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Practically Paranormal: Creepy Tales from N. Oregon Coast's Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

Published 04/24/2020 at 5:54 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Practically Paranormal: Creepy Tales from N. Oregon Coast's Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

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(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – A desolate rock island in the middle of stormy seas, battered constantly by massive waves, and cut off from human contact for months at a time. A place where the first person to ever set foot upon it died almost immediately. This is where you build a lighthouse on the north Oregon coast in the late 1800s. What could go wrong?

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, often called Terrible Tilly, is such a place, and in spite of its shining beacon guiding ships safely out at sea it was ripe for ghost stories. It didn’t help much that local tribes also said it was inhabited by restless spirits.

The real history of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is a teeth-clencher in itself, set there to help keep ships from crashing into Tillamook Head and hopefully dissipate the area’s already growing reputation as the “graveyard of the Pacific” (the mouth of the Columbia river actually has that moniker firmly etched in its history).

Vague and varied paranormal tales have haunted the old rocky lighthouse since its beginning, earlier if you count the native legends. Lighthouse keepers here worked in shifts lasting months at a time, hosting roughly three men most shifts. The isolation here drove at least one of them mad, and the rest – well, they had plenty of time to let their imaginations run. There were claims of voices heard over the din of storms or other 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.




Building the lighthouse was a real – excuse the pun – killer. The first surveyor stepping onto the rock slipped and drowned in the ocean, starting an immediate public outcry that perhaps this wasn’t a good idea.

In January of 1881, Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was several weeks from being finished when a British barque called the Lupatia wrecked on Tillamook Head. But first, it narrowly missed the lighthouse island, with construction crews awakened in the middle of the night to hear the harrowing scream of “hard aport!” as this then-mystery ship slid just past the rock. Had the light been operational this wouldn’t have happened.

The next morning the lighthouse crew could see the mast and part of the ship sticking up out of the ocean in front of the headland. All crew aboard died – except for a puppy. Over the next the 130 years, some Oregon coast locals claim to have heard a dog howling in the dark from somewhere at the tip of the headland at Seaside.

Another creepy 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. Hotels in Cannon Beach - Where to eat - Cannon Beach Maps and Virtual Tours. More historical photos of the lighthouse below:

Read a lot more on the lighthouse in the Ultimate Oregon Coast Travel book series, with both the Seaside and Cannon Beach books presenting different parts of the lighthouse’s history.






Photo below courtesy Seaside Aquarium

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