It’s sometimes fun to weave a tale of legend, history, imagination, and current events into a read that otherwise might be mundane or mysterious. To perk up the fancy occasionally the use of historic corollaries sometimes becomes useful. So…read on and see if I arouse an interest.

The tale of Dr. Faust has been told many times through the centuries. From plays to books, the legend of the man permeates our history. Whether Faust ever really existed is something that’s still debated. The answer to the question belongs to whoever is telling the saga. Certainly, he exists in folklore and literature, but did he ever live? Is he a creation of a vivid imagination…a nascent character brought to life in order to fulfill a certain pedantic fantasy? Or was he the person who tells the story of mankind’s oldest dilemma?

Readers will need to stick with me for a bit while I develop the narrative. However, the Faust reference becomes the glue that holds the piece together.

As students, we probably learned…at some point in the academic cycle, Faust (sometimes referenced as Dr. Faustus) is the sad character in the German story of corruption and loss. (I’m not here to spend undue time on the many variables of the Faust personality or the number of applications to the centuries-old epoch. He will be used as a “prop” and any further query on him belongs to the reader).

The story of Faust first appears around 1587…but it could have been promoted prior to that date. Even with the various interpretations of the play, one theme remains constant. Faust, who was a brilliant alchemist, sorcerer, astrologer, and scientist, sought exclusive control of power and knowledge. His search for this unique condition brought him in contact with the devil. (Keep in mind this was a period of time when other mysterious personalities, like Nostradamus and Merlin, became part of the historic prism). It turns out that Satan would grant Faust omnipotent power and wisdom. However, the agreement came with a cost. The “bargain” Satan offered was this…he would grant Faust twenty-four years of supremacy/invincibility and ultimate dominion over all the earth. At the end of that period, the devil would own Faust’s soul through all eternity.

Faust agreed to the terms…calling it a “bargain” while never truly contemplating the price he was going to pay. Whether Faust simply didn’t believe the devil or thought he could call Satan’s bluff is wide open to interpretation. (Various plays/explanations of how Faust processed the “bargain” have been offered to try to clarify his actions. Like Shakespearian plays, the version and delivery of Faust vary with time, production, and location).


Regardless of mitigating circumstances, Faust entered into the “bargain” with Satan and the rest is “history?” (You be the judge). What is not in question is the human dilemma that Faust expresses to all people. Every man (person) has a price…at some point, we can sell our soul if the bargain/value is acceptable.

In the Book of Mathew, we learn of the price necessary to betray Jesus. The priests of the day offered Judas thirty pieces (30) of silver and the deal was finished. In the garden of Gethsemane Judas went on to kiss Christ, thereby identifying him to the soldiers who arrested Jesus. We know what happened next. As it turns out, Judas had a soul-searching revelation and attempted to return the silver to the priests, but it was too late, the damage was done.

So, where am I going with this? I can assure you it’s not to look at German mythology or a study of Goethe’s rendition of Faust. Nor is it a Biblical reading. I’m not qualified to speak to scripture or Biblical verse. What type of “bargain” St. Johns was offered at the time of annexation and at what price? Also, we can connect the Faust experience to current-day proposals directed at St. Johns and North Portland.

On many occasions, I’ve pondered the question. There’s not enough time or room to begin to outline specifics, for the annexation question is now one hundred twenty years old. Clearly, there’s no one answer, the level of promises has had an ebb and flow for as long as St. Johns has existed…both as the City of St. Johns and as the current community.

I’ve wondered aloud if St. Johns founders actually studied our original national founders when considering the circumstances/fate surrounding the annexation of St. Johns by Portland. To my knowledge, there’s no reference that suggests this might have been the case. However, the fear of an oppressive government and the subjugation of independence is clearly a common theme in both cases. Our wise and intrepid American founders did not trust the promises made by King George (Who was more lenient and understanding regarding colonial requests than many historians have suggested). They also understood (unlike so many elected officials today) that men are inherently evil and that a brief look at history makes it clear that lies and traps are the scions of men’s words. Hence, they created a form of government never witnessed in the history of mankind…a system of checks and balances designed to curb the excesses of an oppressive tyrant/regime.

Did the founders of St. Johns actually consider the words and works of our national forefathers? Clearly, their concern for centralized power in the hands of Portland was something they feared and was a huge impediment to any thoughts of annexation. In that regard, they had the same prescient reservations assigned to our writers of the Articles of Confederation and later, the Constitution and Bill of Rights. We know of a variety of promises that were made to St. Johns…some kept, others discarded. A bridge was built, but an independent police force was removed. Streetcars/trollies were extended, schools and curriculums remained under limited native jurisdiction, but local control over business licensing/ application and taxation was detached and with it, the ability of St. Johns to self-govern collapsed. I could go on…there’s much more and I’ve written about it often.

Without attaching too much thought to it…I wonder if we can consider the annexation a “Faustian Bargain?” Although assigning Portland to the same category as Satan might be a bit excessive, the torpid/dilatory behavior of Portland to our community suggests it often seems to apply.

The phrase “Faustian Bargain” has become a common expression when trying to explain a transaction that requires too much sacrifice in order to achieve a goal. In the case of Faust, his soul was lost for all eternity in exchange for twenty-four years of supreme power. For Judas, the weight of betrayal and the crushing moral mistake caused him to reverse course and beg for redemption.

The City of St. Johns was forced/tricked into annexation on three different occasions. Promises were made. Two of those annexations were overruled shortly after they were consummated. There were many reasons for the rejection…not the least of which was the loss of independence and governing flexibility by St. Johns. When the actual “price” was realized, the leaders of St. Johns withdrew from the clumsy ill-timed “marriage.” Obviously, the eventual 1915 annexation is one that remains a part of the community. What is equally obvious is the suppleness lost when the logistics and weight of Portland proper is felt by St. Johns. .

As humans, we all experience “Faustian Bargains” throughout our lives. It can’t be avoided. The condition does not require something as dire as losing your soul for all eternity. However, it does bring into question the price we pay for the decisions we make. It seems clear to me that a “Faustian Bargain” was part of the annexation process by the leaders of St. Johns many decades ago. In reality, the City of St. Johns never had a chance. Whatever the “bargain” was or was not…it wasn’t a voluntary arrangement and unlike Faust, (who sought out the devil for power) the City of St. Johns did not seek out a liaison with Portland….it was forced on us. The merger was a power grab…plain and simple. The size and heft of the colossus of Portland made the outcome inevitable. By 1915 St. Johns had little bargaining power left. There was no chance of retaining independence…all that could be hoped for was a “voice” at the table of politics. That “voice” has mostly been mute throughout much of the community of St. Johns’ existence. Our ‘voice’ appeared briefly when Terry Schrunk was mayor…for he was a true North Portland guy. Since then, the community has heard mostly hollow promises from hapless imposters who travel through the area seeking votes…only to disappear after the election cycle.

What remains remarkable is the defining spirit of North Portland. Even as the City of St. Johns lost its independence…the people retained their unique soul and resolve. It is a community like no other…even new residents quickly glean the personality from generations of older citizens. Call it DNA…or osmosis…regardless, it’s there for all to experience. Unlike Faust, citizens of North Portland do not sacrifice their souls to Satan. The “bargain”…is the chance to live in an area that stands alone, a location rich in history, heritage, and struggle.

The recent proposal by the City of Portland to open a ‘bottle drop’ at the old Dollar Tree…the business the homeless destroyed gets me reflecting on what type of promises/bargains the city might prepare for St. Johns. It also forces me to echo our history. Clearly, the idea did not occur in a vacuum, nor would Portland entertain such an idea without suggestions to make the effort sound like a ‘bargain’ to St. Johns. The reality of the previous Portland bottle drop fiascos/failures will be either omitted or ‘whitewashed.’ I think we’ve seen this movie before, our history confirms it. Will St. Johns surrender its soul…if so, what will be the price, and would it look like Faust revisited?