Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2017

A Heart Wrenching Return

By Timothy Harrison

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Lighthouse keeper Oswald Allik at the desk at ...

On September 1, 1957, Oswald Allik, the last lighthouse keeper at one of the most treacherous lighthouses on the West Coast, closed the door on the notorious Tillamook Rock Lighthouse for the last time. As he departed, on that final day after being stationed at Tillamook for an amazing 20 years, he knew that no one would ever again live at this lighthouse where, for 77 years, he and others before him had maintained a vigilant and often dangerous watch at this isolated but well-kept lighthouse for the safety of the mariner at sea.

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Vintage image of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. (U.S. ...

Oswald Allik’s written entry in the station’s log book may well be one of most poignant and striking entries ever written on the closing and death of a lighthouse.

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Oswald W. Allik checking the rotating beacon at ...

“Farewell, Tillamook Rock Light Station. An era has ended. With this final entry, and not without sentiment, I return thee to the elements. You, one of the most notorious and yet one of the most fascinating of the sea-swept sentinels in the world; long the friend of the tempest-tossed mariner. Through howling gale, thick fog and driving rain your beacon has been a star of hope and your foghorn a voice of encouragement. May the elements of nature be kind to you. For 77 years you have beamed your light across desolate acres of ocean. Keepers have come and gone; men lived and died; but you were faithful to the end. May your sunset years be good years. Your purpose is now only a symbol, but the lives you have saved and the service you have rendered are worthy of the highest respect. A protector of life and property all, may old-timers, newcomers and travelers along the way pause from the shore in memory of your humanitarian role.” – O. Allik, September 1, 1957.

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Well, the elements were not kind to Tillamook Rock Lighthouse as Oswald Allik had hoped. In August of 1969, twelve years after he closed the lighthouse, he had the opportunity to return. What he saw was heart-wrenching. With no heat and no one to take care of it, the place was in shambles. Peeling paint and water damage were evident everywhere. The lighthouse that had served so well was now a disgrace. The lighthouse where men lived and died in isolation for the benefit others was in shambles. Yet it still stood tall on the top of the rock, a stagnant testament to the men who built it.

Surrounded by debris, Oswald W. Allik took some time to sit in the chair at the desk in the lighthouse office that he had used for 20 years. As he took a few moments to reflect, a photographer who had accompanied him took the photo of him shown here with this story.

Look into his face. What do you see? Sadness? Bewilderment? Disgust? What thoughts were going through his mind? If it were you, what thoughts would be going through your mind?

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2017 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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