed to have compatible views but slightly different takes on steampunk, where it’s going, and on writing and literature in general. Highlights include Canadian writer James Stafford, in response to the question on the American role in steampunk, describing the USA as being willing to go for any batshit crazy idea and give it a try. (:Lest anyone get offended, he said it was one of the things he liked about us.) An encouraging note from this panel was the number of panelists that seemed to think that crossover genres had a big place in the steampunk world. (Encouraging for me, anyway, as I seem congenitally incapable of picking a genre and sticking with it.)

Wandered through the dealer’s room a bit. Bought a pendant watch as a souvenir of my first con as panelist (also because I had no pockets and was sick of digging my cell phone out of the bottom of my purse–why are there no clocks in conference rooms?)

Found a gorgeous feathered monstrosity of a hat that I want to have made in colors to match my someday dress– when I get my first big advance. (yes, it was that expensive, at least by my budget standards.) Was told by the milliner that I have the ‘substance to carry it off’, which is by far the nicest thing anyone has said ever said about my generously proportioned figure.

Was treated to an impromptu magic show from one of the vendors–thought I knew how and where he had palmed the extra lengths of rope, only to realize I was wrong and I really had no idea.

Wandered into a bartitsu demonstration. That’s right, bartitsu. For years I had thought/been told that Arthur Conan Doyle had made up baritsu, the style of martial arts used by Sherlock Holmes. Turned out he just misspelled it. It’s a fascinating discipline combining jujitsu, Victorian-era pugilism, cane fighting and a form of French kickboxing. Maybe more on that later. I’m about ready to crash, and I need to be up early tomorrow to write before work.

Looking over this blog, I realize that it’s a disorganized potpourri. But then so was my weekend, so that’s all right.


Hi! Samhain-the-cat here. I’m really not allowed on my writer-person’s computer (I tell you, I spill *one* glass of fizzy brown stuff on a keyboard *one* time, and I’m banished forever. The woman is a hysterical lunatic.) Anyway, she is relaxing with a book and a glass of port after her drive back from the coast, so I thought I’d sneak on while I can.

Though I don’t know why she needs to relax. She abandoned me for two whole days to visit friends on the coast. Friends with a big, stupid, slobbery dog. And what’s so great about the coast, anyway? Bunch of gritty stuff like what’s in my litter box and a whole lot of water that *moves*.

So, while she’s ignoring me again, I thought I’d let you know what I learned while doing her bloody research for her. Since her steampunk novel-in-progress has way too much in the way of werewolves and too few cats, I thought I’d help her by looking up some information about cats in Victorian England.

It turns out that Victorians were crazy about cats. Went hand-in-hand with their interest in Egyptology. (Ancient Egypt, of course, being the only place in himan history where cats were given proper acknowledgement. In other words, worshipped as gods.) Queen Victoria was co-owned by two cats, and the first cat shows were held during her reign. Even the poorest in the slums had cats, reportedly better-fed than the people they lived with because of the abundance of rodents.

Clearly the Victorians had achieved a higher level of civilization than their counterparts in the Middle Ages, where cats were associated with Satan, often tormented, and sometimes burned to death with their owners. I must say–


Oops, Shawna here. Sorry, Samhain knows she’s not allowed on the computer. Apologies to dogs, dog lovers, and anyone else she might have offended.