The most absurd and gory piece of Oregon history has been commemorated by the residents of Florence, Ore.: An outdoor recreation site along the Siuslaw River is now named Exploding Whale Memorial Park.
Residents of Florence voted on the name last year, and anointed the park with a new sign yesterday, the Siuslaw News first reported.
In November 1970, an 8-ton, dead and decaying sperm whale washed up on a Florence beach. It was too big to simply bury and posed a public health risk. According to the Oregon Historical Society, "In addition to the stench and the possibility that the body would burst, local officials were concerned that people curious about the carcass might climb on it and fall in."
So to prevent carcass climbers, and thinking it would be easier to dispose of the sea mammal if it was in smaller pieces, state officials decided to blow it up using dynamite.
It didn't go well.
"The humor of the situation suddenly gave way to a run for survival," KATU reporter Paul Linnman said in an on-the-scene news broadcast. "Huge chunks of whale blubber fell everywhere." The Register-Guard wrote of "a 100-foot-high column of sand and whale," and that "chunks of the animal flew in every direction, and spectators began to scream and run for cover when they glimpsed large pieces soaring directly overhead."
The blubber bits were so big, one managed to smash a car, and the scattered remains still had to be buried. Or in the words of Linnman: "The remaining chunks were of a size that no respectable seagull would attempt to tackle."
Clearly, the residents of Florence have a sense of humor and pride about what's been dubbed a "fateful day in 1970 that changed the world forever" by TheExplodingWhale.com, an entire website dedicated to the event.
In a public poll, "Exploding Whale Memorial Park" won a landslide victory over more picturesque names like "Dune View Park" and "Little Tree Park." The community also created a mascot for the exploding whale's 50th anniversary: an adorable, totally intact whale named Flo.
Exploding Whale Memorial Park is now open to the public. It has bike racks, picnic tables, kayak access and views of the Siuslaw Dunes. More information on the park can be found here.