When I was a naturalist for the Forest Service in the 1990s one of the more peculiar “other duties as assigned” I was assigned was to help restore Heceta Head Lighthouse Keeper’s House. I can tell you stories about all the keepers and their families who lived and worked at Heceta, I can explain how a Fresnel lens works, and I can list every fact, figure, and date that has any relevance to Heceta, but the only thing people ever ask me about is the ghost story. So here it is.
When Jim Alexander and his crew were maklng repairs on the house in 1975 tools were constantly going AWOL. Some eventually turned up, but not anywhere near where they had been lost. Some were found in the garage, some were neatly stacked on the porch.
In a manner Alexander described as being like something out of an Abbot and Costello movie, a couple of workmen broke an attic window while moving a ladder. When Alexander went to fix it, a punching bag hung from the ceiling and morning sunlight poured through the windows of the dusty attic.
“I had a black stocking cap on and it felt like it came clear up off the back of my head,” Alexander said in an interview. “I just freaked out. I was looking at that glass and I knew there was somebody back there behind me. My hair was just straight up–like I was electrified. And I turned around and there she was. She was just standin’ there. Her gown looked like she was standing against the wind, and her feet was off the ground about a foot.”
Alexander said the woman, her arms outstretched, was between him and the attic’s only exit–a trap door. The ladder to the attic is steep and the top rung is three or four feet below the trap door. “I took a step back against the wall,” Alexander said. “I had to go past her to get down and she’s still comin’, comin’ comin’ comin’.” As she got closer, close enough to where he could just about touch her, she started turning transparent.
And then she went right through him!
“I just wheeled and I baled out–just dove down the ladder–almost broke my shoulder,” Alexander said. It took several days for hims to build up the courage to go back to the scene. While there, he accidentally broke yet another attic window, this time with a hammer. He replaced it from the outside. Since he had vowed to never enter the attic again, he left broken glass scattered about the floor.
At about 2:00 am the next morning Harry and Anne Tammen, the house’s caretakers, were awakened by scraping sounds coming from the attic. When they went upstairs they found the glass from Alexander’s broken window swept into a neat pile.
Harry and Anne went about very scientifically to learn the identity of this anal retentive ghost with kleptomaniac like tendencies: they used a Ouija board with a plastic “Made in Taiwan” planchette (the doohickey that the spirits supposedly move).
It spelled out R-U-E.
They speculated that Rue was either a mother looking for her child, or a child looking for her mother. The only lightkeeper’s child to die at Heceta Head was a baby daughter of the first Head Keeper, Albert Peter Cornelius Hald. The Halds–unfortunately I don’t know the names of either Mrs. Hald or the baby–were at Heceta from 1894 to 1899. The baby’s death was due to scarlet fever, or to some other common childhood illness say some sources; or drowning in either a cistern or the ocean, say others. The baby is believed to be buried somewhere on the station grounds, but much of the area is covered with blackberry bushes, and nobody today can find a grave there.
For years Harry delighted in telling people stories about the ghost, but eventually he tired of it. In 1994 a reporter called him in Florida where he an Anne then lived, and Harry said, “It got old. I’m just a crotchety old man. I moved 3,000 miles to get away from the damned ghost.”
Heceta’s ghost gained national fame in 1980 when Life magazine included it in an article titled Terrifying Tales of 9 Haunted Houses. Consequently, Rue gained the type of credibility that is acquired by virtue of being written about in a respected magazine.
In 1982 a CBS movie-of-the-week, The Fog, was filmed at Heceta House, enhancing its ghostly reputation. In the movie’s opening scene, a morning after a fierce storm, a boy wanders along the beach at Devil’s Elbow looking for shells. He sees something at the high-tide line and walks toward it. As he draws near the spot, he drops to his knees and clamps his hands to his face. The camera pulls back to reveal the boy’s grandparents buried up to their chins in the sand. The boy screams. The movie goes down hill from there. Fred Rothenberg, a movie critic for the Associated Press, told his readers to watch “something else” that night.
I will confess that the first time I went into Heceta’s attic I too screamed. Then I started laughing. What had startled me was not a ghost, but an old CPR Resuscitate-Annie hanging from the rafters dressed in a plaid dress and a hat.
My own personal theory about Rue is that if she really does exist, what she was trying to spell out on the Ouija board was not R-U-E, but R-U-D-E. After all, a man breaks not one, but two windows in her house, leaves without cleaning up the mess, and then has the gall to accuse her of stealing his tools.
Tomorrow I’ll write about Heceta’s other ghost story.
BTW, the cartoon of Bird Watching at Heceta Lighthouse can be licensed for use in presentations, books and lining bird cages. It’s also is available on posters, mugs, etc at my Cafepress Store.