After a visit to Disneyland in 1956, Oregon Congressman Charles Porter wanted to have an aerial gondola built to Wizard Island from the Crater Lake rim. - Bill Miller

Why skyway to the Wizard wasn't

When an Oregon politician visits Disneyland, strange things can happen.

Not long after being elected to the House of Representatives from Oregon's 4th Congressional District in 1956, Congressman Charles Porter took a vacation to the enchanted world of Southern California.

Disney's "happiest place on Earth" had just opened the aerial Skyway, 42 gondolas poking along at four miles per hour and swaying gently on a 2,400-foot cable between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland.

No one knows how many times Porter road the Skyway, but it was enough to spark an idea.

Why not build a gondola line to Wizard Island from the rim of Crater Lake?

In November 1958, Porter unveiled his plan to install "some practical mechanical means for transporting people from the rim down to the lake so that more persons could enjoy boating, especially the many old people who visit the lake."

The gondola line would run from the rim viewpoint on the west side of the lake, between The Watchman and Hillman peaks. From there, its cable would swing over the shallow waters of Fumarole Bay as it continued down to Wizard Island, where a restaurant and visitor center would be built.

Porter hired architects to come up with preliminary drawings for the project and mailed a questionnaire to 100,000 of his constituents. If no taxpayer money was used, and the project was hidden behind trees so as not to "disfigure the scenery," would they support his idea?

About 2,500 people returned the questionnaire and 53 percent said yes.

Some newspaper editorials praised the idea as a way for the elderly, or those with physical ailments, to visit the water's edge, but others agreed with the Mail Tribune.

"To slap a mechanical contrivance on the slopes of that unsurpassed caldera," it said, "smacks of sacrilege in our book."

Opposition also came from Thomas Williams, the park's superintendant.

"A tramway, chairlift or other similar device would violate (our) mandate and irreparably mar the scene we are charged to protect," he said.

Congressman Al Ullman, whose district included Crater Lake, said that just because Porter had been born in Klamath Falls didn't mean he knew what was best for the lake.

"I wish he would stay on some of his other pet projects," Ullman said. "We don't want a Coney Island atmosphere in our national parks."

Ullman served on the House Interior Committee, which handled legislation concerning national parks.

"I think in this instance, I hold the whip hand over Porter," he said. "There's not the slightest chance to get approval."

Porter lost his congressional seat in the 1960 election, but not because of the "aerial gondola."

He supported several ideas that were unpopular for the time, including decriminalization of marijuana, admitting Communist China to the United Nations and a ban on nuclear testing.

When he died at age 86 in 2006, a Eugene Register-Guard editorial remembered him as "persistent as a bulldog, optimistic as a bride, moral as a preacher, imaginative as a mad scientist and beneath it all, where it really counts, an authentic American hero."

It seems you can't judge a man on just one vacation.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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