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  • Jim Bessman

D.B. Cooper finally captured...at NY NOW!


Parachutin' D.B. Cooper


He’s been missing since the afternoon of November 24, 1971—Thanksgiving Eve--when he hijacked a Boeing 727 somewhere between Portland and Seattle. Then, with $200,000 in ransom demanded in exchange for freeing his fellow passengers in Seattle, he ordered the plane to fly to Mexico City, and just after 8 p.m. and somewhere between Seattle and Reno, jumped out of the plane and into legend.


D.B. Cooper, as the unidentified hijacker became known (he bought his plane ticket using the name Dan Cooper) remains the center of the only unsolved case of commercial air piracy. Yet there he was earlier this month in 20 Leagues’ display page at the biannual NY NOW specialty marketing trade show--which took place digitally due to the pandemic.


Standing out among the Portland-based company’s catalog of zany novelty product was Parachutin’ D.B. Cooper Action Figure—a proposed embodiment of Cooper based on FBI drawings, holding a bulging money bag and packaged with a folded parachute and a little historical info.


“Now anybody can recreate the only unsolved act of air piracy in commercial aviation history in their own backyard!” states 20 Leagues CEO Jamie Hudson. “Just toss into the air, then find D.B. Cooper!”


While the item is two and a-half years old, it’s especially timely, what with the 50th anniversary of the event in November—a year after a lucky lead-in from HBO in its The Mystery of DB Cooper documentary.


“We put out some stuff for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing,” says Hudson, said stuff including a 1969 Moon Landing-branded Apollo Parachute Capsule Action Figure. “And since the HBO special we’ve had our eye on D.B. Cooper.”

So has Port of Portland.


“They ran the whole thing in their newsletter,” says Hudson of the visibility of the Cooper figure afforded by the agency overseeing Portland’s transportation infrastructure. “But there’s such a Portland connection to that guy: They think he hijacked the plane when it passed over the border [between Oregon and Washington] not too far from here.”


The figure itself is “the one product out of everything we’ve done that I’m proudest of!” says Hudson.


“We even sell them in Portland International Airport, which is sort of funny since he hijacked the plane out of there.”


Hudson is now looking to expand the D.B. Cooper product line to tie-in with the anniversary.


“We have a code name—Super-duper D.B. Cooper Pack—and might bring in t-shirts and mugs to go together with the figure. We’ve done a lot of craft show booths, and it’s amazing how many people see it and start telling the story to their kids.”


The Parachutin’ D.B. Cooper Action Figure, of course, isn’t the only wacky entry in the 20 Leagues warehouse, which also holds, besides other characters in its Wood Action Figures series, Fancy Plants Houseplant Kits (“dioramas” ranging from a UFO abduction to Sasquatch strolling into a human campsite) and Twee-Dimensional Diorama Ornaments featuring Oregon and Washington State iconography. Everything is priced between $5 and $25, appealing to gift and impulse purchase by a wide variety of customers.


“We’re primarily motivated by things that amuse us!” says Hudson, adding that the company, in business since 2012, started as a hobby sprung from a New Year’s resolution.


“We agreed to be less boring people,” Hudson continues, “but we may have gotten a little carried away!”


He notes that the group of friends who became 20 Leagues had been informally making things and attending craft shows.


“Portland’s a great place to start stuff like this: People like unusual things—and we’re unusual!”


Indeed, Hudson and his wife are scientists (he has a PhD in chemistry), and the company’s name derives from classic sci-fi adventure novelist Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.


“I was a huge Jules Verne fan,” he says, noting his interest in “the intersection of art and science.”


But his specialty was electronics when two years ago he “somehow” landed a brief spot on the second season of Making It--the reality competition/elimination TV series (co-hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman) that featured craftspeople vying for $100,000 and the title of “Master Maker.”


“It’s all because of our weird ideas—being a funny company getting pulled into a TV show, and doing some custom work and special builds. But our bread-and-butter is the little things: the ornaments that are all over the Northwest, and the plant dioramas and action figures that we find hilarious--and are sort of the standard for our product development.”


And as for D.B. Cooper, Hudson, “after reading everything,” wonders if he deployed the “dummy” parachute (presumably fatally) supplied to him with three other functional ones, and, if he jumped near Mount St. Helens--the volcano in Washington that erupted in 1980 in a massive explosion--“his remains might have been buried under 100 feet of mud.”


“It’s the only unsolved act of piracy in aviation history,” concludes Hudson, that is, until 20 Leagues came along.


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