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Seaside's 'Sailors Grave' an Intricate N. Oregon Coast Mystery

Published 06/0102018 at 1:42 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

Seaside's 'Sailors Grave' an Intricate N. Oregon Coast Mystery

(Seaside, Oregon) - In an unassuming corner of Seaside’s The Cove area, almost tucked away, is a cryptic memorial and a flagpole, bearing the painted message “Known Only to God” and “Found on the Beach April 25, 1865.” You’ll find it at the eastern edge of the parking lot of this north Oregon coast surfing hotspot, next to a stand of soaring trees. (Sailors Grave photos by Robin Montero).

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These days some explanation placards have been added, so it’s a bit less of a mystery. Except for the big mystery it represents.

For over 150 years it’s been there, pretty much in the same spot. Known more or less officially as the “sailors grave,” it’s Seaside’s equivalent of a tomb of the unknown soldier, but in this case it’s men who sailed the sea. No one knows the identities of the men and no one ever will.

Whoever they were, they drowned here on the Oregon coast even before Seaside had its name. There’s one generally accepted tale about how it happened, but one local historian has discovered another possibility.

The primary tale was written around 100 years ago in a book about what was then recent history of the area. A local bigwig at the time named John Hobson is quoted as seeing three men come ashore in a small boat back in 1865, searching for fresh water for their fellow sailors onboard the main ship. The three departed just as a storm kicked in, and Hobson lit a fire on the beach so the men could find their way back if weather got too rough.

Exactly that happened, but the men did not make it back alive. He found them on the beach the following morning, drowned and deceased. It’s reportedly Hobson who buried them at this point just above the high tideline, with a small cross set there in memoriam.

Not even their nationality is known. Local historians like Gloria Linkey and Robin Montero say a lot of different nationalities came through here back then sailing to Astoria: French, Russian, Portuguese, British and others. The mystery men could’ve been from any one of those groups.

What is known is that there are a dozen or so various people buried on this beach from drowning mishaps – almost all of them with no identities as well. A little further inside the forest that borders the beach, there are native tribal burial grounds. This entire southern end of The Cove is full of remains of the unidentified. Montero and Linkey have documented that well over the years, included one sordid tale of a dead man found still strapped to part of a shipwreck that floated in.

Up until a little less than 100 years ago, this area was all uninhabited, and thus it was deemed the perfect eternal resting spot for these unlucky souls who were interred unnamed.

Montero moved into this neighborhood in the last decade and dove headlong into studying the history of The Cove. She came up with a second theory that the men buried there were from a ship known to have wrecked up the coast in late March, just before the incident with the three men from the rowboat.

It was a barque called The Industry which was waiting for weeks for a pilot to guide them across the sand bar at the mouth of the Columbia.

“But a storm came and they had no food or water, so the captain sent out some shipmates to get supplies and they drowned immediately,” Montero said. “The captain, the crew and the passengers were all manning the ropes to keep the ship righted. The captain decided to turn and risk the run into Astoria, and the ship went down.”

Among those who perished was their leader Captain Lewis, Montero said. She said it’s entirely possible Lewis’ body floated down here and washed ashore at The Cove, and it could be him within the Sailors Grave.

Despite knowing nothing about these men, residents have always considered them “local citizens,” according to a podcast by Linkey. Generations have carefully tended to the gravesite and honored them with flowers, and eventually even a flagpole. Montero, her husband and a host of other neighbors all pitch in to take care of the site these days. Lodging in Astoria/Seaside - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours

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