On May 15, 1909, readers of the Oregon Daily Journal were greeted with the front page news of the arrival of the mysterious Mr. Raffles. Also known as Edward F. Girard, this man reportedly baffled “thousands of people in other cities of America” and was now saying that doing the same in Portland would be “easy” (9). Raffles was his name, eluding people was his game, and all Portlanders had to do was identify him to win the promised prize of five hundred dollars (8). Naturally, as the Oregon Daily Journal was the only source that knew his identity, it was in the best interests of all amateur sleuths to buy a copy daily for news or clues about the identity of Raffles. As the days went by and Raffles still wasn’t identified, the stakes of the game changed. A winner would be the one who identified Raffles while holding the latest copy of the Oregon Daily Journal and even then that lucky individual would only win a hundred dollars. To win the full sum of five hundred dollars, one had to have in their possession the latest issue of the Journal as well as a receipt for a twelve months subscription to the Journal (10). And yet the elusive Raffles evaded capture. To help aid in his discovery, the Journal published clues as to his whereabouts and, fortunately for Portlanders, especially those who owned businesses, Raffles appeared to prefer frequenting commercial locations such as the People’s Market and Grocery Company, the Park street pharmacy, and Portland’s Grand Theatre (11) as opposed to a public location such as a park. Though Raffles was finally caught in late May by a Miss Gertrude French (12), his story was far from over.
The true origin of the idea for Mr. Raffles is uncertain but one can presume the name and idea was borrowed from E.W. Hornung’s character, A.J. Raffles, a gentleman thief (1). An antihero who remained at large through a series of books following his adventures, Raffles’ appearance in Portland was less of a crime novel come to life and more of a gimmick perhaps on the part of the Oregon Daily Journal to make a revenue. After all, it could not have been a coincidence that one’s probability of finding Raffles only improved with a subscription to the Journal. As for Raffles’ visits to various commercial locations, that can be explained by an advertisement hidden among all the other Raffles coverage in the Journal. This ad informs merchants that if they would desire to have “Mr. Raffles to visit their place of business they can arrange to do so.” In essence, Raffles was the pied piper of commerce leading gullible souls to shop.
The excitement of Raffles in Portland died down not long after he was caught undoubtedly, but he was to make a reappearance. In 1912, Charles Schram, the proprietor of the Grand Theatre in Oregon City, saw a promotional opportunity and so Mr. Raffles was reborn. The scheme was similar; to win ten dollars one needed a coupon that was only given out at the Grand Theatre the night before and had to recite the key words, “you are the Raffles of the Grand Theatre” (2)(4). Raffles’ time in Oregon City caused much excitement and several people were apprehended and mistaken for the mysterious man including Ed Fortune, who was then the Democratic candidate for constable (5), and a Mr. Frank Koenig, who didn’t find the situation amusing and informed the Morning Enterprise that “if he had had a revolver he would have shot and perhaps killed someone” (3). Much like in Portland, Raffles favored commercial places including the Adams Department store, Levitt’s, Bannon’s, and, of course, the Grand Theatre in the evenings (6). He was ultimately caught at Busch’s store but not before, one can imagine, bringing great business to those few stores as a result of the hordes searching for him. Unsurprisingly, Raffles turned out to be Mr. Brown, the advertising manager of the Oregon City Enterprise (7) whose connection to advertising could very well explain his being chosen to play the part. Ultimately, both the advertising managers of the Oregon Daily Journal and the Grand Theatre’s Mr. Schram hit upon something important in their promotional endeavors. A love of mystery and adventure are integral features of society and Schram, like any good promotional agent, tapped into that aspect of the culture of the time and made his money off of it.
1. Bleiler, Richard. Accessed 2/15/20. “Raffles: The Gentleman Thief.” The Strand Magazine.
2. The Morning Enterprise. 1912. “‘Raffles’ at the Grand Today.” October 9, 1912.
3. The Morning Enterprise. 1912. “Frank Koenig Held Up On Way Home Last Night.” October 9, 1912.
4. The Morning Enterprise. 1912. “The Early Bird Gets the Ten Dollars.” October 10, 1912.
5. The Morning Enterprise. 1912. “Ed. Fortune Has Narrow Escape.” October 11, 1912.
6. The Morning Enterprise. 1912. October 12, 1912.
7. The Morning Enterprise. 1912. “Mysterious Raffles Has Been Caught.” October 13, 1912.
8. The Oregon Daily Journal. 1909. May 15, 1909.
9. The Oregon Daily Journal. 1909. “Raffles Thinks That Portland Will Be Easy.” May 15, 1909.
10. The Oregon Daily Journal. 1909. “Conditions Governing the Capture of the Mysterious Mr. Raffles.” May 20, 1909.
11. The Oregon Daily Journal. 1909. “Where to Find Raffles Today.” May 21, 1909.
12. The Oregon Daily Journal. 1909.” Witnesses Set At Rest Fake Stories Of Raffles’ Friends.” May 29, 1909.