Most days he would step inside the front door of our office on Northeast 42nd Avenue to declare, with a loud and dissonant voice, that it was going to rain that day; or announce something that was – or maybe wasn’t – happening up the street. He would then abruptly turn and leave to share his news report with other businesses or passersby along the avenue. Eddie Morgan, aka the Mayor of 42nd Avenue, was standing on the corner of 42nd and Alberta Street early one morning when he was shot to death.
Post-WWII 42nd Avenue in Portland was a neighborhood merchant district supporting gas stations, grocery stores, cafes and taverns, barber shops, banks, an appliance store, doughnut shop, even a drive-thru dairy. St. Charles Catholic Church and School at the north end of the district, expanded during the fifties and sixties. The public Beaumont School anchored the south end.
Eddie Morgan was out on the street days and nights. Labeled “developmentally disabled,” maybe today he would be considered autistic. He regularly walked up and down 42nd, greeting those he met on the sidewalk, stopping into businesses, generally keeping tabs on the neighborhood. People who knew him described him as childlike and friendly, offering his help whenever he could. He was the unofficial assistant to the operator of the Wilshire Tavern.
Nobody knows why he was at the bus stop at four a.m. Memorial Day weekend in 1994. Nobody knows what he said to the occupants of the car that pulled up by the bus stop. Maybe they thought his tone of voice was insulting. All that anybody knows is that shots were fired. The car pulled away, leaving the Mayor of 42nd Avenue dying on the sidewalk.
The district suffered through a period of decline, as did many other urban neighborhoods. Vacant storefronts dotted the avenue. St. Charles school closed in 1986, merging with nearby St. Rose Parish’s school. The dairy closed long ago. Today, gentrification is haphazardly working its way along 42nd Avenue. Revitalization is coming much more slowly than other inner-northeast thoroughfares: the thriving Alberta Street “Arts District,” or the hip Mississippi Avenue. The area is gradually resuscitating.
Eddie Morgan’s murder has not been solved; there were never any suspects. Occasionally someone leaves flowers in the small memorial in front of the U.S. Bank.