ASHLAND — A bomb hoax in Lithia Park forced the evacuation of a part of downtown Ashland and closed several businesses Friday afternoon.

ASHLAND — A bomb hoax in Lithia Park forced the evacuation of a part of downtown Ashland and closed several businesses Friday afternoon.

Police were called to the city park at 12:45 p.m. where they found a package adjacent to a statue of Abraham Lincoln, near the main entrance to the park. They immediately herded several hundred people away from the Ashland Plaza and the park, said Ashland Deputy Chief Rich Walsh.

The device turned out to be several D-cell batteries wired together and wrapped in duct tape with a ticking watch attached, Walsh said.

A note spelled out in letters clipped from a magazine was taped to the package. It read: "This is not a bomb this is a hoax," Walsh said.

"The assumption was that it was a real bomb," Walsh said.

Despite the note, bomb squad technicians Detective Blaine Allen of the Oregon State Police and Jackson County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Eric Fox were called to the scene. The officers used a small robot to move the device behind the statue and then shot it with a high-powered water cannon. The booming shot echoed throughout downtown, which was eerily vacant for a sunny June afternoon.

"Unfortunately, the cannon destroyed the device so it will make it hard to lift fingerprints, but you can't take the chance that might be a real bomb," Walsh said.

The hoax stretched Ashland emergency services to the breaking point. Two police shifts were called in for overtime, along with the fire department and ambulance crews.

"These things put quite a strain on folks who already work a lot of overtime," Walsh said. "They now have to work even longer shifts."

The plaza reopened at 5 p.m. after police finished a search to ensure there were no additional devices.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival canceled a matinee showing of "On the Razzle," but all other shows were scheduled to be performed. People who had tickets for the canceled show can contact the box office by Sunday to exchange their tickets. After Sunday, all remaining ticket holders for the canceled show will receive refunds, a festival representative said.

A few businesses that were evacuated didn't reopen Friday.

The hoax put a damper on Maurine Mazor's 65th birthday party. Her husband spent five months planning the surprise party, only to see it collapse amid the prank.

Several of her friends from across the country arrived in Ashland to enjoy a play and lunch at the Greenleaf Restaurant, but neither was meant to be.

"It's a big disappointment," said Leila Bloomberg, who flew in from San Diego. "People don't realize how they affect others when they do these things.

The last Ashland bomb scare occurred two months ago at Ashland High School, Walsh said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.