“Naked Joe” Larger than Life in Ilwaco!

Nov 22, 2013 | 0 comments

Portrait of An Artist as Nature Man

Portrait of an Artist as Nature Man?

Last night after our Chinook Culture class we, along with most of our fellow-students, headed a few blocks west to the Sea Hag Bar and Grill for an eight o’clock showing of “Naked Joe.”  It was one of those rare ‘all about Ilwaco’ gatherings – several dozen people assembled to see friend and neighbor Aaron Webster on the Big Screen talking about historic resident Joe Knowles and his ‘presence’ at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum.

The Big Screen at the Sea Hag is a white-painted brick wall, probably eight by ten or twelve feet in size — maybe bigger.  Aaron is the Chief Interpreter at Cape Disappointment State Park.  “Naked Joe” refers to a “charcoal portrait of a scantily clad man” housed at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum which, of course, was a short two blocks away from us at the Sea Hag.  And the show was an episode of the Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum” which had been filmed in Ilwaco some time ago.

Aaron, the Star

Aaron Webster, the Star

Aaron was the ‘expert’ tapped by the show’s mucky-mucks to ‘testify’ to the identity of the man in the portrait – ‘our own’ Joe Knowles.  As I wrote in Legendary Locals of the Long Beach Peninsula:

            Peninsula folks still remember artist Joe Knowles as a “character” of the first order.  He had made his name as ‘The Nature Man’ in the Maine Woods by surviving without clothing, food, or equipment except for a knife.  He parlayed his adventure into a vaudeville career and wound up on the Seaview beach living in a “shack” built of driftwood.  He frequently drove his touring car, top down, with his big white dog, Wolf, in the front passenger seat, his wife and young woman art student in the back.  His paintings and etchings became collectible, but his twelve-by-three foot oil “North Beach Peninsula,” displayed prominently in the Washington State Exhibit at the Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress Exposition, was never paid for.  The city fathers of Long Beach who commissioned it refused, claiming it was incorrectly named.

On the Big Screen

On the Big Screen

The Nature Man’s adventure has long been considered a hoax and, of course, that’s what the ‘mystery’ was all about.  The show was sensational journalism at its best (or worst?) and all of us in the audience cheered and clapped in all right places – when they showed Jessie’s and the boats at the Port, when they showed Cape Disappointment, when they showed the Heritage Museum, and every time Aaron came on the screen three times larger than life!

Great fun!  And for me is was sort of a preview of what to expect when the Travel Channel’s new program about historic hotels appears and my son Charlie is on the screen.  I doubt that he’ll make the big time at the Sea Hag, however.  That was definitely an Ilwaco bonus


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