An abandoned lighthouse surrounded by stories of ghosts and accidents

Terrible Tilly: Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, its dark legends and its tragic history

Los faros marítimos suelen ser construidos en lugares peligrosos de la costa, y por eso a veces su historia se entrelaza con terribles tragedias.

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There are some lighthouses whose construction was a great challenge due to their location. The most extreme case is the Thridrangar lighthouse, in Iceland, but there are other less known lighthouses that are also very dangerous. One of them is Tillamook Rock Light, it is located in front of the Tillamook Head promontory, in Clatsop County (Oregon, USA).

The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse in 1891 (Photo: Library of Congress).

The history of this sinister lighthouse is associated with Indian legends and tragic events. The Native Americans of the area never approached that place. They believed it was a cursed place inhabited by evil spirits, which They supposedly lived in tunnels dug into the rock.

The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse in 1947 (Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration).

Even before its construction, this lighthouse was marked by tragedy. The place chosen for this light signal was a rocky promontory so difficult to access that in 1979 surveyor John Trewavas was hit by a wavewhen he was trying to get to the site to do a study on the cost of leveling the top of the rock. The sea swallowed his body and he was never found. That fact only increased the fear that the locals felt for that place.

An image of the dark rock on which the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was built (Photo: United States Coast Guard).

No local resident wanted to work on its construction, surely not only because of its dark legends, but also because it was a very violent stretch of coast, with strong winds and big waves. Members of the Army Corps of Engineers had to be brought in and were prevented from talking to the locals so that they would not frighten them with their stories about that dark basalt rock. Its construction lasted more than a year and a half and was full of difficulties, but in 1880 the rock at the top was leveled.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse seen from the air (Photo: United States Coast Guard).

A 19 meter high tower was built on the leveled part. The lighting was initially done with an oil vapor lamp and a Fresnel lens, whose light was located 41 meters above sea level. During its construction, a strong storm left a group of workers isolated on the rock for two weeks, almost reaching starvation. The multiple setbacks and the difficulty of leveling that rock resulted in the Tillamook Rock lighthouse being the most expensive of the lighthouses built on the West Coast of the United States.

A few days before the inauguration of the lighthouse, at the beginning of January 1881, another tragic event occurred at the place. The "Lupatia", a three-masted brig-barque, came too close to Tillamook Rock in the middle of thick fog. When the crew wanted to correct the ship's course it was too late. One of the builders heard the crew's screams and lights were hastily placed on Tillamook Rock to alert the "Lupatia" to the presence of those rocks. The fog and the night swallowed the "Lupatia". The next day 16 bodies of her crew appeared on the coast. Of all the ship's occupants, only one dog was saved.

The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse in January 2012 (Photo: LDELD).

The tragedy of the "Lupatia" increased the black fame of that lighthouse before its inauguration, which took place on January 21, 1881. From then on, as if the Indian legends had come to life, they began to circulate mystery stories around the lighthouse. In 2018, Clatsop News collected stories about a ghost ship, chilling moans in the middle of the night, a benign ghost of a lighthouse keeper who loved that place and had asked to be buried there, and also an evil ghost of another lighthouse keeper who came to chase one of the keepers of the light up the stairs. The hard life in this lighthouse, in such a dangerous place, gave rise to all kinds of mental disorders in its keepers.

In 1897 a telephone line was installed to the mainland, a valuable connection between the outside world and that place that seemed haunted by mystery and misfortune. A storm uprooted the line shortly after. In 1912, a violent storm uprooted 100 tons of rock from Tillamook Rock, and in 1934 the Fresnel lens was destroyed during another storm. Before reaching a century, on September 1, 1957 the lighthouse was deactivated and abandoned. By then, that tower had earned the nickname "Terrible Tilly" for years due to its dark history and the violent climate of the place.

The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is currently abandoned and for sale (Photo: LDELD).

The story of "Terrible Tilly" did not end there. In 1980 the lighthouse was bought by a company to install a columbarium, installing 30 funeral urns there with the ashes of as many deceased people. The concession for the columbarium was revoked in 1999 and the site has been abandoned since then. Since 2022 the lighthouse has been for sale, although for part of the year access by sea is prohibited due to the terrible weather, and access is only possible by helicopter.

In the following video from Geist View you can see images of the Tillamook Lighthouse Rock taken with a drone between 2016 and 2017:


Main photo: Jwyoung.

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