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Opal Whiteley

OPB | May 1, 2010 9 p.m. | Updated: July 25, 2013 1:44 p.m.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries

In 1920, Oregon’s Opal Whiteley was the center of international controversy. Her childhood diary was called a work of genius, until readers discovered hidden clues to a mystery that has not been solved to this day.

Was Oregon the home of a kidnapped French Princess?

Who was Opal Whiteley?  To this day there is no clear answer. Her life and her writing remains a mystery.

At the turn of the century, Opal grew up literally barefoot and dirt poor in Oregon’s logging camps.  From an early age she stood out. She seemed to be a child prodigy with an encyclopedic knowledge of nature.  She collected and labeled thousands of specimens of plants and insects, and as a young teenager gave lectures to her classmates and the community. By the time she was seventeen years old, she had gained national attention and she was touring the state as a religious leader.

But it was a childhood diary that gained her international fame. As a young woman she published a diary she said she had written when she was about 6-years old.  In it, she described the lumber camps as a child’s fairyland.  The diary quickly became a best seller and some called it a work of genius.  Others called it a fraud.

The diary held clues that Opal had been kidnapped as a child and was really the daughter of a French prince.  Within a year the diary was out of print. Opal never returned to Oregon and seemed to disappear.  

Today the diary has been rediscovered and is in print all over the world.  But the mystery of Opal remains unsolved.

Resources

Books

Opal Whiteley, The Fairyland Around Us

Opal Whiteley, The Story of Opal: Journal of an Understanding Heart

Opal Whiteley, The Flower of Stars

Kathrine Beck, Opal: A Life of Enchantment, Mystery, and Madness

Elbert Bede, Fabulous Opal Whiteley: From logging camps to princess of India

Jane Boulton, Opal: the Journal of an Understanding Heart

Germaine A. Cross, Play of Colors: the Legend of Opal Whiteley

Benjamin Hoff and Opal Whiteley, The Singing Creek Where the Willow Grows: The Mystical Nature Diary of Opal Whiteley

 

Web sites

Opal Online, CATE, University of Oregon

Opal Whiteley Memorial

The Fantastic Tale of Opal Whiteley, by Steve McQuiddy

Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission

Cottage Grove Historical Society

 “Beauty Attends: The Heartsongs of Opal Whiteley.”

Opal, a film by Dina Ciraulo

Guide to the Opal Whiteley Papers, University of Oregon

Opal Whiteley Papers, University of London

Broadcast Date: March 01, 2010

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OREGON EXPERIENCE is a co-production of Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Oregon Historical Society.