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As It Was: Klamath Falls Uranium Hoax Makes National News

Just before the 1956 Fourth of July, a practical joke conceived by the Klamath Falls Chamber of Commerce to promote a local rodeo made newspaper headlines across the country.

News spread quickly that a prospector had staked a uranium claim to land at the corner of Main and Ninth streets in downtown Klamath Falls. It was a shocking revelation during the U.S.-Soviet Union Cold War that a key component of nuclear weapons was underfoot in town.

The bogus prospector, Earl Sheridan, pitched a tent and camped in the street, refusing to move when police paid a visit.

The Associated Press and United Press news services picked up the story and soon it was published in newspapers across the country, including in Washington, D.C., New York, Portland, Spokane, Minneapolis, Denver, El Paso, Kansas City, and others.

Realizing their hoax had gone too far, chamber leaders pulled the plug, Sheridan broke camp, and life returned to normal in Klamath Falls.

It remains an open question whether the bogus story increased rodeo attendance.

Sources: Earl Sheridan Scrapbook, donated to the Klamath County Museum, 1451 Main St., Klamath Falls, by the Sheridan family; Steve, Silton. "Object lessons: Earl Sheridan Scrapbook Uranium hoax gains national recognition." Herald and News, 25 Apr. 2014 [Klamath Falls, Ore.].

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Pat Bushey wrapped up a 53-year professional, small-town newspaper career in 2018, after 47 years at the Klamath Falls Herald and News — 17 as managing editor. He also worked at the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald and the Walla Walla (Wash.) Union-Bulletin, where he spent a summer filling in as sports editor. Before that, he was sports editor at Everett (Wash.) High School and Washington State University. Bushey wrote many of the Herald and News editorials during his tenure, and almost all of those appearing in recent years.