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Almost Haunted Oregon Coast: Yaquina Bay Lighthouse Lore and Legends, Part 2

Published 05/25/2020 at 5:54 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Almost Haunted Oregon Coast: Yaquina Bay Lighthouse Lore and Legends, Part 2

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(Newport, Oregon) – The Oregon coast town with two lighthouses has a rich history, and one of those lighthouses has quite the storied past even though it was only used for three years. The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse in Newport started up in 1871 and then shut down in 1874 as the Yaquina Head Lighthouse kicked into life. Yet after its closing, the little sentinel managed quite the run of drama throughout the decades, as people all around the state struggled to keep it from being torn down – and it even gave birth to quite the ghost tale. (Above: Newport's lighthouse around 1900, ripe for a ghost story).

In part one, Oregon Coast Beach Connection went through the first near 100 years of the historic attraction’s existence, as seen through the lens of local media coverage over those decades. See Landmarks and Legends of an Oregon Coast Lighthouse, Newport's Yaquina Bay, Part I. Part two picks up right at the centennial of the lighthouse, after it had been saved and after years of looking like it was haunted.

Parts one and two fill in some intriguing details of the lighthouses history, but you can get a greater overview with Oregon Coast History: Newport's Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and Trying Times.

1971. 100-Year Anniversary of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. A few local papers run similar articles on the subject.

Among the interviewees is a retiree from Minnesota named Fred Carriel who is close to 80 years old by this point and leads tours of the Oregon coast attraction. It apparently opened part time as a museum just after 1956, and even then was mostly a “sea museum,” featuring shells and examples of local sea creatures. There was, however, an old desk from the sea captain of a shipwrecked vessel near here, one that happened in 1888 – according to Coos Bay’s The World.

Lighthouse in the 1880s
Lighthouse in the 1880s.

Conversations with Carriel were a mix of interesting slices of Newport life back in ‘71 and not-so-accurate history of the lighthouse. For one thing, he told the newspaper that construction crews came up to this spot and started building the lighthouse by mistake. That flies in the face of now-standard documentation of how the land was purchased in 1870.

While unsubstantiated either way, he told one newspaper reporter from Coos Bay the bricks from the basement floor of the place originally came from the first paved street in San Francisco. They were brought by sailing ship as ballast (a kind of counterweight at sea), and then hauled up to this spot by mule team.

Another is the old ghost tale of Muriel. Originally, this was published in the local paper as a short story in 1899. It involved the daughter of a mythical lighthouse keeper going missing here after the lighthouse was shut down, and then a pool of blood being discovered with her handkerchief nearby. Ever since then, she purportedly haunted the area. Weird lights were supposedly seen up here at times, but that was simply odd lighting effects caused by city lights, the distant lighthouse at Yaquina Head and fog.

Cariel did little to discourage the rampant paranormal tale, which workers for state parks seemed a little irritated by. One aide told the newspaper the whole story is completely untrue, but it was clear that Cariel entertained visitors with it.

The tale got mixed up rather tightly with local history and the source forgotten for decades. Somewhere in the ‘80s the local history museum discovered the original short story, and finally ten years later regional media began publicizing that. Still, a few Oregon ghost books were written touting Muriel’s otherworldly presence before and after the discovery.

In more than one article, state park employee Lee Hoffman noted the kooky questions about the ghost.

“Some visitors even ask why they’ve painted over the blood on the stairway,” he said.

In 1972, the lighthouse was shut down for a couple of years as the real restoration began. Not much had been done before that, even though nearly 20 years before the lighthouse was saved on the premise locals would sooner rather than later start fixing it up.

Oregon Capital Journal, 1976. 100 people gathered at the state park here on the central Oregon coast to celebrate a quiet dedication to the lighthouse. Among the attendees were Gov. Bob Straub (who flew in by helicopter) and some descendants of Charles Pierce himself. He was the original and only light keeper there.

Straub talked about the sad fact there had once been a farewell party for the lighthouse. He said: “but there will be no more parties here to celebrate the demise of the lighthouse.”

That was all nearly 50 years ago, and the lighthouse has only gained in popularity over the decades, featuring volunteer tour guides dressed in period garb and featuring items and furnishings duplicating life as it was back then. It’s a vision much closer to that of Wilcox’s back then (see part one), a museum that gave you the feel of being in those lighthouse keepers quarters back in the 1870s.

Entrance is free by donation. See yaquinalights.org for the latest hours.

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