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Source of N. Oregon Coast Beach Beeswax on Display in Manzanita

Published 04/04/22 at 6:05 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Source of N. Oregon Coast Beach Beeswax on Display in Manzanita

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(Manzanita, Oregon) – The north Oregon coast, along with much of the Washington coast, are known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” Countless ships have met their demise off these tempestuous waters, unable to withstand their jagged, rocky shores and storms. Yet what has washed ashore from these numerous shipwrecks has often become useful to those living in the region, and in the case of all that mysterious beeswax that dotted the shores of Manzanita for hundreds of years – it was “good as gold.”

In comes the latest exhibit at the Nehalem Valley Historical Society in Manzanita, graphically portraying the historical routes from 1565 to about 1815 of the typical Spanish galleon. These grand vessels often wandered past the Oregon coast as they sailed along here and California, to places like the Philippines and Mexico. Some of them wrecked off the coastline, the vast majority lost to history. However, the historical museum now shows you these shipping routes, describing in detail the kinds of ships and the exotic items they carried.

The exhibit also goes deep into north Oregon history with how locals – both native and settlers – used the beeswax over the centuries that came from these wrecks. Beeswax was the ballast for many of these ships, but locals found piles of it on these beaches and utilized them for boat and canoe sealant, skin salve and for candles.

Manzanita's new exhibit also goes into the “mining” of the lost cargo from these vessels.

The beeswax ceased arriving on the Nehalem-area beaches in the '90s.

The historical society is open Saturdays from 1 pm to 4 pm.

Numerous studies and and archaeologists looked into this long-standing north Oregon coast mystery since the latter part of the 20th century, and a few of those involved have given lectures in the area over the years. Among them have been Scott Williams, Cameron La Follette, Dr. Douglas Deur, Esther González and Dr. Dennis Griffi with the Beeswax Wreck Project.

According to their much-lauded research, since the earliest days of American exploration and settlement on the Oregon coast, stories have been told of an ancient shipwreck exposed on the Nehalem Spit. The wreck, laden with Chinese porcelain and large beeswax blocks and candles, predated American settlement of the area and was a mystery to the first settlers. For a couple of centuries, the puzzling pieces landed on the beaches around the Manzanita area. They were well-formed together and carved with numbers in a style used by the Spanish.

The theory has for awhile been that the wreck happened in the 1700s.

In the earliest recorded days of the region, as chunks of beeswax began washing up on shore, settlers and natives alike were well aware a wreck had occurred. There were tales of men walking out of the water in full Spanish conquistador armor, even stories of cannibalism, but the truth has evaded archaeologists and historians for years.

Many archaeologists – including the PBS show History Detectives – have determined it's most likely a Spanish galleon called the Santo Cristo de Burgos, which left the Philippines in the summer of 1693 and disappeared.

La Follette's independent research team in recent decades found detailed archival information about the ship, including its manifest. Aboard the ship were officers and crew of Basque, Spanish and Filipino men, and some passengers. La Follette and her team also discovered biographical information about the men's lives, especially the Captain, Don Bernardo Iñiguez del Bayo, and tantalizing glimpses of the ship's cargo. All aboard the ship were male.

Will the new Manzanita exhibit back up these findings or come up with something different or new? You'll have to see the museum, which is located at 225 Laneda Avenue in Manzanita.

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