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 Yaquina Head, OR    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.Fee charged.Volunteer keeper program offered.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.Lighthouse appeared in movie.Boo! Lighthouse haunted.Active Fresnel Lens
Description: Yaquina Head Lighthouse can be a spooky place on a dark, cold, windy night. Stories are told of ghosts lurking and ship compasses not working.

The fact that a lighthouse was ever meant for Yaquina Head has come into question, since early records of the Lighthouse Board refer to the lighthouse as Cape Foulweather.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse and duplex in 1890s
Photograph courtesy University of Oregon Libraries
Located roughly six miles north of Yaquina Head, Cape Foulweather was named by Captain James Cook on March 7, 1778 for the stormy weather his expedition encountered there. For some reason, Cook did not name Yaquina Head, and until the 1890s it was often called Cape Foulweather by the locals and was even listed as such on some nautical charts. A closer look at lighthouse records shows that the lighthouse was meant to be right where it is, but the undying myth that it was intended for the real Cape Foulweather only adds to the lighthouse's mystique.

It seems there has been trouble with the lighthouse from the beginning. After Congress appropriated $90,000, construction work began on September 1, 1871 but was often delayed due to the tempestuous Oregon winter. Lighters shuttling materials to shore in the cove on the south side of the head often had difficulty landing, and at least two overturned in the surf and lost their cargo. When landing was not possible at Yaquina Head, materials were offloaded at Newport and then had to be hauled six miles over an almost impassable road. The metalwork for the lighthouse was completed by Oregon Iron Works of Portland, Oregon in June 1872. After persistent efforts to secure a charter from Portland to Yaquina Head, the material had to be shipped via San Francisco.

The tower, built with 370,000 bricks made by the Patent Brick Company of San Rafael, California, is double walled for insulation and dampness protection. One story, which has circulated for years, tells of a workman falling from the scaffolding into the hallow between the masonry walls where his body could not be retrieved. A fine story, and perhaps an explanation for the station's purported ghost, but records show no workers were killed during construction. Strong winds did blow one worker off the cliff, but amazingly, his oils skins acted somewhat like a parachute and he only received minor injuries.

The lighting of the Barbier & Fenestre first-order Fresnel lens was delayed eight months when three of sixteen wooden crates, filled with pieces of the lantern room, were lost at sea. The captain of the vessel carrying the cargo ordered the crates tossed overboard as his vessel was "in stress of weather." Finally, after almost two years of toil, the tower's fixed white light, produced by a four-wick lamp fueled by lard oil, shone for the first time on August 20, 1873. The first head keeper, Fayette Crosby, lived in a two-story duplex, constructed seventy feet east of the lighthouse, and had served from 1857 to 1860 as keeper of Umpqua River Lighthouse. His two assistants at Yaquina Head shared the other side of the duplex.

At ninety-three feet, Yaquina Head is the tallest tower on the Oregon coast and is a sibling to Pigeon Point Lighthouse, California and Bodie Island Lighthouse, North Carolina, which were built at the same time. The light shines 162 feet above the ocean and can be seen nineteen miles out to sea.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse with duplex and newer dwelling - circa 1935
Photograph courtesy University of Oregon Libraries
Given its exposed location, the station was in a constant battle with nature. The report of the Lighthouse Board for 1880 describes the struggle.

This is ... an exposed headland where violent gusts of wind are not infrequent. The soil near the upper surface is very friable and is filled with gravel and small pebbles. During squalls the face of the cliff is swept by the winds and great quantities of sand and gravel are lifted from their beds and driven against the buildings, injuring the shutters and breaking the glass. To screen the station in a moderate degree against this influence a close board fence about 8 feet high was built, in August, around the crest of the bluff close up to the margin, to arrest as far as practicable the flight of the gravel and throw it back upon the beach below. It has worked very satisfactorily. In January, the roof of the dwelling was greatly injured, the fences were blown down, the pickets broken off, and the displaced material scattered, drift-like, over the station. In October and January, sea-fowls broke, in the nighttime, several panes of glass in the lantern.

Mineral-oil lamps replaced the station's lard-oil lamps in 1888, and a galvanized-iron oil house was built to store the volatile fluid.

The following report, dated October 18, 1920, was filed by the keeper of Yaquina Head Lighthouse. "Last night lightning struck the office and storeroom building. It tore off the copper, lead, and shingles where the roof joins on to the tower; it struck all four corners and followed the water pipes down to the ground and shattered tiles that the pipes run into. It also tore off the molding in the hallway. It struck another place near the ground and scorched and blackened the paint and tore up the ground about 6 feet." The office and storeroom are housed in a small brick building connected to the base of the tower by a passageway. The building was not equipped with a lightning rod, as it was thought that the rod on the tower would provide sufficient protection, but after this incident, one was installed.

In 1899, the Lighthouse Board requested funds to construct an additional dwelling for the keepers, but the allocation was not made until 1919. By this time, the second assistant had moved out of the duplex and was living in a storehouse. No bids were submitted in 1920 for constructing the building, and when the work was readvertised the following year, the received bids were rejected for being excessive. A modified bid was finally accepted in 1922, and a one-story residence with a concrete basement was completed that year. The new dwelling, built east of the original duplex, can be seen in this postcard. The historic duplex was torn down in 1938 and replaced by a smaller dwelling.

Another story circulating as an explanation of the station's ghost was told by Keeper William Smith's granddaughter-in-law. In the 1920s, Keeper William Smith reportedly went into town with his family leaving assistants Herbert Higgins and Frank Story in charge. Higgins fell ill, and Story got drunk. Seeing that Story had not tended the light, Higgins got out of bed and climbed the tower only to collapse on the landing near the lantern room.

From Newport, Keeper Smith noticed that his light was not shining and hurried back to the lighthouse. Upon his arrival, he found Higgins dead and Story inebriated. After that, Story, filled with guilt, feared Higgins' ghost and always took his bulldog into the tower during his watch.

A great tale, but unfortunately not supported by the facts that Story and Higgins didn't serve at the same time at Yaquina Head and Higgins didn't meet his demise at the tower. Rather, Higgins retired from the Lighthouse Service in 1922 and went on to become a ferry operator.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse with two modern dwellings and a tower for the radiobeacon, added in 1938
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
But whether or not the station's ghost was that of Herbert Higgins, John Zenor, a stocky, curly haired character, who served at the station from 1932 to 1954, reported encounters with the ghost, "someone unseen would come in and go up the spiral stairs. After the war [World War II] we never heard him again."

Ships passing close to Yaquina Head have reported their compasses going awry. While eerie, there is a simple explanation. There is a vein of magnetized iron in the outcropping on which the lighthouse sits, and if a ship passes too close, a traditional compass will not give an accurate reading.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse has always been popular with visitors, whether seen or unseen. Keeper Zenor reported at times he would have up to 600 visitors in a day. In 1938, with close to 12,000 visitors, Yaquina Head was the fourth-most-visited lighthouse in the United States. Taking pride in what was considered one of the best maintained lighthouses on the West Coast, keepers requested visitors to take off their shoes before they crossed the marble rotunda and climbed the 114 stairs. After retiring following twenty-six years of service, Zenor was known to have said he could never understand people's fascination with lighthouses.

The station was electrified in 1933 and then automated on May 1, 1966, allowing the last two Coast Guard keepers to leave the station. The two keeper's dwellings, which had been boarded up and abandoned, were demolished in 1984. The original lens is still in place, but is now illuminated with an electric bulb. Since 1939, the light has had a signature of two seconds on, two seconds off, two seconds on, then fourteen seconds off.

Mysterious occurrences continued to happen at Yaquina Head after its keepers left. In 1998, Buddy, a five-year-old German shepherd, was taking a late rainy night walk with his master near the lighthouse when the dog fell over a cliff. Rescue workers were called out and could hear the dog barking on the beach below. After surveying the scene with search lights, it was determined that the only way to retrieve the dog was to rappel down the cliff. While the crew was waiting for additional help to arrive, the dog suddenly appeared uninjured by one of the fire trucks. No one could understand how he got up the slippery cliff.

In 1993, the Coast Guard turned the station over to Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and visitors were once again allowed to climb the tower, which had been closed to the public for several years. Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses works towards the preservation and interpretation of the lighthouse, and a thorough restoration of the tower, costing one million dollars, was completed in 2006. The restoration effort focused on repairing or replacing heavily eroded cast-iron pieces at the top of the tower. Nationally prominent metalsmith Alex Klahm, of St. Petersburg, Florida, supervised the work and supplied authentic iron and bronze castings to replace the most severely damaged parts. The lantern room, previously colored red and green, is now black, its original color.

Just south of the lighthouse are amazing tide pools where seaweeds, sea stars, hermit crabs, purple urchins, and anemones can be seen. The lighthouse is still quite popular, receiving over 400,000 visitors a year. It is only open to the public during daylight hours. Perhaps so no one gets spooked.

Keepers: Fayette S. Crosby (1873 1875), Shadrack L. Wass (1875 1886), Frank N. Plummer (1886 1908), Henry E. Wilson (1908 1914), William Smith (1914 - 1929), George J. Smith (1929 1930), Charles Miller (1930 1932), Ray Edgar Dunson (1932 1932), Thomas Wyman Albee (1937 1939), Gilbert H. Fulkerson (1939 1945), John L. Zenor (1945 1954), Loren Robb (1964 1966).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3

References

  1. Annual Report of the Lighthouse Board, various years.
  2. To Guide, Guard, and Rescue: Building the Yaquina Lighthouses, Jetties, and Life-Saving Station, George M. Collins, 2010.
  3. "Yaquina Head Lighthouse," Jack Delaini, The Keeper's Log, Winter 1995.
  4. Oregon's Seacoast Lighthouses, Jim Gibbs, 2000.
  5. Umbrella Guide to Oregon Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1994.
  6. Lighthouses of the Pacific, Jim Gibbs, 1986.

Location: Located one mile west of Agate Beach.
Latitude: 44.67681
Longitude: -124.07938

For a larger map of Yaquina Head Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.


Travel Instructions: From Highway 101 in Agate Beach, three miles north of Newport, turn west on Lighthouse Drive and follow it to the lighthouse.

Click here for information on visiting Yaquina Head Lighthouse. For more information, call (541) 574-3100. Lighthouse tour tickets need to be picked up in the visitor center located several hundred yards before reaching the lighthouse. Click here to watch a video on Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

The lighthouse is owned by the Bureau of Land Management and is part of the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. Grounds/tower open during posted hours.

Find the closest hotels to Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
Yaquina Head Lighthouse was used in the filming of the 1983 movie "Hysterical." The main character, Frederic Lansing (Bill Hudson), a writer from New York City, tries to escape to the remote lighthouse to write a great novel, but his plans are interrupted by a resident ghost. The two keeper's dwellings appear in the movie, but were torn down a year or so after the filming.

In 1948, several newspapers across the country carried the following tidbit: The longest straight-line east-west distance in the United States extends 2807 miles, from West Quoddy Head, Maine, to Yaquina Head, Oregon. Both headlands just happen to have lighthouses.


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