Law 27-B of Journalism is that you never, ever call anything the first, biggest, oldest, longest or most of anything, ever.
Unless you're really sure.
If you're really sure, subsection d) of that law comes into play: You still don't do it.
That's because if you say that the biggest chicken in the world, a 40-pound monster named Big Biddy, belongs to old Farmer Brown, of near your town, you are guaranteed to hear from a guy in Berzerkistan who has a 41-pound chicken.
This is ironclad. And it leads to the most loathed artifact of the journalism racket: the correction. You wouldn't believe how painful it is to punch out a message like, "It was reported incorrectly yesterday that the nation's biggest chicken was Big Biddy, of near Medford ... "
Part of the pain is the unlikelihood of the guy happening across the story and landing on the offending error. What are the odds? But the worst part is knowing he will clip the correction and post it on his wall and invite his friends and neighbors over to drink the local firewater and gloat. Nobody wants to be a laughline for a bunch of drunken gloaters.
But superlatives — quantifications by their nature — cry out to be published. They are just intrinsically interesting. They are a mini-snapshot of a community. They also make great bar bets.
And so we hereby leap into the breach with "Our Valley, Our Extremes," a look at Southern Oregon's biggest, best, longest, tallest, oldest, first, most famous and most whatever.
In some of this we feel we're actually on fairly safe ground. Want to know the highest temperature ever recorded in Medford? The coldest? The most precipitation we've had in 24 hours? The official record for the largest rainbow trout landed hereabouts? The largest deer antlers, the biggest black bear killed by a bow and arrow?
Likewise, we can tell you with a fair degree of certainty that Shady Cove is the state's largest municipality without a municipal water system. The town's 3,000 Shady Covans (Shady Covites? Covalinos?) depend on wells.
We have no doubts as to the most circulated line of books in the Jackson County library system (hint: They're about the adventures of a certain adolescent wizard).
We're pretty sure we can tell you the first person in Jackson County to establish a water right, the oldest continually operating restaurant in the county, who won the biggest gambling jackpot, where the oldest stone gravestone is.
Elsewhere we venture into grayer areas. The Beekman House, if it isn't the oldest home in the county, is the only one that has its collection of gold rush-era artifacts intact and accessible to the public.
Who was the first white child born in the Rogue Valley? Nobody knows. There were several claimants, but it's finally one of those historical dead-ends we'll never get to the bottom of (what we do know is that the American Indians had already beat those settlers by umpteen-something generations).
Medford's first airport grew out of a choice between two alfalfa fields, and the present one wasn't dedicated until 1930. It's known affectionately to everyone as the Medford International Rogue Valley Greater Metropolitan, er, Jackson, uh ... the Medford airport. Maybe that's another category: least remembered name of a public facility.
There are surprises. Ask anybody and chances are she'll say the 1964 flood was the biggest ever. In fact, there was a flood of biblical proportions in 1861. Climatologists estimate it contained 10 times as much water as the 1964 flood.
Do you know about the earliest artifacts from Chinese settlements in Oregon? The most extreme heat wave in Medford? Which play the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has produced the most times?
We pass this information along in total confidence that it's maybe the final word. If you can prove otherwise we'd like to take your call but we have a cake in the oven. Just kidding. But don't call us about your giant chicken.