The Misty Mysteries of an Oregon Lighthouse: Tillamook Rock

Published 11/20/2012


(Cannon Beach, Oregon) - Often, truth is stranger than fiction. This is certainly the truth that sits behind the legends one of the more well known yet cryptic attractions of the Oregon coast: the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Forget the talk of ghosts and other oddball stories, the history of this mystery a mile offshore from Cannon Beach and Seaside is much more striking than the made-up stuff.

Construction on this blob of rock began in the 1880’s, after initial plans were scrapped to put a lighthouse on a fog-prone, blind spot area atop Tillamook Head. Things did not get off to a good start. When the initial surveying crew arrived, the very first man to set foot on the rock slipped into the sea and drowned. This created an immediate public outcry that perhaps this wasn’t a good idea.

After the top was blasted, construction crews had to endure insane conditions, living under soggy tents and enormous waves that constantly knocked at them. The crews lived in rotating shifts on the rock, and there were so many casualties in these conditions that men waiting onshore to work there were actually sequestered away from the public and from talk of what went on there.

The barons in charge of the project went to incredible lengths to keep construction workers away from the truth. They were housed in various places along the southern Washington coast, away from Seaside, and for a while even on a ship anchored just offshore.

Once the lighthouse was lit and operational, lightkeepers lived there in shifts and had to endure much. Four at a time occupied the rock, usually only a few months at a time. It was a brutal existence, and one keeper reportedly went mad from the solitude.

A giant winch was used to bring supplies and personnel from visiting ships to the rock, which was a dangerous and unwieldy endeavor under even the best conditions. They were put inside an object called a breeches buoy – which is essentially a giant pair of pants encircled by a floatation ring, attached to the cables overhead. Numerous lives were lost doing this.


The lighthouse seen from Cannon Beach.

The place was ripe for ghost stories. It didn’t help that local tribes purportedly said it was inhabited by evil spirits.

There are rumors of ghost tales over the years, including the claims of voices heard over the din of storms from the lens area and other isolated or dark parts of the lighthouse. Sometimes, stories about ghost ships appearing in the fog and drifting past are associated with the place as well, but usually these have foundations in actual events involving near misses from real ships.

Indeed, a ship called the Lupatia nearly hit the lighthouse in dense fog, but was warned away just in time. However, it did soon after slam into Tillamook Head, killing all aboard except the ship’s dog.

One local legend has it that you can sometimes still hear the dog howl in the night near Tillamook Head.

Another almost spooky tale from the lighthouse comes from a keeper who felt something brush past his face in the dark while lying in bed. All of a sudden, he heard strange footsteps in the pitch black, and after a time, bolted towards the light switch, arms swinging wildly in an attempt to smack whatever trespasser was there. When he turned on the light, he found only an injured bird that had somehow made its way into his bedroom. The odd footsteps were its broken wing hitting the floor.

The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1957, with the last keeper, Oswald Allik, proclaiming “I return thee to the elements.”

One of those who served aboard the lighthouse was U.S. Coast Guard officer Jim Gibbs, who later became a famous writer on maritime subjects, including this lighthouse and Oregon coast shipwrecks. Gibbs has own lighthouse now, having turned his home near Yachats into an actual working lighthouse that can be seen at sea. Mariners say they actually appreciate its presence.

In the 80’s, after numerous failed ownerships, a firm called Eternity at Sea bought the Tillamook Rock lighthouse property, and it now serves as a columbarium – a place for ashes of the dead.

In an odd and somewhat humorous turn, the firm starting running ads in the early 90's offering free satellite TV for life – if you reserved your resting place early.

Perhaps they assumed they would not have to pay for that deal for long.

That firm eventually disappeared and it's unclear if anyone is in charge of upkeep of the columbarium.

Historical photographs below from the family of Jim Furnish, Seaside, Oregon. More about Seaside lodging below as well.



 

More About Seaside, Oregon hotels, lodging.....

More About Oregon Coast Restaurants, Dining.....


Breathtaking high panoramic beach views from oceanfront rooms, spacious family suites & fully equipped cottages.  Known for gracious hospitality, the sparkling clean Sea Horse features a heated indoor pool, dramatic oceanfront spa, great whale watching, free deluxe continental breakfast, conference room, free casino shuttle & HBO.  Fireplaces, private decks and spas are available in select rooms.  Close to shops, golf, fishing & restaurants.  Pets are welcome in select rooms.  Senior discounts.  Kids 18 and under stay free in their parent's room.  Very attractive rates.
Lincoln City’s only resort hotel built right on the beach with all oceanfront rooms - nestled against a rugged cliffside overlooking a soft, sandy beach. Dine in penthouse restaurant and bar, for casual meal or candlelight dinner. An array of seafood specialties, juicy steaks and other Northwest favorites, including decadent Sunday buffet. Rooms range from bedrooms to studios to 1-bedroom suites with microwaves and refrigerators to full kitchens. Also, wi-fi, spa, saunas, exercise room and year-round heated swimming pool. Kids will love the game room and easy beach access. Full-service conference/meeting rooms for that inspirational retreat; extensive wedding possibilities.

 

LATEST Related Oregon Coast Articles

Treats, Tide Pools and Trippy Lifeforms at Oregon Coast Nature Events
Oregon's conservation group CoastWatch is hosting a series of fun, interesting and sometimes yummy events. Depoe Bay events, Yachats events
ODFW Reports: Good News for Whales, Crabbing on Oregon Coast
Crabbing is quite good in most spots and your chances of spotting whales are great. Science, kids, travel tips
Three Oregon Coast Hotspots Crammed with Intricate Fun
Here are three such examples of stunning sights and sites that will fill a whole day or more by themselves
Tsunami Walk, Tide Pools and Food at Cannon Beach, N. Oregon Coast Event
A potluck on August 20 also features a film about tsunami preparedness and what this shoreline could expect. Cannon Beach events
Taft's Sand Castle Contest Livens up Central Oregon Coast in August
The 13th is the day that boasts the Taft Beach Sandcastle Contest. Lincoln City events
Two Youths Rescued from Seaside's Surf, N. Oregon Coast; One Dead
Two teenage males were rescued from the surf on the north Oregon coast Thursday. Beach safety
Wild 'n Wacky on Oregon Coast: Freaky Facts, Fossils, Rumors
Fossil finds, bizarre plants, broken records to a curious if not laughable claim about a battle off these beaches. History, science
Workshop Prepares for Stunning Solar Eclipse on Central Oregon Coast in 2017
A group called Multiverse hosts an educational workshop on the total solar eclipse in Lincoln City

Back to Oregon Coast

Contact Advertise on BeachConnection.net
All Content, unless otherwise attributed, copyright BeachConnection.net Unauthorized use or publication is not permitted