Friar Tuck's Reflections
on the Origins of the Sherwood Oregon USA Robin Hood Festival.

Clyde List dressed in a medieval friar's costume.Remarks made before His Highness King Richard Lionheart, May 10, 2007

Letter 'I't was on July 5, 1891 that a progressive new railroad town called "Sherwood, Oregon" received its first bag of mail from the U.S. Postal Department. It is not surprising that a town in the Pacific North West should decide to name itself after an antique forest half way around the world. The flag of the British Empire flew everywhere during the 19th Century. It welcomed our first explorers and settlers to the area. The British supervised the construction of our railroad. We even had a Member of the House of Lords as President of our railroad for a time. He was the Earl of Airlie. The great city of Airlie is named for him. The town of Dundee was another one of several towns along the railroad that was established and named of, by, and for the Earl and his fellow investors from the ancient city of Dundee, Scotland.

So it is no wonder that our town was named to the glory of Robin Hood, the one Englishman every Scotsman admires.

Frilly Poster Image of Grace Van Studdeford 1902 Maid Marian
Maid Marian (Grace Van Studdeford)
in the Smith-DeKoven Musical,
Robin Hood -Portland Oregonian, December 1902
Neither is it any wonder that DeKoven and Smith's "Robin Hood" received such rave reviews when it arrived in Portland in 1902. The show had been rolling this direction ever since 1891. It would not have survived the journey at all, if not for one remarkable song in it: Oh Promise Me. Thanks to the success of the play, Hollywood presented the same cast of characters in "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938) starring Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn.

The movie was arguably the greatest Hollywood action film ever made: Errol Flynn was an expert fencer and he and his foes brandish real swords in the movie! There was even a bowman on the movie set who could split an arrow in twain.

Action Scene from the Movie. Robin Hood and the Sheriff sword-fighting on the stairs.
Basil Rathbone vs. Errol Flynn     1938
"The Adventures of Robin Hood" was re-released 1948 just as our service men were returning from World War II. Sherwood was still bullish on the British, but our opinion of their railroad had soured. Our town fathers had banked Sherwood's entire future on the success of the railroad, and now we didn't even have passenger service. I'm not sure what happened back there, but someone went to a great deal of trouble to persuade the Oregon Department of Transportation to take the longest route possible to get around our business district. The city limits of Sherwood did not even touch Highway 99 until (if memory serves) 1969.

By the end of the 1920's, articles were appearing in the Sherwood Valley News about the amazing amount of "tonnage" that was coming to town by truck instead of by rail. Already by 1930, the City of Sherwood was starting to look like a great place for archeologists to set up shop, but not for businessmen.

But the servicemen home from the War said, "Oh no! We can't let this happen!" They knew what they were fighting for and they weren't going to stop now. They noticed two things. (1) The "Adventures of Robin Hood" was drawing large crowds throughout the Portland metro area. (2) The Robin Hood icon is not owned by anyone. Robin Hood is public domain. And so... these sons of the Great Depression got out their long johns, died them green, fashioned some capes to hide the "trap door" in back of their long johns... and went into town to harass the crowds that were standing in line to see the movie.

Sherwood Oregon Robin Hood re-enactors aiming their weapons at the camera.
Merry Crew, circa 1950. Pete Kowal was the only man in red. He recently looked at this photograph and identified (from Left to right) Paul Hebreholz, Adam Peters, ?, Jim Ferry, Bill Leer?, Kowal, Jim Fulton, "Jim", ?, Garske

It can make you wince to look at those early photographs. They're armed with long bows and they're firing real arrows off in all directions. Even if they didn't kill anyone (so far as we know), their habit of seizing total strangers and demanding money from them would land you in court for the rest of your life if you attempted it today. Today we would read about it as "reckless endangerment" and "assault and battery." Back then, it was good clean fun.

More than fun. It was the most successful public relations effort this town ever staged.

Photo of Klines Sherwood Forest taken in late 1970's
Where Walgreens stands today.
The original Robin Hood and Merry Men weren't just "tolerated." They were invited to small town festivals and movie houses all over western Oregon. Once, I caught a glimpse of the minutes-book they kept of their meetings. In true Robin Hood tradition, they talk backwards about everything. Two of the Merry Men get into an argument. The first announces that he had just had a really stupid idea, which is to notify the newspapers of what the crew is up to next. The second fellow seconds the motion, but only because it's the stupidest idea he's ever heard and it is the only way to make the guy shut up. These up-roarious meetings usually took place in one of our fine drinking establishments. One time they finished by firing a volley or arrows at the ceiling at Kline's Sherwood Forest Tavern and Cafe. The arrows remained there, with little name cards of each bowman carefully attached, until the building was unceremoniously bulldozed to the ground a few years ago. ( Someone managed to rescue these artifacts just in the nick of time. The arrows now rest peacefully at the Sherwood Heritage Center, Morback House Museum.)

The original Merry Men had a merry time, but there were minor tragedies along the way. In one town a Merry Man was struck over the head for stealing a roll of quarters from a grocery store. The store manager knew it was only an advertising stunt, but forgot to tell the security guard. In the City of Forest Grove, Robin Hood and his crew were invited up to the community hall for "drinks" after the festival parade-- only to discover that all they were getting was Kool Aid!

Their wives were right. It was time to grow up!

Mayor Mark Cottle with Man in red cap.
Pete Kowal Shaking Mayor's Hand in 2001
By the time I got old enough to become a member of the Sherwood Robin Hood Festival Association, the original crew was still around but hard to locate. A few of them had even turned against the Festival. One businessman refused to allow it in Old Town. A pattern had set in. The Festival goes through a series of good years and bad. One group of organizers quits. Another takes their place. The fact that no one actually "owns" Robin Hood means that anyone can own the Robin Hood Festival. One year (sometime in the 1960s) the parade was nothing more than two kids on tricycles following their dad, Police Chief Delbert Stanislowski, down the middle of North Sherwood Boulevard. The year I got involved, the Festival was staged on the school grounds. It was large and I guess you could call it successful, but I found it to be a rather depressing affair. Hardly anyone came to the arts and crafts show at Hopkins School where I spent the afternoon, dozing. This was about 1977.

Profile view of two small girls at this event.
Junior Court Members     2007
Suddenly, in the middle of the afternoon, a door on the side of the gym opposite from where I was lounging, burst open. A little girl no taller than my knee-cap was tripping on her granny dress all the way across the room (This was when young girls dressed like their grammas for reasons only they understood). When she got to where we were she shouted: "The Sheriff has put Mary Merryman in Jail and I'm looking for Robin Hood and the Maid Men to rescue her!"

It was a lot to remember for the little emergency worker, and we tried to assure her there was no emergency. It was just a game. No one was really going to jail (at least not anymore these days). But she wasn't going to listen to that! She was out the door and down the hallway as fast as she arrived. I never saw her again. She must have got all the way to Hillsboro looking for Robin Hood. She's probably still out there somewhere, looking for Robin Hood. And that's when it occurred to me what it's like to be a kid in Sherwood. These people put on a festival, but you're never tall enough to see everything that's going on and then they take it all down again and go home and you're still looking for Robin Hood! I was sure I had ALMOST seen him a couple of times from the window of the school bus or the back seat of the family car. And the almost-near-sightings don't end there. Even when you get to be an old guy like me, you're STILL looking for Robin Hood!

People in Costume relaxing after this event.
Some of This Year's Festival Board
Who was he!? When did he live!? What did he do!?

Someone (Julian Thornton) handed me this just a few minutes ago. It's a magazine called, "British Heritage" (March 2007) and here's an announcement to the effect that it is now possible to go to the University of Nottingham and receive a Master's Degree in Robin Hood Studies.

Well there you go! It can't get any serious-er than that!

One important thing to know about Robin Hood, is that-- in the medieval ballads that survive (which brings up another important topic: the Robin Hood Legend we have today is but a faint reflection of the vast amount of story-telling that no one had the time to commit to the printed page) he loses his battles almost half the time. He's a hero who doesn't always win! And yet he's the one everyone chooses for their leader. There's a lesson in there somewhere for our local athletes, but the most important triumph Robin Hood has is not with his sword or staff. In the ballads, over and over again, everything is lost until our hero manufactures a couple of notes of music on his bugle horn. I didn't realize how important that musical interlude is until I watched some kids acting out a couple of the Robin Hood ballads last summer (at the Sherwood Historical Society's annual History Camp). They had reduced the Ballad of Robin Hood and the Tanner and the Ballad of Robin Hood and Little John to their bare essentials. Robin Hood was rescued by his Merry Crew twice in as many minutes. And yet the "toodaloo" the Robin Hood actor made on his imaginary hunting horn was as eerie and primeval as the opening phrase in Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite." Who can explain the effect those few notes have had on Western Civilization? (Surely that little girl knows!)

END

Other Sermons by the Friar

2004 "What Religion Does the Friar Belong to?"
2005 "Rob from the Rich. Give to the Poor."
2006 "The Robin and Marian Wilderness Refuge."
2008 "How Robin and Marian met."
HOME