NEWBERG, Oregon - On July 26th, 1947, downtown Newberg, Oregon was alive with people running around enjoying a hometown parade, waiting for the next colorful float to pass.
It was Saturday and Elizabeth McBroom enjoyed the crowd as she strolled down First street where a Pearl Lager Beer clock declared a quarter after 2. The thermometer outside Dr. Bump's office next to the Francis theater had climbed to 86 degrees.
Hundreds watched as float riders laughed and children shouted, excitement thick as pantry molasses. It was a good day, a good time. The war had ended two years ago and Newberg had settled back to its prewar days of community fun and tradition.
Elizabeth stopped to look inside the Francis Theater window to see a list of coming attractions, aware of the usual stares and general disapproval of her attire, even though today she wore her best hand-made outfit; a light blue dress she had, as always, personally handcrafted from a bulky no frills flower sack. She had carefully tied twine through cut-out holes to bundle the fabric in an artistic flare around her slender waist, sans thread, buttons, and zippers. But she knew what they called her, The Goat Lady, or even, The Goat Woman.
When she turned to leave, she saw a man intent on taking her picture with the dreaded movie camera, one of those silver-eyed jobbers, and without so much as asking permission. Elizabeth had seen the photographer a few minutes earlier across First street filming anyone in sight. Elizabeth didn't complain, didn't say a word. She simply raised her heavy purse to cover her face and briskly walked away up the street toward Naps Thriftway. She strongly disapproved of anyone taking her picture.
It would be easy to say that 40-year-old Elizabeth Eugenia McBroom didn't care what people thought of her, that she had long since learned to ignore them. But that would be incorrect. In spite of her appearance, Elizabeth McBroom was a sensitive and intelligent woman, a college graduate with a major in music and minor in science. She was a skilled and artistic violinist, earned a small income as a tutor for serious students at Pacific College, later to be known as George Fox University.
Some say that during this time in her life, Elizabeth McBroom, with her slim waist, similar eyes, hair, and other features, resembled Elizabeth Taylor, although not as attractive. Some say she may also have resembled Mary Johnston , the well known activist and artist.
Elizabeth also knew that it was not only her clothes that brought so much attention but her hair she kept long and for which she refused to use the standard brush or comb, preferring to have friends use twigs and other non-animal or processed utensils upon her person. By the time she got around to using wooden twigs to comb her dark hair, small critters would consider themselves welcome in its long unwashed strands, a fact noticed by many townsfolk. Quick stares would inevitably include her feet which were usually covered by rubber inner-tubing and twine. Her diet did not include animal by-products. However, Elizabeth loved sweets, which could only contribute to poor health in later years. Recently, ulcers had began to appear on her thickening calves and ankles from years of constant walking, poor blood circulation, and the lack of hot water to bath.
Elizabeth paid no electric bills because she used no electricity or water. Her income was primarily from tutoring and from her airplane pilot brother, John Kellett McBroom, who regularly sent Elizabeth money to help with her expenses. He also bought her a newer model Desoto. However, there is no record that Elizabeth ever drove it.
Elizabeth knew and was friendly with many people in Newberg yet most knew only of her, rarely taking time to talk with her. They saw a woman dressed in rags, a woman with long stringy hair, dragging wire carts or large shopping bags, someone beneath their own status. To avoid Elizabeth, some people would cross a street or walk down a different aisle at Naps Thriftway. Most were respectful or at least civil, but some were openly hostile and rude, asking annoying questions or comments otherwise meant for people who lived under bridges down by the river. But Elizabeth had lived near a bridge on Dayton Avenue, might have lived under it if it had been possible, even if inconvenient. However, there was no way to actually get under the Dayton Avenue bridge and live there, so she had decided to 'camp' outside her tar-papered hut for the last few years. For Elizabeth, it was a way of life, a way to avoid some of the unnecessary, even capitalistic, and certainly environmentally unsound practices of humanity.
Inside Naps Thriftway, Elizabeth twisted open a new jar of Derby's Smooth Peter Pan peanut butter, dipped a long finger inside to test its consistency. Satisfied, and content that there were none of the usual gawks from customers or staff, she picked chose a loaf of Sunbeam bread.
Standard policy at Naps was to leave Elizabeth alone. Her brother John McBroom always paid for the food his sister would spoil by opening and testing packages and jars. It was only years later that Naps banned her from the store. But in these early days, store policy was simply to keep a distant eye and gather the food she may have opened, set it aside in the back of the store.
Outside, after eating more of the peanut butter she decided to purchase, Elizabeth spent the next couple hours inspecting alley garbage bins for items she could use instead of paying for more items with a longer shelf life. It made all the sense in the world to her. The planet was far too populated and there was far too much food tossed away by shop clerks. Dumpster diving for Elizabeth was a way of life.
Elizabeth hoped someone would have given her a ride home but most people where still downtown. She had left her cart and large bags home so the items she had found had to fit into a discarded wooden produce crate she filled, then carried then dragged.
On her way home, Elizabeth carefully removed some of the meat she had gathered, careful not to touch it, and unwrapped it for cats she knew from the side of the road. They were usually waiting, thankful for her generosity - until a nearby lawnmower intent on doing its summer business startled the cats away.
A few blocks down from Main Street, a couple boys yelled at Elizabeth with some impossible suggestions she had certainly heard before but she had always felt somewhat sorry for the boys who apparently hard learned no manners from their parents, or refused to come closer and talk with her as so many other children had. Elizabeth enjoyed talking to people, she was adept at it, but knew the best move today was to simply ignore them.
Down Dayton Avenue other children were playing and laughing in their backyard, dogs barked as blue sky turned to orange and a small tractor passed her and turned into a dirt road. There was no wind. Approaching evening came warm, silent, and still.
There were no lights where Elizabeth lived down Dayton Avenue, not far from over the bridge covering Chelhalem Creek. She had no electricity in her trailer where she rarely slept anyway. Ebert and Tassie, her goats, were waiting her arrival. She filled their goat trough with most of the remaining scraps she had gathered from alley dumpsters and a couple stores where clerks had saved such scraps especially for Elizabeth. Her goats loved meat and vegetables. Anything really. She played with them for a while before they settled in for the evening behind a sturdy fence.
Elizabeth preferred the outdoors or in her "tent", especially on warm nights. There were still a few glimmering coals under a steel plate she had placed over her campfire she left hours earlier. It would probably be easy to restart in the morning, she thought, always a hit and miss situation. But Elizabeth had a good supply of kitchen matches kept dry in a plastic box.
She cleaned her camp a bit, tossing used cans into her growing mountains of tins. She knew she had to do something. The City of Newberg had unofficially asked her to clean her property. Seems people thought it was an eyesore. Imagine that. She paid no garbage fees so there was no one to remove her trash, no water, no electricity, no connection to the city sewer. She was on her own. And Elizabeth, for an unknown reason, seemed to like it that way.
She loved keeping things simple. Her mind was complex and she was well educated and organized. Otherwise how could she teach so many college students and receive referrals for more teaching jobs? The problem was that Elizabeth had too little time for more students, spending so much time just existing, day to day. She was aware of the quandary, no easy answers. People seemed surprised when finally taking time to actually talk to her because many had expected to find a woman with a low IQ, someone rambling who made no sense.
Even though Elizabeth was known to mumble to herself, it was probably related to thoughts of the courses she taught, questions about the history and direction of civilization, the universe, infinity, the ultimate demise of the earth and if humankind would be around when it happened. Those thoughts were quite probably the subject of her "mumbling". When she did talk to someone, and if they could carry a decent conversation, people say Elizabeth would carefully and diplomatically give her views on just about any subject, and do so without upsetting anyone or making them feel uncomfortable, unless the person could not stand the her frequent and overpowering body odor. Elizabeth would probably have chosen to take a bath at the home of a friend as she was known to do, but that luxury option didn't happen too often and Elizabeth was not one to impose, at least, not too often.
Inside her makeshift tent, assembled from scraps of blue tarp, she got into her nightclothes and covered herself lightly with a blanket. But she couldn't sleep. She felt too enclosed so she pulled her cot and blanket outside, and stared at the night sky. She soon felt more comfortable.
As she did many nights, Elizabeth tried to find the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters. She knew they consisted of many stars but most people could see just six or seven.
In the summer sky, if seen at all, they would be quite low by the horizon. In a few months they would climb to be visible once again high in the night sky.
In the meantime, Elizabeth easily found the blurred image of a group of stars within the constellation of Orion, 6500 light years from earth. She tried to visualize the center of the huge star that had exploded into a supernova back in 1054 AD, witnessed and recorded by the Ancient Chinese. She knew the supernova explosion was so bright that anyone here on earth, could easily read a book by its nighttime light. Now it was just a faint glow, barely visible.
Tomorrow she would visit a wedding at Hoover Park, hopefully to eat some of the cake. Most people allowed her to arrive uninvited at such weddings and funerals. She sometimes sometimes even expected to crash the festivities, walking among strangers and friends, holding a napkin and piling on cake and goodies, some of which she saved for late snacks. She loved sweets and as she began to fall asleep, she thought of white frosting and lots of chocolate cake and ice cream. It was a good thought. It had been a good day and in a few minutes Elizabeth McBroom was fast asleep.
This information is based on fact and personal descriptions from the people who took time to know Elizabeth. The title of "The First Hippie Of Newberg" comes from the fact that Elizabeth's philosophy, lifestyle, education, social ideas, religion, and other factors are dramatically similar to the so called hippies of the 1960's, that is, those concerned with the environment and the world around them, not simply those who let their hair grow long and rarely took baths.
Okay, so there may be similarities in more than one way. I was one of those hippies back in the 1960's but even though I let my hair grow long, I took baths. I lived in Newberg in the early 1950's and may have seen Elizabeth but I was too young. Much of what I was told of her has turned out not to be true. I wish I could return to that time, find her, and talk to her. I think that would be pretty interesting.
I could not have learned as much as I have without the help of the citizens of Newberg. For this latest article, most of the thanks goes to the little girl pictured in the photo at the campsite of Elizabeth McBroom. Patricia 'Currier' Rongey who now lives in Florence, Oregon, was just ten years old in 1950 when she sat on that paint can pictured in the campfire.
Please remember that my intent is to publish the best truth as we know it. That in mind, this information is subject to change as more info about this fascinating woman is discovered.
My thanks also to Mike Douglas who ran Mike's Pharmacy in Newberg and who just retired. His recollection is yet to be told. We would like to hear from you. If you prefer to contact me privately, please use the firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Elizabeth McBroom with her 10-year-old friend Patrica Rongey, depicted in a photo drawing by Aubra Salt and as described to her by Patrica Rongey.
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