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Before Exploding Whale, Legend of Oregon Coast's Imploding Whale

Published 11/10/20 at 10:55 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Before Exploding Whale, Legend of Oregon Coast's Imploding Whale

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(Florence, Oregon) – Humans do stupid stuff on the beach. Humans also sometimes do stupid things with whales on the beach, like blow them up. It’s nothing new, even for the Oregon coast. While Florence has its legendary and notoriously hilarious “exploding whale” story (Exploding Whale Day is November 12), there is a legend of another substantial gaff with a whale in the area some 60 years before the unique, dynamited cetacean of north Florence. (Historical photos courtesy Keepers of the Heceta Head Lightstation).

If the tales are correct (and that's a big IF), there could be the Imploding Whale of Florence. (Wacky Oregon Coast History: Nov. 12 is Happy Exploding Whale Day, New Facts)

There are no photos of this incident, so historical shots are shown here - courtesy of the Keepers of the Heceta Head Lightstation – all from the approximate period. They show a rock structure that was blasted away later, along with other chunks of rock, to keep tourists from hurting themselves.

According to the group Keepers of the Heceta Head Lightstation and local researcher Theresa McCracken, somewhere around 1910 or so a whale washed up at the beach below Heceta Head – a beach once called Devil’s Elbow.

It’s admittedly a story with holes in it, but it says that Frank DeRoy was first lightkeepers assistant at the time, and he purportedly took his heavy-duty camera gear and tripod to the beached whale and took a kind of old-timey selfie with himself on top of it. Actually he had his wife Jenny snap the shot while he stood upon the deceased beast and posed strongman-style.

Overton Dowell was the second assistant lightkeeper at the Oregon coast sentinel from 1909 – 11. Purportedly, DeRoy told Dowell of his photographic exploits atop the whale, and Dowell thought this would be a swell surprise for his sweetheart who was coming to visit soon from Florence (which was a long, long way to travel back then).

Overton apparently asked Frank DeRoy to borrow his camera rig. Writes McCracken: “Frank agreed, and Overton’s friend arrived on schedule in her crinolines and petticoats. Overton took her to the beach and, not wanting to be outdone by Frank, requested she take his picture atop the whale.”

"Eye of the Needle" at Heceta Head, approximately 100 years ago

Unfortunately, Overton didn’t stop to think about the fact the whale had been there a few days and was now quite decomposed.

So he hopped on top of the great creature – and squish – he fell through. The whale, in a sense, imploded under his weight. Now, there was the lightkeeper’s assistant probably more than knee-deep in rotting, stinking whale guts. Even worse, Overton couldn’t move. He was stuck in the carcass, or to paraphrase a report that would come from Florence 60 years in the future: “he was bound to the blubber beyond all bearable boundaries.”

Helpless and likely gagging, he asked his lovely girlfriend for help. She managed to assist in yanking her now-odious beau out of the beast. The story has it she returned to Florence with all her finery still soiled and smelling of rotting whale bits.

McCracken doesn’t seem to think the tale is real, however. One major sticking point is that DeRoy had left the lightkeepers service before Overton came along. She apparently interviewed a daughter-in-law of Overton’s, Frances Dowell, on the subject.

“Well . . . I read in a little story . . . of a picture of Overton standing on a whale in his uniform and there are three gals dressed in their long skirts and hats, and it said that these are some of Overton’s girl friends out from Florence.”

McCracken said Frances then laughed and said he was big on charm in his heyday. However, at the time of the purported whale photo Overton’s wife was six months preggers.

According to McCracken: “Frances said she didn’t think Overton had fallen into the whale; but, with another laugh, she said he also had never denied doing so.”

Historical researchers will hopefully continue delving into this, and maybe, just maybe, Florence will also get to one day say “Happy Imploding Whale Day” along with November 12’s greeting of “Happy Exploding Whale Day.” (More photos below)

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