This weekend marks the start of a New Years resolution: to visit all of Oregon’s lighthouses. And thus, I say hello! to Terrible Tilly.
She is the lighthouse of sadder legend and a beacon in full. She was an elevated light, a signal, a celebration, and a warning. She noted one’s dangerous approach of the Columbia River. She made her home where advised not to because it was feasible nowhere else.
On most days these acres of the Pacific Ocean are stunning and foggy and severe. Building a lighthouse near these waters was a challenge magnified immensely by it being an islet. For five hundred and twenty-five days, builders and materials were shipped to and fro and raised atop the rock by derricks. For some the journey was furthered in endless sea. By 1881 the rock was flattened, the lighthouse built, lens calibrated, and the lantern first lit. The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse with its signature lighting— a repetitive, five second flash of white light— announced one’s oceanic locale. Tilly was tended by rotating groups of four keepers who in extreme isolation and tension and conditions kept her and sailors well from waves and wind until her decommission in 1957.
(The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse as spotted from Indian Beach, Oregon)
Tilly’s history continues into the eighties when she was sold to a private investor and her insides emptied. The beacon was recalibrated as it became the Eternity at Sea Columbarium.
From a meadowy overlook of Ecola State Park and Indian Beach I was able to spot Tillamook Rock Lighthouse with binoculars as close as a lay person can. It stands in an awing lonesomeness as it competes in height with waves.
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 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 to all, may old-timers, newcomers and travelers along the way pause from the shore in memory of your humanitarian role.
long-time keeper Oswald Allik writes in the lighthouse’s final logbook entry, 1957