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Seaside During Wartime: N. Oregon Coast WWII History

Published 05/12/2020 at 5:44 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Seaside During Wartime: N. Oregon Coast WWII History

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(Seaside, Oregon) – There are a lot of little tidbits to Oregon coast history during World War II, although little of major importance happened there. It’s the slice of life moments and small pieces from newspapers at the time that tell the most, a kind of patchwork of what times were like back then. (Photo above: blimps often patrolled the Oregon coast during wartime. Courtesy Seaside Historical Society and Visit Seaside).

In Seaside, it was generally uneventful – except for one major historical moment. Yet the still-burgeoning tourist town was slogging through its crushed travel biz that wartime presented, and that in turn tells some fun tales.

Some varied moments of Seaside during those darker days:

In March of 1943, Seaside and Gearhart considered merging. It was something citizens of Coos Bay were watching with great interest because of a similar proposal on the southern Oregon coast. The two city councils had gotten together that week to discuss questions raised by local residents.

The idea was that it would also involve an unincorporated strip between them, a suburb of Seaside called Ocean Vista and the Palisades of southern Gearhart.

Wrote one newspaper at the time:

“Main point of the discussion was whether or not the bonded indebtedness of Seaside, which had been created prior to the merger should be assumed partially by Gearhart and the other districts.”

That merger clearly never happened.

The big news of the north Oregon coast happened on June 21, 1942, when some mysterious vessel fired upon Fort Stevens near midnight. See the full Fort Stevens Fired Upon story here. It turned out later it was a Japanese sub, but no one knew that in the first few days and reactions at the time are striking.

The headline on June 23 in Salem’s Capitol Journal was ‘We Can Take It,’ Say Residents on Coast. It describes Seaside residents as “grinning and unmistakably pleased” that they had been attacked by the enemy. It was a combo of relief and pride, said the newspaper.

They were downright cocky. Mrs. Margaret Robb said: “We’ve waited long enough for this attack. Now that it’s come, why, it’s not as bad as we feared.”

The paper goes on to describe residents flocking to a turnpike to watch the flashes of gunfire to the north, not realizing it was an actual attack. Robb described it as sounding “like giant hammers hitting the ground.”

The following day, Seasiders were curious and searching for where the shells landed. While it hadn’t been completely released yet, they had their suspicions the shelling happened between Gearhart and the Columbia River.

Astorians also took the shelling lightly, according to the paper, with some even considering it a joke. They predicted it would actually help and not hurt tourism.

Seaside's Natatorium in the '20s, later the Seaside Aquarium

The same day that most newspapers were reporting that shelling, an appeared in the Albany Democrat-Herald, paid for by the “Seaside Chapter of Commerce.” Its title was “You Can Have a Grand Vacation.” Signed by John Doe, publisher of Centerville Herald (no kidding), it proclaimed “Seaside is doing business as usual.” It went on to describe all the same excellent accommodations, amusements and recreational opportunities as still being alive and well.

Granted, like the rest of the country the Oregon coast was under lights out conditions at night. However:

“There are no military restrictions on the use of these beaches in the daytime,” the ad says. “Full recreational facilities – just as always – are at your disposal, without any interference of any kind. There is no reason why you should not enjoy your vacation this year at Seaside and Gearhart.”

It’s an interesting slice of life on the Pacific Northwest during the Great War, and a situation we can somewhat relate to now – or at least when beaches do open back up.

Winding back in time a few months, north Oregon coast residents were surprised by something that still surprises many of us today, although we’re steadily getting used to it. “Decaying Jellyfish Cover Seaside Beach” was the headline in March of 1942 in the Capitol Journal. They described a “carpet” of them, stretching for miles down Clatsop Beach.

Now we know by them as Velella velella or Purple Sails, but just as now there were different names used then. “They are the sail jellyfish, or blue medusa species,” the paper wrote. Hotels in Seaside - Where to eat - Seaside Maps and Virtual Tours

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