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Lots of (Delightful) Lighthouse Lies: Oregon Coast Lighthouse with the Tallest Tales

Published 1/03/24 at 2:25 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Lots of (Delightful) Lighthouse Lies: Oregon Coast Lighthouse with the Tallest Tales

(Newport, Oregon) – It's partially age, it's partially just easy prey: lighthouses are ripe for a good ghost story. This is very true on the Oregon coast, especially at Newport's larger sentinel, the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Ghost tales swirl about it like, well, ghosts in an iconic, '80s comedy flick about spooks. It's the tallest in the state (93 feet), beating Port Orford's Blanco Light by a bit, and it has the tallest tales. (All photos Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

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Speaking of which: they've all been ghost-busted. First, you have to believe in ghosts – and secondly then you have to buy into pre-internet viral misinformation (back then that was word-of-mouth). In fact, Oregon Coast Beach Connection was there when one biggie was debunked. Yet there's other tall tales about the place as well that history has seen fit to correct.

In the end, it's a quaint to quirky little journey through lighthouse history.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse got its start in 1873, and the keeper's quarters was built just later that year. Immediately, one rumor comes creeping in about its beginning: it was not built in the wrong spot by accident. Rumor has it the light was intended to be built on Cape Foulweather, and that Foulweather had been misnamed Yaquina Head on the building plans. However, historians like James Gibbs and local filmmaker Scott Gibson have busted that one open for decades. See Yaquina Bay Lighthouse history

The most prominent spook story involves a lighthouse keeper named Higgins who supposedly got drunk, then fell and broke his neck on the spiral staircase. Another version has the man becoming deathly ill. Yet he was forced to work on the lens until he passed out and died, all due to the negligence of a co-worker who didn’t attend to his duties. In any case, Higgins purportedly haunted the place thereafter, and his old coworker refused to go near the staircase at night for fear of running into the ectoplasmic Higgins.

Another story claims a construction worker fell to his death in between the layers of a wall while the building was being built. His corpse could not be retrieved, so the building was supposedly finished with his body still inside.

Those stories were eventually all shot down. The Bureau of Land Management, which now runs the lighthouse, spilled the beans about 2000 or so. One future Oregon Coast Beach Connection editor was working for another paper, and he called the BLM office, telling him they had recently received a letter from a descendant of Mr. Higgins who said he did not die in the lighthouse. He moved to Portland, became a dockworker, and eventually died of natural causes there in the '30s.

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There is also a tale of a head lighthouse keeper who died in a storm while trying to cross a creek close to the ocean, getting washed in by a large wave. The story has his daughter so bereaved she shot herself. It’s said sometimes you see her spirit wandering the beaches between Agate Beach and Nye Beach, looking for dear old Dad.

Also see Newport's other light: Oregon Coast History: Newport's Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and Trying Times

Even Hollywood has seeped its way into these old bones. 'Story has it the Hardy Boys filmed an episode here in the '70s. It was a Halloween episode, apparently, so the lighthouse interior had been strung with fake cobwebs and such. When crews left they did not clean up, and those in charge of the lighthouse then had to sue the production company.

That sweet bit 'o Hollywood gossip circulated for awhile on the central Oregon coast, but efforts to go digging for the real story have dredged up nada. It's possible there's still something to it, however.

The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse did assist in one rather historic, dramatic incident: the fiery wreck of the Marhoffer in the 1910s, which gave Boiler Bay near Depoe Bay its name. Part of the crew that was stranded made it down to this lighthouse on foot, alerting authorities to their situation and eventual rescure. See J. Marhoffer wrecked near Depoe Bay

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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