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Curious History of Oceanside Part 2: WW II, Lighthouse on Oregon Coast

Published 09/30/2016 at 5:21 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Cape Meares Lighthouse, near Oceanside

(Oceanside, Oregon) – In part one of this trip down memory lane for the town of Oceanside, Oregon Coast Beach Connection looked at the very beginnings of the place, as the Rosenberg brothers created a burgeoning resort that was cut short by the great war. It covered the connection of Teddy Roosevelt and Star Trek, several unique features of the resort, and the origin of the name Maxwell Point.

Now, part two looks deeper into some of the history of World War II in the area, how the place was featured in a series of books, the beginning of the lighthouse, and some weird tales that are hard to figure out – including one that links the area to Scientology.

As Oceanside was just getting settled in the 1880's, just two miles up the road, the Cape Meares Lighthouse sprang into existence in 1890. It started construction a mere year or two earlier. Lugging the construction equipment and supplies on those then-primitive hillsides was quite an endeavor. In fact, building it cost almost $3,000 at the time (quite a fortune then). Most of the raw materials came from the cape and all the actual work was done on the spot.

The lighthouse lens is a first order Fresnel lens that was made in Paris, France, which had to come by ship, around Cape Horn. It was sailed up the west coast to Oregon, and was then lifted from that boat to the cliffs where it now stands by a crane made from local timbers.

It was decommissioned in 1963. Laying abandoned for almost ten years after that, it was heavily vandalized before being refurbished and used as a tourist attraction. The Cape Meares Lighthouse went through another big renovation around 2001 or so, where it looked really odd for six months all wrapped up in a kind of giant bubble wrap.

In 2010, two local men went on a drunken shooting spree at the lighthouse, riddling the building and lens with bullets. This did about half a million dollars in damage, including destroying parts of the 120-year-old lens. The Cape Meares Lighthouse was fully fixed back up, but not all parts of the lens are the same. (At right: restoration of the damage).

In the mid century, Ripley's Believe It or Not picked up on the existence of a weirdly shaped tree at Cape Meares that had eight remarkable, candelabra-like limbs. Called the Octopus tree, it had that famous spot in the book series until about the '80s. Sometime in the mid 1990's, a huge windstorm lopped off one of the massive limbs.

World War II all but killed the burgeoning tourism industry along the entire Oregon coast, with just about every locale either hosting a base of some sort or certainly patrols on the beach keeping an eye out for submarines or planes from Japan.

It did the same for Oceanside's big designs. The spot hosted hundreds of troops, however, who were usually in training and would eventually wind up elsewhere.

The most high-profile incident to come out of World War II was the crash of a B-17 bomber at Cape Lookout on August 2, 1943. There, one lone survivor endured a day and a half of torture by his own injuries and mishaps like nearly tumbling off the steep cliffs. More at What Really Happened with the Crashed B-17 Bomber on N. Oregon Coast.

If you take a five-minute drive on that road in back of Oceanside going towards Cape Meares, you'll bump into Radar Road and Short Beach rather quickly. Many troops were temporarily housed here as well, often in just tents. But there was also a radar station here. If you park in front of Short Beach, and walk north about 150 feet to a larger-than-usual transformer on a telephone poll, you may be able to see it. Stand across the street from the pole so you can see high up in the trees, about the level of the transformer. The remnants of the radar station lurk there.

The area's history is full of interesting little rumors and historical puzzles that have never quite been confirmed. One is that during World War II a cannon was placed around here – presumably on the other side of the tunnel – to defend the shores from invaders.

Crazier still is the now-legendary and mysterious story of a patrol boat that purportedly got into a skirmish with two, maybe more submarines about ten miles off of Cape Lookout. The incident, rather hotly debated, actually involves Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard in command of the vessel – which is well documented. He actually was.

The rest of the story, however, is suspect.

It was a sub chaser called SC-536, stationed out of Astoria, that was sent to investigate radar pings of at least one submarine off the Oregon coast on May 19, 1943. Accompanying it were two military blimps. All crews involved that night purportedly swear they had sunk a Japanese sub, and even witnessed the resultant oil slick and blood on the sea.

However, upon return to base, a general higher up the command chain denied their written report and claimed it never happened. The military apparently still sticks to that view today, in spite of what appears to be considerable written testimony by witnesses.

At the time, the only explanation for the cover-up seemed to be a matter of bad publicity and scaring those on the West Coast. This is not without precedent, as the government withheld for decades the fact German submarines were known to make maneuvers off New York and the East Coast. But why a cover-up regarding the Cape Lookout incident would continue now is unknown.

Still, the story seems to be largely written off by historians and some deem it a publicity plant by Scientologists. See Odd Oceanside History, N. Oregon Coast, Part 1: Roosevelt to Start Trek ......Where to stay in this area - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours

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