Sunday, December 6, 2009

W. T. Rigdon & the Ike Box - From Funeral Home to Foster Home

The Ike Box is an all-ages music club, coffeeshop, and refuge. It is, of course, also alcohol-free. Though it may not have a central place in Salem's temperance movement, it has a long association with temperance advocates, and its current mission perhaps better and more poetically fitted to the building than even many of its board members may know.

On the 16th, the Ike Box and Isaac's Room will celebrate its 5th birthday. But the building has a much older history.

It was built in the mid-1920s, right in the middle of Prohibition. This ad is from the 1930 Polk directory. The building first appeared in the 1926 directory, advertised as "The New Rigdon Mortuary."

W.T. Rigdon was an important figure in Salem history. He probably buried more Salemites than any other undertaker. He buried courtesan Pauline Phillips, early architect Wilbur Boothby, and publisher Asahel Bush. The Salem Pioneer Cemetery lists almost 2000 burials associated with him or his firm. Before operating a mortuary, having bought the undertaker's business in 1891, he had been a teacher and state Representative. (Image courtesy of the Oregon State Library.)

Rigdon was the epitome of the self-made man on the frontier. From the 1882 Pen Pictures of Representative Men of Oregon
HON. W. T. RIGDON [i]s one of the Representatives from Marion county on the floor of the House. He was born in Powesheik county, Iowa, in the year 1849. In the year 1850 his parents immigrated to Oregon and sought a "home in Marion county, where he has ever since resided. In 1852 the father of the family died, when young Taylor was but three years old.

Left without a father at that infantile age, his story is that of many another boy who, deprived of the blessing of a father's presence and the consequent advantages that accrue therefrom to boyhood, has had to battle with the world alone and single-handed, and to his honor be it said that by application to his book around the family fireplace and working during the day for the maintenance of his mother and a large family, he, by his own efforts, obtained a good education and grew up to a useful and respected manhood.

At the age of twenty-four he became a teacher in the Jefferson Institute, where he remained two years, and afterwards taught three years in the district schools. Mr. Rigdon was married to Miss Mattie J. Smith in the year 1878, and their union has been blessed with two little daughters.

Although this is the first time that Mr. Rigdon has been before the people as an officeholder, he has always taken a leading part in the politics of Jefferson, is an ardent advocate of the cause of temperance and an active member of the M. E. Church. He is a Republican, and has done good service in the present session, having taken a particular interest in the passage of temperance measures.

Clearly loving words, Rigdon donated to the Oregon Historical Society a copy of Noah Webster's second dictionary.

His daughter, Ethel, was also a teacher, and she died in an accident on November 27th, 1916. In grief, W. T. Rigdon turned to poetry. This creative transmutation engendered several books of poetry, most notably Truth in Pleasant Rhyme.

Isaac's Room is the result of a similar expression of creativity and tribute. Its founders, Mark and Tiffany Bulgin, write:
Isaac was our first son. Born in October 1998 with a heart problem, he only lived for two months before we lost him on December 29 of that year.

Isaac's Room is our effort to extend the family love and support that we would eagerly have given Isaac throughout his life to the young people in our community who have suffered from a shortage of it throughout theirs. Just as the room that Isaac was supposed to live in is physically empty and therefore available, the space we make in our lives for our own kids is now available through Isaac's Room.

The mission of Isaac's Room is explicitly religious:
Isaac’s Room is a faith-based organization whose mission comes from a biblical calling. Our effort springs from a collective devotion to the clearly articulated concerns of God: to father the fatherless, the pure religion of looking after orphans in distress and guarding against polluted thinking or habits, and the establishment of his kingdom of justice and mercy. Our strength is formed and our energy is sustained in personal discipleship to Jesus.
The rhetoric of "purity" and "pollution" traces out a direct line to 19th century temperance concerns.

More interesting from Capital Taps' perspective is the way the Ike Box fosters creativity and music-making. Though on the 16th Isacc's Room and the Ike Box will be holding a celebration for the 5th anniversary, another way to honor Ike might be to dance like crazy to "songs in the key of life." The next show is on the 12th, and Explode into Colors is playing along with Massive Moth and Wampire.


  1. Here's more on Ethel. On Sunday, November 27th, 1916, Ethel and her companion, Mr. H. Clancy of Olympia, left her family home at 299 Winter street about 7pm. I believe that's on the southwest corner of Winter and Chemeketa, where First Presbyterian is now. Clancy was going to take the Oregon Electric to Portland at 7:55. After crossing the post office grounds, she and Clancy were attempting to cross the intersection of Church and State. Asa Tindall was driving an automobile and hit them in the middle of the road. Clancy survived. Tindall was charged with manslaughter.

    The Oregon Electric Depot was on the southwest corner of High and State in the Hubbard building. The post office was what is now Gattke Hall at Willamette, and was located where the Executive Building is today, on the northeast corner of Church and State.

  2. Correction: The walk to the depot took place on Sunday, November 26th; Ethel passed away the following day, Monday, November 27th...