Meet Terrible Tilly, the Killer Lighthouse

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Feb. 20 2014 9:58 AM

Terrible Tilly, the Lighthouse of Death and Madness

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

Things did not begin well for the Oregon lighthouse that came to be known as Terrible Tilly. In 1878, the government decided that ships sailing around Tillamook Head needed more light and better guidance. There was no suitable place to build a lighthouse on the headland, so attention turned to Tillamook Rock, a big chunk of basalt 1.2 miles offshore.

In 1879, mason John Trewavas set off for the island to do a spot of surveying. When he attempted to land on the rock, his body was swept into the tumultuous sea. This would be but one of many deaths and calamities caused by Tillamook's wild waves and unforgiving landscape.

Advertisement

A team of quarrymen managed to build the lighthouse in 575 days, but the process was arduous—they had to rig a line between their ship and the top of the rock and use it to transport both their tools and themselves. Less than three weeks before the lighthouse opened, a ship called the Lupatia sailed close to the shore in thick fog. The next morning, the bodies of all 16 crew members had washed up on the rock.

Lighthouse operators at Terrible Tilly had their own trials to contend with. The 80-by-45-foot building was built to house four keepers at a time—all male, all forbidden from bringing families, women, and children. Bunkered down with six months of supplies, the men lived a mentally and physically challenging existence, beset by frequent storms and blaring foghorns.

The Tillamook Rock Light operated for 77 years before being decommissioned in 1957. Then came a fittingly macabre twist. In 1980, Terrible Tilly became a columbarium: a storage house for urns full of cremated human remains. Dubbed "Eternity at Sea," the post-mortem museum amassed a collection of 30 urns before the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board took away its license in 1999. (Less-than-stringent record-keeping and improper urn storage were among the issues cited.)

There are still urns full of remains inside the Tillamook building—"honorary lighthouse keepers," Eternity at Sea called them—but the rock is primarily a seabird nesting spot and can only be accessed by helicopter.

Other Lighthouses of Doom:


View Tillamook Rock Light in a larger map

TODAY IN SLATE

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

Walmart Is Crushing the Rest of Corporate America in Adopting Solar Power

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.