June 24, 2015's Weekly Slap:

“Beach Slapped” is what it is because from the moment I first came to the Oregon Coast, most every moment I lived here, and even my last hours here, it was always about the beach. That wasn’t always true of my life, and perhaps that’s been my problem.

Growing up in Colorado, I was a long way from the beach. I don’t care what anyone says, lounging next to a giant lake/ civic water supply is not the beach.

BartonGroverHowe.com:Where to keep up with humor writer Barton Grover Howe. Here, you'll find all of his Beach Slapped columns from The News-Times in Lincoln County, Oregon, excerpts from his latest books and the occasional random musing that would get him fired if he published it in a family newspaper.
Lighting the way for ghosts and toupee's
- July, 2006
In the late 1860’s the growing community of Newport wanted to be seen as the next big-time American city, the next San Francisco. The question was how to make this happen.

A magnificent bridge was still 60 years in the future, Barry Bonds was unwilling to come because no one knew how to cram an oyster into a syringe, and none of the locals knew how to cook Rice-a-Roni.

But then they looked at the lighthouse on Alcatraz Island and immediately knew the truth: they must build a prison. It would bring both criminals and Clint Eastwood to town, who would escape from it at least four times a month on cable television. More rational heads prevailed, however, and the citizens decided to clamor for a lighthouse instead.

By 1871 the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was open. Lit by whale oil behind a red lens, it was a beacon the world: “Newport is here! Whales are doomed!”

The first and only lightkeeper at Yaquina Bay was a Scotsman named Pierce. He made $1,000 a year and stayed until the lighthouse closed in 1874. Why the lighthouse should close after such a short period of time has been the matter of some debate.

Some people say it was built in the wrong place; the location, while effective at letting people know where the bay was, didn’t keep ships from actually crashing into the shore. (This is a bad thing.) Others say it was really only meant to be functional for a short time and was supposed to close quickly, much like Andrew Lloyd Weber’s CATS.

In reality, however, it all started on a rainy night in 1874, with a ship’s captain on leave in Newport. Waiting for his vessel at the lighthouse, he knew she would never make the harbor if the light wasn’t made brighter. Pierce, however, responded, “Cop-ten! I doon’t ‘ave the power!” and the lighthouse’s warp engine exploded. Upon landing, William Shatner’s toupee suffocated four sea lions.

Fortunately, the Yaquina Head Lighthouse had opened by this time and the coast was safe. However, getting the lighthouse built had been a pretty much one disaster after another. Two lighters were destroyed during construction. A ship carrying supplies had partially wrecked on the bar, resulting in financial losses and a whole host of Newporters saying, “See? I told you the old lighthouse is in the wrong place.”

There is an ongoing story that the Yaquina Head Lighthouse was built in the wrong place, too. And, when you consider that all the supplies had to be brought in from the ocean and pulled up the cliff by rope, Yaquina Head does seem like a fairly strange place to build. Further, when people discover that the lighthouse was supposed to be built at Cape Foulweather, it’s obvious this was a colossally stupid mistake, one almost as monumental as CBS turning down “American Idol.”

The reality, however, is that in the late 19th century, Yaquina Head was known as Cape Foulweather. Federal government officials knew what they were doing. This has never happened again, according to most radio talk show hosts.

Of course, just getting the parts to Yaquina Head, much less up the cliff, was a feat.

The lens was originally manufactured in Paris in 1868 by H. Lapaunte, Esq., who would eventually have a magazine named after him. From France, the lens was shipped to Panama, where they discovered the canal wouldn’t be finished for nearly 40 years. Even part of the lantern was lost at sea during transportation from the east coast.

Nevertheless, on August 20, 1873 the lamp was lit, but life still wasn’t easy. Winter storms blew gravel through the windows, tore off shutters and knocked down fences. To protest working conditions, the French lens went on strike once every two weeks.

This made life at the lighthouse hard. As early as 1899 officials knew the living quarters were ineffective for the three men living there, which the men pointed out that year, and the next, and the next, and the next, and . . . (In all fairness, the Department of Homeland Security said they will get to this soon.)

Life at the lighthouse could also be deadly, although most believers in the paranormal would suggest these victims are like Larry King in that they will never really go away. The first was a young girl named “Muriel” or maybe it was “Zina.” Apparently, sprits mumble a lot.

In any case, as the story goes, she had been left in Newport by her father to await his return from the sea. Picnicking with some friends shortly after the closure of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, she returned to the building to retrieve her Gameboy or some such thing. Within minutes, the doors locked behind her and by the time they entered, all that was left was a blood stain. Results from CSI: Newport, were unavailable in 48 minutes (plus commercials) so no one really knows what happened.

Also said to be haunting the old lighthouse is a ship’s captain who was lost at sea some years before the lighthouse opened. Wandering, he found the lighthouse and has been there ever since, becoming Newport’s first homeless person. He was arrested for urinating on the Flying Dutchman in 1882.

People near the old lighthouse had also reported seeing a pair of disembodied hands holding a lamp floating down the path between the lighthouse and where the coast guard station now stands. Sightings have been limited in recent years, and it is theorized the ghost may have been run over by a Hummer on 101.

At the Yaquina Head Lighthouse there are also said to be ghosts. Supposedly, someone was entombed during construction between the walls, having fallen into the gap. Since no construction worker can actually afford that store, this is considered a myth, although occasionally a catalog with Sarah Jessica Parker is found in the bathroom.

In the 1920’s, an assistant lighthouse keeper was found dead at Yaquina Head of natural causes. And in 1933 a college student fell to his death on the rocks below while collecting biology samples. Of the two, the second is considered more likely to have become a ghost as he is not allowed to leave this earth until he is done paying his student loans.

Life at the lighthouse was not all miserable. Thousands of visitors came to see the light every year. In 1916, Lightkeeper Fred Joseph Booth had a daughter, and he and his family were often known to play and sing to a piano in their quarters. Booth was even known to put on his wife’s dresses and sing occasionally in those.

People have speculated as to why he would do this. Some thought he had simply gone mad from the harsh conditions. Others say he was channeling the Scotsman Lightkeeper Pierce and got dresses and kilts confused.

Whatever, Newport was now just like a big city, even if it was New Orleans at Mardi Gras. Locals were OK with this since no one wanted to be the next San Francisco, destroyed by an earthquake five years earlier. Indeed, Newporters were feeling quite superior, since that kind of thing would NEVER happen here.

Over at the other lighthouse, the government had plans. In 1946 the government decided the best way prevent earthquake, tsunami and fire damage was to beat God to the punch and tear it down. But the citizens of Newport fought back, forming the Lincoln County Historical Society, and by 1956 the seemingly eternal white icon was declared a significant historic landmark, just like Dick Clark.

Change was afoot at Yaquina Head as well. In 1966 the lighthouse was automated and humans were no longer needed to tend the light. Aside from another brief outbreak of Frenchness – the light often would focus its lens on cars and light them on fire – this was very successful.

Indeed, just the next year a private family moved into the buildings at the base of the lighthouse. Once again, lighthouse residents could tell which way the wind was blowing just by sniffing the wafting bird poop. (This is true.)

Today, both lighthouses are an important part of Lincoln County’s tourism economy. In 1997 an interpretive center opened on Yaquina Head, ensuring guests could see how miserable life was 100 years ago without getting wet. And just last December the lighthouse began its first major restoration in 130 years. It is said that once completed, the refurbished beacon will be bright enough to light Barry Bonds ego, which is visible on clear nights to the south.

And at the county’s oldest lighthouse, tours are still conducted by the historic society where recent advances in science have laid to rest the myth about a ghost. DNA testing revelaed  that the alleged red mark on the floor was not “Muriel” or “Zina” but in fact “shag carpet.”

Scientists are said to have been scarred for life.