Word Nerd

Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin walks into the old Clatsop County Jail, which is now the location of the Oregon Film Museum. The old jail was nicknamed “Hotel de Slusher” by prisoners during the reign of Sheriff Slusher from 1923 to 1933.

Slusher [slʌʃ•ər]

noun

1. slang. an unflattering term that has been applied to counterfeiters, drunkards and prostitutes at various times. In the U.S. Navy, the term refers to someone who will casually loan out money at an extremely high interest rate. The term also has a less seedy, occupational history that refers to specific jobs in the mining and automotive industries

2. Harley J. Slusher (1888-1942): sheriff of Clatsop County from 1923 to 1933

3. Hotel de Slusher: arch. slang. informal name given by prisoners to the Clatsop County Jail, currently the Oregon Film Museum, during the reign of Sheriff Slusher

Origin:

Slusher is an Americanization of either the German surname Schlüsser (vars. Slosser, Shlusher among others) or the Polish Slusarz. The German surname is thought to derive from one of two sources: the Old High German sliozen, a verb meaning “to lock,” which would place the name’s ancestry in the occupation of a locksmith, or from the Middle High German schloss, meaning “castle,” which, through tradition, would be applied to someone working in a castle. The Polish Slusarz also refers to a locksmith.

Either way the name is not related to slush, which arrives in English from Scandinavian sources.

It is not known who first quipped the sardonic nickname for the county jail and if they were aware or not of the implicit irony of referring to the jail as “The Hotel of the Locksmith.”

“ASTORIA, Or., Aug 19—Harley J. Slusher, who was elected sheriff of Clatsop county at the recent recall election, assumed the duties of the position today.”

—“Sheriff Takes Office,” The Sunday Oregonian, Aug. 20, 1922, P. 3

“But yesterday—for the first time, I sat in a jail cell, on the inside, and looked out at the world, and rose colored glasses would have made no difference in the rain-drenched drab outlook visible from an upper window of the Hotel de Slusher.”

—Dave Young, “Jailed Reporter Tells of Slusher Hotel Life,” Cumtux, Vol. 35, No. 1, Winter 2015, P. 42, reproduced from Astoria Budget, Sept. 26, 1930, P. 1

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