Cold Spots: Heceta Head Lighthouse
Florence, OR – Over a cliff once known as the Devil’s Elbow there shines a light to warn ships of approaching danger. Shining more than twenty miles out to sea, her light pierces the night and keeps those unfamiliar with the Oregon coastline safe from the cliffs and jagged rocks. But behind her light, something walks in the night, her eyes red with tears, her cry plaintive. Just who she was, or why she remains is something of a mystery with very few clues. But few doubt that she is real, having been sighted for more than sixty years.
Traveling in Oregon shows some of the most beautiful country the USA has to offer. Outside the big cities, there are places where one could believe that God signed his great work with a stamp of beauty. Rather than take day trips and return to the city, many choose to stay at one of the numerous bed & breakfast-style establishments, soaking in the natural splendor and taking back with them more than just trinkets. Many of these homes, however, are hundreds of years old, and have seen more than just ocean spray and foliage. In some cases, what came before lingers on, and the past converges with the present to give the place the curious distinction of being haunted.
The land once known as Devil’s Elbow State Park was discovered in 1755 by a Spanish explorer named Don Bruno Heceta. More than a hundred years later, the raging waters and dangerous rocks below the cliffs made the need for a lighthouse apparent. Construction began in 1892 on the original lighthouse, with work going slow until actual roads were built for the transport of supplies. It took two years for the powerful light to first be lit by the first headkeeper, Andrew Hald, projecting more than twenty miles into the night sky.
When it was completed, the Heceta Head Lighthouse stood at 56 feet tall and sat on a cliff some 205 feet above the turbulent water below. Its grounds included a home for the head lighthouse keeper, as well as another building, separated duplex-style, for the two assistant keepers.
The light kept a constant vigil for the next sixty years, until 1961 when a rockslide severed the wires leading to the lighthouse. The keeper of the day, Oswald Allik, climbed to the top of the tower and turned the lens by hand, holding his post for more than seven hours until the morning light gave him rest. By 1963, the whole structure was automated, leaving no need for a permanent keeper. Several of the buildings were torn down, their lumber used to build other structures, leaving only the main tower and “Heceta House,” the duplex occupied by the assistant keepers.
It isn’t the tower that’s haunted, but the duplex structure that hosts a myriad of paranormal occurrences. It seems that, at some point during the lighthouse’s history, a child died on the grounds and was buried there. Just who she was and how she died is the subject of debate and urban legend, but the grave does exist, as does someone many believe to be the child’s grief-stricken mother.
Since the 1950’s, almost every person to inhabit Heceta House has reported some very odd occurrences. Beginning with strange noises and objects that move on their own, there seems to be enough unusual goings-on in the old building to raise a few eyebrows. At times, a woman can be heard screaming in the night, possibly in horror as she watches her child die. Dishes rattle in cupboards and lights flicker during calm evenings, and windows that were previously latched are found unlocked and standing wide open.
The ghost, whom people believe is a woman named “Rue,” is reputed to be the wife of one of the original assistant lighthouse keepers. According to the legends, her daughter drowned either in the ocean or in a local pond. Unable to bear with the loss of her child, Rue took her own life. While stories like this one exist in numerous cities throughout the US, this one comes complete with the child’s headstone which rests in the vegetation around the old house.
She has been referred to both by name and by “The Grey Lady” because of her habit of appearing as a cloud of grey mist that floats about the grounds and throughout the house. But she does not only appear as a cloud. One of the most famous stories of Rue occurred in the 1970’s, while the building was under renovation. When the worker was in one of the two attics, painting, Rue reportedly rose up out of the floor and stood face to face with the terrified man. He fled the attic and refused to come back to work unless it was under the condition that he not be required to work in the attic. He was reassigned to the outside portion of the house, but when he slipped and broke the attic window from the outside, he replaced the pane but refused to go inside to clean up the broken glass. That night, the owners of the house heard scraping from the attic and, upon investigation the next morning, found all the glass had been swept into a neat pile.
The Devil’s Elbow is no longer the name of the curious bend of land on which the lighthouse stands. Now called the Heceta Head Observational Point, it is none the less beautiful for the name change. The duplex style house was leased by a college for a time, then purchased and turned into a Bed and Breakfast, specializing in romantic get-aways for couples. In fact, many have felt the persuasion of the place, claiming the special power of the beautiful location prompted them to propose at the base of the lighthouse. Rue is still frequently sighted, often peering down from the attic windows or evesdropping on private conversations. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the lighthouse and Heceta Head House have had their ghostly stories documented in “Life” magazine, and confirmed by hundreds of guests who have “met” Rue themselves.
Rue, unlike many ghosts, has been seen mostly during broad daylight. Her appearances occur without warning, but she does seem to become particularly active when renovation is going on. Her phantom cleaning routine occurs after the sun has gone down, but most report seeing her face staring down from the attic during the daylight hours. The best time to visit Heceta Head Lighthouse is, most likely, during the summer months, and winters in Oregon are notoriously brutal. However, if planning a trip, it’s best to make reservations as far in advance as possible, as they are usually booked up for more than three months ahead of time.
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