Monday, July 5, 2010

"Terrible Tilly"

Tillamook Rock Light, by Gary D. Moon. Source: City of Cannon Beach.

After more than two years of arduous construction, during which a supervisor was drowned, Tillamook Rock, Oregon, went into service on January 21, 1881. Two weeks before, The New York Times reported these stories:
San Francisco, Jan. 7 – An Astoria dispatch says: “Wreckage is coming ashore on Clatsop Beach which indicates the total loss of the British ship Lupata. Buckets, barrel-heads, and other articles bearing the name ‘Lupata’ have come ashore. She is supposed to have gone to pieces near Tillamook Rock.”

San Francisco, Jan. 8 – A dispatch from Astoria says: “By the arrival of the Lighthouse tender this evening from Tillamook Rock, the loss of the British ship Lupata is confirmed. Capt. Wheeler, Superintendent of the Tillamook rock Light-house, arrived here this evening, and reports that on Monday evening, Jan. 3, about 8 o’clock, the weather being very thick and the wind blowing hard from the south-west, the workmen on the rock suddenly heard loud voices shouting, and on emerging from their houses saw the ship’s light just inside of the rock, and immediately after heard the command given, “hard aport.” Capt. Wheeler ordered lanterns to be placed in tower, and as speedily as possible a large bonfire was started, which revealed a large vessel apparently not 200 yards from the east side of the rock, with a red or port light in sight about five minutes, when it gradually disappeared, those on the rock concluding that the Captain had backed ship and successfully steered his vessel out of danger. This morning the fog had disappeared and it was found that the Captain, instead of rounding the rock to the westward, had run his vessel ashore on the reef running out from the Tillamook side, the topmast being plainly visible from 6 to 10 feet above the water. The shore line being a bold bluff rock for a considerable distance from the scene of the wreck, it is more than likely that the whole ship’s company were lost.
Lighthouse keepers, who had to be hauled up for duty via a breeches buoy, soon called the station "Terrible Tilly." A NYT report from 1894 shows why:

The Wreck of the Tillamook Light.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 Some details of the terrific storm on the Pacific coast, when the great lighthouse at Tillamook, Oregon, was wrecked, are contained in an official report received to-day by Capt. Wilde of the Lighthouse Board. The lighthouse is on a rock 91½ feet above high-water mark. The waves lashed the rock with such fury and violence that pieces weighing as much as 167 pounds were rent from its sides and hurled into the air about 140 feet, shattering thirteen panes of glass about the immense lens, and falling upon the wooden structures beneath, caving in the roof. The damage amounted to $1,200. A new light has been placed in position.
Still unimpressed? From a Dec. 26, 1897, NYT story on DESTRUCTIVE OCEAN WAVES:
A few years ago a heavy gale swept along the Oregon coast raising a sea that broke completely over Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. The two boats kept on the rock were swept away. The platform where stores and visitors were landed, which was anchored to the rocks with iron bolts, was swept away, a steam boiler and engine bed were carried off, and the tramway, though bolted to the rock, was torn up and destroyed. A few days afterward the waves got up to such a tremendous height that salt water, not spray, but solid water, poured down the dome of the lantern situated 157 feet above sea level.
From a July 6, 1902, NYT Magazine article on THE NEW "OCEAN GRAVEYARD":
Tillamook Rock is eighteen miles off the mouth of the Columbia River. There is a lighthouse on the rock which is called the high school of the Lighthouse Service. Two men have gone insane there from the loneliness and the peril of the elements. What happens occasionally to Tillamook will show just what a northwest storm can do. The rock is eighty feet above sea level, and water roundabout is ninety feet deep.

The house where the watchmen live is on the summit, and the light itself rises 136 feet above sea level. Yet during big storms the water often actually washes the plate glass of the light. Worse still, the keepers are compelled continually to be on the lookout for the rocks which are often hurled high above the island’s surface by the waves. The storm which sent the Lupata to the bottom was not the worst in the history of Tillamook. It is a fact vouched for by Chief Keeper Peronen that on Dec. 9, 1894, the waves broke off huge pieces of rock from the shore and hurled them high up against the light.
And from 1934:
5 BESIEGED BY SEA IN LIGHTHOUSE SAVED; Boat Crew Shoots Line Over Oregon Coast Rock Where Men Were Held 6 Weeks.
ASTORIA, Ore., Dec. 2 (AP). Delivered at last from a storm-besieged lighthouse in which they had been marooned six weeks, five men scurried to their homes today.

Their rescue was accomplished by the lighthouse tender Rose, which manoeuvred through treacherous seas to a point near Tillamook Rock Light, one mile off the Oregon shore. The crew of the Rose shot a line over the rock, set up a breeches buoy and removed the five.

Two hours were required to take off the five men and place two more on the half-acre rock. Two more hours were needed to land 1,500 pounds of fresh groceries and other supplies on the rock.

The men were brought here to recuperate from their illness. Most seriously ill were Henry Jenkins and E. La Schenger, who had been at the lighthouse for several months and twice had seen and heard the raging seas break waves which rolled up the sides of Tillamook Rock and completely over the 133-foot lantern tower.

The workers had been placed there to repair damage wrought six weeks ago by a storm which ripped away the regular landing derrick.
Tillamock Rock Light was deactivated in 1957 and eventually sold to be used as a columbarium (repository for human cremains). But as the Times reported in 2007, "the departed rest not quite in peace" because the columbarium owner's license was revoked and the lighthouse--now accessible only by helicopter--is succumbing to the elements and bird droppings.

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