When Stu Rasmussen was elected mayor of Silverton, Oregon in November 2008, life in the tiny Willamette Valley town (population 9,588) got a tad less quiet. As the nation's first elected transgender mayor, Rasmussen attracted the attention of national news outlets and Christian protestors alike.
Rasmussen -- who's partial to leopard prints, sports D-cup breast implants and calls himself a "dude" -- doesn't warrant many batted lashes in his hometown these days. Born and raised in Silverton, he's run the local movie theater for 35 years and has served in elected city positions (including two previous terms as mayor, before he came out) since 1984. He easily won his seat by a margin of 13 points, and then his constituents came out en masse again -- many of them dressed in drag -- to face off with members of Kansas's Westboro Baptist Church, who showed up to protest his election later in November.
We recently caught up with Rasmussen, who just wrapped filming a test-reel for a prospective reality show, to talk about some of the things that make Silverton special.
During the campaign you quipped that if Silverton wanted a new tourist attraction, it only need elect you. What else draws visitors to your area?
This area is just absolutely rife with gorgeous scenery possibilities. We have the Oregon Garden, which is an 80-acre botanical garden in Silverton. It has a 105-room luxury hotel spa associated with it, the Oregon Garden Resort, which is a great spot to spend some time. We also have the Silverton Inn and Suites in downtown Silverton, which is sort of a Hotel del Coronado in miniature, it's really a cute place. Once you get here, depending on the season, there's something happening all the time.
We, Silverton, are the gateway to Silver Falls State Park, an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful park. There are 10 waterfalls on a seven-mile hike, and you can actually walk behind one of the falls, there's a pathway that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It's got a nice lodge, great amenities, and camping. The general Silverton/Salem area has got agricultural attractions?which sounds kind of boring, but a lot of what we do is ornamentals and florals. This area is probably the biggest iris growing area in the United States, for the tall bearded iris. We also do a tulip festival a couple of miles north of town, in late April/early May.
It's almost like we do something here every weekend. We recently had the Silverton Wine and Jazz Festival, we had nine venues with about 20 top bands and we featured the wines of the area. The Willamette Valley is now easily rivaling Napa for quality of wine produced. This area is almost like the French countryside for growing wine grapes. Silverton also just had the 77th or 78th annual Pet Parade, which is a local celebration where kids bring their pets and participate in a parade. This is a slice of Americana you're not going to see anywhere else.
It's a fairly active arts community, we've not only got the Silverton Arts Association but there's a fine arts gallery, Lunaria, downtown. There are several art galleries that have high quality stuff. Nationally renowned artists have settled here and are showing their wares, not only in New York and San Francisco but also in their home area. It's a chance for folks to come and find some high quality art and the prices here are more reasonable because there isn't nearly as much dealer commission. We've got five antique shops within the downtown core, offering everything from antique furniture to little kitschy knickknacks from the '50s and '60s. I'm sort of an antique freak and I get into them every couple of weeks just to see what's new. I just can't say enough about the place, it's definitely a place you want to stop if you're on the I-5 between Portland and California. We're about 10 miles off and its worth the trip.