Everything You Need to Know About Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

With a nickname like “Terrible Tilly,” one can only assume that the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse has an unusual and mysterious past. This deactivated lighthouse on the Oregon Coast was built on a basalt rock in 1881, about a mile offshore from Tillamook Head. It was a dangerous commute for both lighthouse builders and keepers due to the area’s notoriously wild waves. Now only accessible by helicopter, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is one of the world’s most haunted hidden wonders.

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The Story of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse


In 1878, the government decided that ships sailing around Tillamook Head needed a lighthouse to guide their journey. Since there was no suitable place to build a lighthouse on the headland, they decided to utilize Tillamook Rock. Stone mason John Trewavas set off to survey the island in 1879. But when he attempted to land on the rock, his body was swept out to sea. This was the first of many deaths that would occur at Tillamook Rock Lighthouse.


A team of quarrymen built the lighthouse in 575 days, using a rig line between their ship and the Tillamook Rock to transport tools. Less than three weeks before the lighthouse opened, a ship called the Lupatia sailed too close to the shore in thick fog. The boat went under, and the bodies of all 16 crew members washed up on the rock the next morning.

Groups of men kept the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse shining for 77 years. But the isolation, constant storms, and blaring foghorns took a toll on the mental and physical conditions of the keepers. The men even reported hearing low, bone-chilling groans on the stairwell that led up to the lantern. The haunted light was decommissioned in 1957 and was replaced by a red whistle buoy.


Tillamook Lighthouse fell into the hands of Mimi Morissette and Cathy Riley in 1980. They gutted and converted the structure into the Eternity at Sea Columbarium, a storage house for urns full of cremated human remains. The post-mortem museum collected 30 urns before the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board took away its license in 1999.

Today, Terrible Tilly is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a common nesting spot for seabirds. Its ghostly structure is visible from the beaches and headlands of Ecola State Park.

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If seeing the infamous Tillamook Rock Lighthouse is on your bucket list, book your stay in one of our vacation homes! You’ll be able to view the lighthouse from our Surf View and Sea Glass rentals in Arch Cape as well as from the Pacific House in Cannon Beach. Plus, our homes are free of spirits and have everything you need for a great getaway – including upscale furnishings and amenities. So what are you waiting for? Check our availability and book your stay today! We look forward to having you.

For more attractions near Tillamook Head, read our blog about the Fort Clatsop National Memorial.