Seaside Stories

Terrible Tilly: Stowing Away the Years

August 25, 2013 | by Veronica Russell

Perched atop solid rock more than a mile offshore from Tillamook Head, the notorious Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, (nicknamed “Terrible Tilly”) is rife with mystery and legend. She still stands today, though battered and bruised, a testament to her storied past.
Tilly’s story began in 1879 when a solid basalt rock was selected as the unlikely location for a lighthouse off the coast of Tillamook Head. Danger and intrigue began almost immediately for Tilly. Before work even began, a master mason surveying the location was swept out to sea, never to be seen again.
Constructing Tilly was grueling work. Just accessing the rock was dangerous, not to mention the stormy weather wreaking havoc on the crew, their supplies and their morale. In January of 1880, four months into construction, a perilous storm sent powerful waves and loosened rocks crashing over the site, sweeping away the crew’s tools, water tank and provisions. According to historical records, all the workers survived, but were stranded for over two weeks waiting for new food, clothing and supplies.
Construction took over 500 days and just weeks before completion in January of 1881, the barque Lupatia wrecked in heavy fog killing all 16 of her crew members. The only survivor of the wreck was the crew’s dog.
On January 21, 1881 Tilly’s first order Fresnel lens was lit for the first time. Light keepers were assigned to duty, but for shorter than typical rotations—42 days on, 21 days off—because conditions proved so harsh, both physically and mentally.
For decades, Tilly and her keepers withstood the ravages of the sea, but in October of 1934, the worst storm on record inundated the entire Pacific Northwest for four days. Tilly’s lantern room and Fresnel lens were smashed by boulders hurled by the storm. It was never replaced.
On September 1, 1957, Keeper Oswald Allik turned off the light for good and made one final entry in the logbook (now on display at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon):
“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.”
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was sold to a series of investors over the years, and most recently, she served as the Eternity at Sea Columbarium. She is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Knowing my fascination with Tilly, my husband (who fishes for salmon off Tillamook Head) snapped a few photos for me on a recent trip. What a gift! It was hard to imagine, on a day when the sea was more like a glassy lake, how tempestuous and murderous the waters surrounding Tilly could actually be. But, it was not difficult to imagine what Tilly has been through. She is certainly showing her age. Pelicans, cormorants, and sea lions are her inhabitants and, they along with the sea, are now her keepers in her “sunset years.”
Editor’s note:  The Tillamook Head Trail between Seaside and Ecola State Park in Cannon Beach offers views of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, as does the Promenade in Seaside. Pause from the shore, if you will, and reflect, as Keeper Oswald Allik requested, on Tilly’s not-so-terrible role in history. 

Leave a Reply

and so much more!

Barefoot beachcombing: a Treat for Your Feet

Historical photo of children doing some barefoot beach combing.

Learn More
Seaside OR: Beachside Weddings

The North Oregon Coast is home, and Seaside is an ideal wedding destination! Seaside has incredible scenery, diverse and amazing vendors, and is within close proximity to the Portland airport for those out of town guests.

Learn More
Clamming in Seaside: Then & Now

A brief look at clamming in Seaside and Tillamook Head and a comparison of how they

Learn More
Bird is the Word

Birding opportunites abound in Seaside and the surrounding area.

Learn More
Digging for the Bounty!

Razor clamming on Oregon

Learn More
Camping in Seaside

Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner. One of my very favorite things to do during Memorial Day weekend is to go camping. I love setting up the tents, snuggling in a warm sleeping bag, sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows for s’mores, and smelling like a campfire all weekend. I love every bit of it! If you’ve never camped by the Pacific Ocean then you are missing out! You get to add the salty air, sandy beach, and all the benefits of being near Seaside to add to your camping experience.

Learn More
An early morning kayak ride

One kayaker's take on an early morning ride into the Necanicum Estuary.

Learn More
MotorTrend Magazine – Epic Drives: Classic Cobra Visits Seaside

MotorTrend Magazine makes the trek to Seaside, Oregon to show off a Classic Cobra

Learn More
Going for a Dip in the 1920s

Seaside ocean antics in the late 1920s

Learn More
A Beach Bicycle Built for Two

Beach Bike Rentals in Seaside, Oregon

Learn More
Oregon Coast Visitor Tsunami Awareness Program

Tsunami awareness resources from the Office of Emergency Management

Learn More
Klootchy Park's Sitka Spruce Tree
Near Seaside: Reviewing Klootchy Creek Park

Located adjacent to U.S. Highway 26, about 2.5 miles east of U.S. Highway 101, is the famous and previous national-record-breaking...

Learn More
The Iron Horse Comes to Town

A look at the train that connected Seaside to Portland in 1898

Learn More
A Seaside Jewel

Library in Seaside is a popular jewel for small community

Learn More
Celebrating the Moms in Our Life

Honoring motherhood through a photo on the beach

Learn More
Sea Foam on the shore's of The Cove in Seaside, Oregon
The Cove, Seaside’s Natural Treasure

Exploring Seaside's Cove, a natural wonder to be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike

Learn More
7 places to maximize indoor fun in Seaside, Oregon

How to vacation in Seaside, Oregon when the weather is cool and wet; hint: food, culture and fun....

Learn More