Oregon Coast Lighthouse Keeper Talks About His Experiences
(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – Sitting on a secluded chunk of basalt about a mile from the north Oregon coast towns of Seaside and Cannon Beach, one distant lighthouse has mesmerized generations gazing at the mysterious figure. (Above: This image was most likely taken in 1939, but could have been earlier - prior to the Coast Guard taking over the management of the lighthouse from the US Bureau of Lighthouses. Photos courtesy Cannon Beach History Center).
The wild, rough and tumble existence of life aboard the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse comes to life in June as one of the men who spent considerable time there gives a talk about old “Terrible Tilly” on Saturday, June 14, at the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum.
Haynes jokingly refers to himself as a former inmate of “the rock.” He was stationed there from 1953 until 1957 and says the life of a Tillamook Rock lighthouse keeper was secluded and at times quite lonely. Keepers found ways to entertain themselves. Haynes will share tales of pranks, challenges with supply delivery and even how he got on and off the rock.
Sometimes called Terrible Tilly for the constant wave batterings it receives, Tillamook Rock Lighthouse sits out on a secluded chunk of basalt about a mile away from Tillamook Head. It is considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th Century and remains shrouded in mystery. It took a little less than 600 long and arduous days to construct.
Terrible Tilly is one of the most fascinating and secluded lighthouses of America, and the most infamous on the Oregon coast. It was in operation from 1881 until it was decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1957. During its life as a fully functioning lighthouse, Tilly acted as a warning beacon to thousands of vessels skirting the coastline. The Columbia River became a busy part of marine commerce in the mid-to-late 1800’s.
The waters surrounding the mouth of the Columbia River were and are still considered the most dangerous in the world. Ships lost to the sea were so common that the waters became known as the Graveyard of the Pacific.
The lighthouse was home to a crew of up to five men at a time. Women were never stationed there due to the difficulty and danger involved in getting on and off the rock.
In 1957, Tilly shone from the Oregon coast for the last time. The last keeper there, Oswald Allik, lamented the end of the lighthouse’s life, no matter how scary the place was.
Crew of the Lighthouse in 1956. It includes civilian keeper Oswald Allik, Lon Haynes and the entire crew of the year. Historical photos courtesy Cannon Beach History Center.
He wrote in the log book:
“Farewell, Tillamook Rock Light Station. An era has ended. With this final entry, and not without sentiment, I return thee to the elements. You, one of the most notorious and yet most fascinating of the sea-swept sentinels in the world; long the friend of the tempest-tossed mariner. Through howling gale, thick fog and driving rain your beacon has been a star of hope and your foghorn a voice of encouragement. May the elements of nature be kind to you. For 77 years you have beamed your light across desolate acres of ocean. Keepers have come and gone; men lived and died; but you were faithful to the end. May your sunset years be good years. Your purpose is now only a symbol, but the lives you have saved and the service you have rendered are worthy of the highest respect. A protector of life and property all, may old-timers, newcomers and travelers along the way pause from the shore in memory of your humanitarian role." - Oswald Allik, September 1, 1957.
The lurking landmark was soon auctioned off and spent time shuffling from one owner to another. There were rumors of owners with mob ties, claims of ghosts, and even a short time spent as a vacation rental. The lighthouse was difficult to get to and so was claimed by sea birds and sea lions as the perfect stopping and nesting points.
The exhibit is currently on display so you can dig deeply into the place's history now.
Haynes' talk that Saturday is free and begins at 5:30 p.m. Cannon Beach History Center and Museum is at the Corner of Sunset & Spruce, Cannon Beach, Oregon. 503.436.9301.
More about Cannon Beach below and at the Cannon Beach Virtual Tour, Map.
This image was from an issue of Life Magazine published in 1942 about the role of the Oregon Coast during WWII.
Lon Haynes smoking a cigarette during some off time on the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse.
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