Thousands flock to birthday bash

The West Salem High School choir entertains a crowd inside the Oregon State Capitol Saturday for Oregon's Sesquicentennial Celebration in Salem.<BR><I>Associated Press</i>

SALEM - Despite the sagging economy, thousands of people were in a mood to celebrate as they jammed into the state Capitol on Saturday for a birthday bash marking Oregon's 150 years of statehood.

The celebrants, many of them families with small children, enjoyed free cake, had their picture taken with a "live" Gold Man and heard speeches by Gov. Ted Kulongoski and other political leaders.

It might seem like an inopportune time for a birthday blowout, given the deepening recession that will force cuts in state services and two wars that this summer will prompt the largest deployment of Oregon Army National Guard troops since World War II.

Those problems didn't dampen the spirits of Scott and Brianne McKee, a Sweet Home couple who said they brought their two small children to the Capitol to be a part of history and to show their optimism about the state's future.

"We've dealt with these kinds of problems before, and will again. Oregon has good positive energy," said Scott McKee, a manager for a grocery chain.

Kulongoski set the tone for the daylong party at the Capitol, telling those in the packed Capital rotunda that this is a great time to celebrate the state's 150th birthday, and to look forward to the day when "the difficult times will end."

"If ever there was a time to rekindle hope, spark laughter, help a neighbor and rejoice that of all places on earth, we get to live here, this is it." Kulongoski said.

Saturday's gathering produced one of the largest crowds in the Capitol in years.

Organizers had 3,000 pieces of free cake on hand, and they ran out within an hour.

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