Superstitious sailors, sea shanties, ghost stories – there’s a certain romanticized atmosphere that dwells on coastlines like a morning fog. Our own Oregon coast is no different, with its own set of stories that are intriguing and oftentimes spooky.
Collected here are a few of the many stories set in Oregon’s seaward places. Have a look, and maybe find among them a new place to visit next time you’re coastbound.
The Heceta Head Lighthouse – Florence
Nothing quite evokes those classic elements of seaside stories like a haunted lighthouse. With over a century of history, the Heceta Head Lighthouse has guided sailors to safety, served as a WWII barracks, been a satellite campus for Lane Community College, and within the last few decades, has been converted into a bed and breakfast. It’s also one of the most haunted locations along the coast, thanks to a ghost named “Rue.”
Over the years, many guests have reported stories of an apparition in Victorian dress, or of feeling a ghostly presence watching them. Stories of furniture being moved and the sounds of a broom sweeping across the floor have also cropped up.
A particularly interesting story comes from Jim Anderson, a worker doing maintenance on the lighthouse. While working in the attic, Anderson saw a strange shape in the window’s reflection. He turned around to see a ghostly woman in Victorian dress staring back at him. After this, he fled the lighthouse and refused to return to the attic. When fixing the attic’s broken window, he elected to work from the outside and left the broken pieces of glass on the attic floor.
As far as ghosts go, Rue seems like one of the nicer ones. Reports often state that her presence is unnerving, but never feels malicious. It’s theorized that Rue was the wife of a lighthouse keeper back in the 19th century. It’s said that the unmarked grave on the hillside is for one of Rue’s daughters, who drowned. Local legend suggests that Rue left the lighthouse following the death and now haunts the area, looking for her departed daughter. Her presence is most often felt at the cabin itself, especially “Victoria’s Room” – which guests can request to stay in.
The Ghost of Heceta Head has proven to be quite popular, as many guests come to the lighthouse specifically to experience the paranormal. The lighthouse even has a journal in which guests can read stories of past hauntings and add accounts of their own.
The Legend of Larry Sullivan – The Columbia River
Away from the coast and into the Columbia River, our next story is less concerned with the supernatural and more with the criminal activities that occurred among sailors in the 19th and 20th centuries. Sullivan’s story reads like something out of a pulp fiction novel: a skilled prizefighter who became a crime boss, leveraging his underworld connections for political influence and power.
Sullivan began his enterprise by taking over the boarding houses in which sailors stayed while their ships were in port. Oftentimes when a ship needed to fill out its crew, the boarding house’s owner would coerce one of their boarders and conscript them to service aboard the ship, collecting a hefty sum from the captain which was drawn from the boarder’s future wages. This act, known as “shanghaiing,” was akin to slavery, forcing unsuspecting sailors to work against their will and enforcing obedience via violence and intimidation. Boarding house owners responsible for these acts were known as “crimpers.”
A surprisingly well-spoken man with a head for business and a tendency for violent solutions, Sullivan and his partners, the Grant Brothers, hardly faced any problems while tightening their grip on the Columbia River’s crimping market.
The story gets even more interesting when Amon “Mysterious Billy” Smith enters the scene. Cut from almost the exact same cloth as Sullivan, Billy was also a champion boxer who turned to crimping in order to make a living. Being so similar, both men got along well… at first. Whereas Sullivan and his partners were fine with leaving Billy’s operation alone, the Mysterious boxer’s ambition ruled out any chances for coexistence between the two shanghaiing enterprises. With tensions rising, it seemed as though violence would erupt between these two prizefighter-criminals. Yet it never came. Instead, Sullivan used his political influence to get Billy’s operation outlawed.
Sullivan eventually left the state to promote boxing events throughout the country, though his legend leaves a dark stain upon the maritime history of Oregon.
More stories about the infamous crimpers of Portland can be found in Barney Blalock’s The Oregon Shanghaiers: Columbia River Crimping from Astoria to Portland.
Pixieland – Lincoln City
Stepping away from the nautical and into the carnival, Pixieland was an ultimately failed attempt to establish an amusement park in Lincoln City.
Set to be the next business venture for Jerry Parks, owner of the highly successful Pixie Kitchen, Pixieland opened the doors to its 53 acre compound in 1969. There was much fanfare at the start. The park boasted about a dozen rides, many eateries, and even a spot for trailer campers. Yet, things died down rather quickly. In just a few years, attendance became almost nonexistent, with Parks cutting down his own salary and selling off bits of the property to make ends meet.
As Pixieland’s profits started to decline, signs of decay started to show. The high upkeep of the amusement park led to many buildings being abandoned; salty ocean air began to tarnish the decrepit structures, leading to Pixieland looking as though it was the setting of some old horror movie. By 1975, the park was a wasteland, and the owner announced that he would be phasing it out. In 1978, the Pixieland company officially folded, with Parks retiring.
Today, visitors would be hard-pressed to find evidence of where Pixieland once stood, as the plot of land has since been reclaimed by nature. Little bits of Pixieland can be found in miscellaneous places all over Lincoln City, but only a plaque remains on the old property to signify that anything was ever there.
An excellent in-depth look into Pixieland’s history can be found here.
Special thanks to BeachConnections.net, the Redmond Spokesman, and the Register-Guard for providing much of the historical information used in this article
By Thomas Nguyen