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A Beached Whale at Heceta Head Lighthouse

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Frank DeRoy, first assistant lighthouse keeper at Heceta Head Lighthouse, knew exactly what to do when a dead whale washed ashore in the early 1900s: have his wife, Jenny, take a photo of him standing on top of it posing muscle-man style.

Several days later second assistant Overton Dowell’s girl friend, Mary Hefty, came for a visit from Florence. Traveling the thirteen miles between Florence and Heceta Head in those days was no easy task. The highway at the time was the beach. Where there was no beach, you had to go inland through dense forest. If you drove, which few did, you carried with you the same things I’m sure you carry in your trunk today: saws, axes, dynamite.

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Mary walked the whole way. They were hardier back then. Plus she was in love. She arrived as beautiful as ever. Overton borrowed Frank’s camera to take a picture of her. Then he had the brilliant idea of taking a picture of her standing on the whale. She was in love, but she wasn’t stupid and said, “No.”

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She did agree to take his picture. Overton wanted to replicate Frank’s stunt and posed muscle-man style on top of the whale while Mary struggled to figure out how to use the camera. It was not a point and shoot. It was a heavy-view camera on a tripod where the image was upside down. Mary had never used a camera before. “Hurry up, sweetie,” Overton said just before sinking into the whale.

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Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) are about the size of a bus. Overton was mired up to his neck in whale blubber and couldn’t get out. Mary, in her finest crinolines and petticoats, slithered across the reeking carcass and rescued poor Overton. The two eventually married. Now that’s true love.

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