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Four Misleading Misnomers and Myths of Oregon Coast - Just Plain Wrong

Published 08/21//20 at 5:11 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Four Misleading Misnomers and Myths of Oregon Coast - Just Plain Wrong

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(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – Many times, the people just don’t get it right. Sometimes, even the historians and the travel writers don’t either. All that’s quite true of numerous aspects of the Oregon coast, but four truly stand out.

They’re the legends, myths and the gaffes of history, geology and sometimes just general misinformation.

Neskowin Ghost Forests Aren’t What They Tell You. Those craggy stumps at Neskowin, at the very edge of Tillamook County, are an extremely popular attraction on the Oregon coast. In fact, so much so a National Geographic TV show apparently has done something on it that will air soon.

These two-thousand-year-old freak-a-zoids aren’t exactly what most are telling you, and they’re by far not the only ghost forests on this coastline (though many talk as if they were). They’re the most obvious of the year-round ghost forests, but two other big stumps are near Newport, and there are hundreds of ghost forest stumps beneath the sands around the region that pop up in some winters. One thing is for sure: this stand of trees was choked to death when sand and whatever else was around at the time buried them, and by having no oxygen this is what ironically preserved them.

The problem with Neskowin’s ghost forest is that lots of articles out there and even some larger tourism entities are telling the wrong origin story. They did not get buried by a sudden earthquake, and certainly not by the biggie that happened in 1700. It’s a less dramatic story than that.

In fact, it was geologists Roger Hart (now deceased) and retired PSU professor Dr. Curt Peterson that discovered the real story some 20 years ago. The Neskowin ghost forests happened by dune encroachment: basically the landscape changed around the stand of trees and slowly swallowed them up over decades. See Explanations of Neskowin Ghost Forest Wrong, Say Oregon Coast Geologists.

It will be interesting to see if the Nat Geo show gets it right.

Another misnomer: they’re not petrified. That term means turned to rock, a process that usually takes millions of years. These stumps are still woody.

Newport’s Yaquina Head Lighthouse Rumors. For some 100 years, there’s been this lingering rumor that the taller lighthouse at Newport was built in this spot by mistake. Supposedly, the theory goes that due to some typographical error in the plans, it was built there instead of towering Cape Foulweather, about 10 miles north.

Not so, says Scott Gibson, producer of the documentary “Oregon Lights” some twenty years ago. Back then he told Oregon Coast Beach Connection: “Basically, there's no reason a lighthouse as tall as Yaquina Head would need to be placed high atop Cape Foulweather where it would be in the fog line much of the time,” Gibson said.

Then there were the lingering tales of a ghost named Higgins that purportedly haunted the lighthouse after dying there. However, in the early 2000s, the Bureau of Land Management received a letter from a descendant of the former lightkeeper Higgins and informed them, nope, he did not die in the lighthouse bur rather moved to Portland and eventually passed away of natural causes. For a bonus round, see Is Newport's Yaquina Head an Old Oregon Coast Volcano? (Video)

Gov. McCall Did Not Come to Cannon Beach by Copter. In 1967, the fate of the Oregon coast was held by a thread. The Beach Bill, championed by Gov. Tom McCall, was failing in Salem, and that would’ve meant beaches with not nearly as many public accesses as we enjoy now. The stunt that put the bill over the edge in the public’s favor was his famous trip up the coastline, including a visit to Cannon Beach where he dramatically arrived by helicopter.

Except that never happened. He made a splash in Cannon Beach alright, but he arrived by limo. It’s a minor footnote in the history of this landmark legislation, but one that sticks in the craw of historians as it’s simply not accurate. In reality, he took a helicopter from Salishan Spit up to Neskowin, and the footage you always see is of him landing there or taking off from Salishan.

It was local filmmaker Tom Olsen and author Matt Love that made this discovery a few years back. See Oregon Coast History: Debunking the Beach Bill Myth at Cannon Beach.

Lewis and Clark Never Goofed Around Downtown Seaside. There’s a huge statue in the middle of Seaside’s Turnaround dedicated to Lewis & Clark, the first major explorers sent west, and the first to really document what would become the Oregon coast. So, naturally, many seem to assume the pair and maybe the whole Corps of Discovery dinged around this area that would later become downtown Seaside.

No, indeed, only a few came down this way, and no one knows if they actually stepped in this spot or not. Five men of the Corps did in fact hang out for a time down the Prom, where Lewis & Clark Way is. There’s a sizable but rather hidden monument to the men and their salt-making efforts. William Clark, Sacagewea and some others of the group visited their compatriots boiling salt here, on their way to Ecola Creek to check out a beached whale.

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