On a scenic basalt rock headland that juts almost a mile into the Pacific Ocean stands a beautiful white lighthouse. At 93 feet tall, the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, located in Newport, Oregon, is the state’s tallest lighthouse. It's been guiding ships for 145 years.
First lit on Aug. 20, 1873, the lighthouse has gained quite the storied history. And that includes two ghost stories.
One tale tells of a construction worker helping to build the tower who fell to his death. His body lodged between the double walls, never to be retrieved. He — and his ghost — have been sealed in ever since.
The second story is that in the 1920s, Keeper Smith went into town and left Keeper Higgins in charge. But Higgins fell sick and asked Keeper Story to take over. When Smith saw from Newport that the lighthouse beacon wasn’t lit, he rushed back to find Higgins dead and Story drunk. Story, overtaken with guilt, feared the ghost of Higgins and from then on would take his bulldog up the tower with him.
As with most ghost stories, the authenticity of these is highly doubted. The first story is unauthenticated, and the second story is impossible. As Lighthouse Friends clarifies:
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 in the tower. Rather, Higgins left the Lighthouse Service before 1920 and returned to live with his mother in Portland. Second Assistant Keeper did die of a heart attack in the watchroom atop the tower in March 1921, but he too served before the arrival of Frank Story.
Fortunately, much more than ghosts can be seen at Yaquina Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse stands on what is now the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, one of the most spectacular spots on the coast for viewing ocean wildlife such as sea birds and harbor seals at close range, as well as traipsing through tide pools at low tide. An interpretive center highlights information about these wild inhabitants and features exhibits on the historical details of the lighthouse.
The original oil-powered light has given way to an automated first-order Fresnel lens and a 1,000-watt globe. It flashes with its own specific pattern: two seconds on, two off, two on, and 14 off. The pattern is repeated around the clock.
While a little illumination causes the ghost stories to fade, visitors can still see a lot with a visit to Yaquina Head. Whether it's grey whales at close range during their migration, or the sun setting over the ocean and silhouetting the tall structure, visitors are always happy they stopped to take in both the scene and the history of this special place.