Faye, Opal, Chloe circa 1908

The Opal Whiteley Memorial

1993 to ....

The Opal Whiteley Memorial began in 1993. I wrote an article for the Mental Health Association of Oregon Newsletter. I was their vice president. At that time Benjamin Hoff's book on Opal, "The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow" was out of print and libraries did not have it.

I thought that Opal's story was a tragic case of childhood schizophrenia and child abuse. Opal's life was a good way to speak to people about mental health issues. However, as time went on I learned that there is nothing "simple" about Opal. And, most people wanted to hear about her "magic & mystery". With the help of historians like John Wilson and Curtis Irish I began to collect info on Opal's life and community.

In 1994 my friend, Fred Ure and his two boys, David and Doug, built Opal Park, a wildlife sanctuary in the forests near Cottage Grove Oregon, where she grew up. A young actress portrayed Opal and did readings of her diary. We also had an exhibit of sculptures by Fred and other artists. It was called "Art in the Forest". Opal Park is now a wildlife sanctuary and closed to people. Several large trees fell in the windstorm of 1996 - but none of the sculptures were harmed.  Opal Park has gone back to nature.

In 1995 Benjamin Hoff's book was reprinted again and we had a "memorial celebration" of her life and writings that attracted a great deal of attention. The community of Cottage Grove's acceptance was wonderful. It was the first memorial for her. The Bookmine bookstore has hosted four celebrations of Opal's life and writings.

Many people began to bring me their own research and photos of Opal. The more I learned - the less I felt I really knew about this mysterious woman. Opal's Fans and foes alike urged me to do more. Then, I met Mr. John Wilson. He was one of our "community historians" of Cottage Grove. He gave me many hours of sage advise and history, and good humor - not to mention many rare photos. It was Mr. John Wilson who keep educating and encouraging me. He and a friend had once been chased and chastised by Opal for letting loose her butterflies!

In 1997 We did a 100the birthday party for Opal with Benjamin Hoff, who is well liked in Cottage Grove. Opal's fans turned out to be a diverse collection of loggers, farmers, gold miners, environmentalists, Christians, new age believers and democrats and republicans The only thing they all shared was their appreciation of Opal and they were all very nice people!

We created tours of "Opal's Fairyland" mapping the places she lived and wrote. We found many of the spots mentioned in her infamous diary and made a bike and driving tour. We also worked to turn the old, unused railroad tracks in her diary into a bike and hiking trail. Thousands of people now visit each year.  We adopted the trail head of the Row River Bike Trail.

We also located the graves of unmarked graves of Sadie McKibben and her husband. We placed markers on the graves of these people who were so important to Opal. We also did countless hours of clean up for the graves of Opal's mother and grandparents. The Laurel Grove cemetery had fallen into disrepair and was a target for vandals.

In 1997-1998 I had two-foot surgeries and was in a wheelchair for months. Those two surgeries now total six as the neuropathy in my legs has spread.  While I was laid up I created the Internet web site for the Memorial and several new articles were printed in major newspapers about her. Opal has gained a new acceptance in her hometown - and in Oregon literature.  Now, Opal's book is in most school libraries.  We have tried to create a more balanced view of Opal Whiteley. 

Also in 1998 Fred Ure's two sons, David and Doug helped stop the Thurston high school shooter Kip Kinkel.  Many more kids would have been killed that day of it were not for these young men and their heroic friends.  The boys were on the cover of LIFE Magazine - and also on many television shows.  The story can be read at this Internet address http://www.efn.org/~opal/fredure.htm

In 1999 The University of Oregon became interested in its long forgotten student! Dr. Lynne Anderson - Inman, director of CATE, the Center for Advanced Technology in Education, is publishing Opal's diary online. CATE develops computer learning strategies for "at risk" students. We have gathered dozens of rare photos and information about Opal from all over the world to create OPAL ONLINE. This project could become a clearing house for material about Opal.  Working with CATE fulfills both a dream of Opal's - and a dream of mine to help youth with learning disabilities. 

In the future I would like to establish an Opal Whiteley Scholarship at the University of Oregon.  We have given a handful of small $100 scholarships to Cottage Grove students in the past, but it would be nice to honor her memory with an ongoing scholarship.

In the fall of 2000 a life-sized statue of Opal was dedicated in the new Cottage Grove City Library.  Alice Christenson and the Chamber Mural Committee a beautiful mural was painted on the side of a downtown building.  Opal has become a major tourist attraction!  Her books sell more now than ever before. There are now four versions of Opal's enchanting diary in print. There is a children version with illustrations by Barbara Cooney, and Jane Boulton's poetry book, Opal is in print along with Benjamin Hoff's "Singing Creek .  Her diary has now been translated into French, German and even Chinese. Opal Whiteley has made quite a literary comeback!

People ask me why I continue to devote time to Opal's story. Quite simply because Opal attracts the nicest group of "fans" of any writer I know. So many people from so many walks of life enjoy her writings. There is not enough space on this entire web site to express my appreciation for many people who have worked with me over the years .... and, there is the mystery of who she really was and what she really wrote. Opal Whiteley is the last literary mystery of the 20th century.  Now, the Memorial is mostly this online website, but we continue to have occasional events in Cottage Grove and do tours and talks.

What I like the most about The Opal Whiteley Memorial is that we have had wonderful support from many people on Opal Whiteley's life and writings. The encouragement and guidance we have gotten from Benjamin Hoff and her family has been wonderful.  We have amassed a ton of new research on Opal that we hope to be putting online in early 2010.

Opal Whiteley is much like the Opal gemstone that looks different each way you look at it.  I am grateful that so many diverse people can share their appreciation for this and magical and tragic writer.

Steve Williamson

Emily Nordin at Opal Park on Cerro Gordo Mountain, 1998

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