Monthly Archives: October 2017

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and the Mysterious Disappearance of Muriel Trevenard

c 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

Oregon’s quaint and historic lighthouses dot the seascape up and down the entire coast. In Newport, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse dates back to 1871. The structure is unique for a number of reasons: it is believed to be the oldest building in Newport, and the only wooden lighthouse remaining in the state. Unlike other lighthouses which changed over time, Yaquina Bay still stands complete with attached living quarters for the lightkeepers and their families. It is also the last place where young Muriel Trevenard was seen alive, in 1874.

Murial’s father was an experienced seaman bound for Coos Bay, but the rough waters along Oregon’s coast had thrown his sloop off course as far north as the Columbia river bar. When the great ship sailed into Newport for fresh water, Trevenard expressed worry that his daughter was not as seaworthy as he hoped. His plan, he said, was to station her at a room in town, and come back for her on his return trip. The girl’s luggage was accordingly lowered and taken to the house of a local couple, who agreed to keep her until her father returned.

Muriel, a delicate and sweet girl, occupied her time by exploring the beach and sketching while sitting in a grassy hollow overlooking the ocean. As time wore on, however, there was no sight of her father’s ship. The landlady assured her there was no cause for alarm, to which Muriel lightheartedly replied, “Oh I am not anxious, not in the least.”

Still, Muriel spent much of her time by herself—until a group of young people pitched camp in the hollow. Before long they made friends with the girl, inviting her to their camp and to come along on their many excursions around the area. One Sunday, when the group was idly wondering what to do with their day, someone came up with an idea. There was a lighthouse on the hill, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, which had been built in 1871 but only recently was decommissioned. Why not go take a look at the abandoned building?

Muriel initially objected to the idea. “It is just an ordinary house with a lantern on top,” she said. “Besides, it is probably locked up.” It so happened, however, that her landlord’s husband was the appointed caretaker and had the key to the building. Before long, the youngsters had procured the key and were making their way merrily up the hill to the old lighthouse.

The group may not have known that the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was said to be haunted by Evan MacClure whose whaling ship, the Monkton, had recently wrecked nearby at Devil’s Punchbowl. MacClure perished, his spirit destined to wander outside the lighthouse. But the ghost had yet to make its appearance as Muriel and her friends made their way up the brick walk and into the building.

Inside the lighthouse was a long hallway revealing a kitchen and pantry, storerooms, and a stairway leading upstairs. The group made their way past the second floor with its empty rooms to a third floor where a small closet stood across from a window. Inside were only shelves and drawers, but the closet was large enough to fit the entire group. One of the boys noticed that the wainscoting on the only empty wall in the closet was coming off, revealing a large metal panel on the other side. When pulled aside, the children could see another closet extending back between six and eight feet with what appeared to be a hole at the farthest end.

Another boy crawled to the hole, lit some small pieces of paper on fire, and tossed them down for a better view. “It goes to the bottom of the sea,” he said. This invited some discussion and theories as to whether the secret hole was once used by smugglers, but there was a sense of uneasiness as the group left the closet, with its door open, and climbed the last set of steps to the lantern tower. A gray mist was moving in, so the children decided to call it a day. Harold Welch, who held the key, had just wrestled with the old lock and managed to secure the door when Muriel suddenly remembered she had left her handkerchief inside.

Harold obligingly unlocked the stubborn door and started inside with Muriel, but she stopped him. “I am going alone,” she said firmly, “you are not to wait. Lock the door and go on. I will come out through the kitchen.”

Harold, who was growing fond of Muriel, did as he was asked and again struggled to lock the front door. But when he walked around the kitchen door, he found it locked tight. The boy called for his friend several times and, receiving no answer, assumed she had joined the rest of the party. The fog was thickening and turning to rain in the dusk. Muriel was nowhere to be seen. Some in the group, who had not noticed her absence, were just beginning to chastise Harold for being in the dark alone when the air was pierced by a blood-curdling shriek. Before anyone had time to react, the shriek was followed by a girl’s voice. “Help! Help! Help!”

In a flash, the group ran back towards the lighthouse as Harold explained what happened. One of them remembered seeing the key broken off in the lock of the kitchen door, preventing anyone from coming in or going out. Panic grew as Muriel’s friends called out to her. “Muriel, we are coming!” they shouted, “Don’t be afraid!” There was no answer and one of the girls in the group, Cora May, speculated Muriel may have fainted.

At the house, Harold worked the key once more and the group burst into the building calling for Muriel. Their footsteps echoed through the empty building as they went from room to room and mounted the stairs. On the second landing, the children found something frightening enough to chill them to the marrow: a pool of warm blood, with shiny red droplets leading to the stairs up to the closet. Mustering their strength, the group ventured further. In the closet lay Muriel’s handkerchief, stained with blood. The metal panel was closed, the wainscoting replaced, and try as they might, nobody could get it open again.

Sheer panic must have set in as the group ran from the house and summoned help. A party returned with lanterns, searched the house and the grounds, and even the surrounding hills. Alas, Muriel Trevenard was gone, and she never returned. Neither did her father. Harold and his friends grew up and carried on with their lives, all the time wondering what happened to the beautiful girl they knew as Muriel.

In 1899, when this story was first published by Lischen Miller, the bloodstains could still be seen in the old lighthouse. Fortunately, the old locks remained in place over time, saving the building from vandals. For generations, however, the story of Muriel Trevenard was repeated time and time again as observers occasionally noted a light on the second floor of the building after sundown. And there was the hitchhiker who may have seen Muriel herself in about 1982.

The young man had hopped the chain-link fence surrounding the lighthouse and made camp in front of the building. Later, he awoke to the sound of the front door opening and saw that the whole place was lit up. As he gazed upon the scene, a young woman in a long white dress appeared in the doorway. Behind her was the shadowy figure of a man. The girl came out and began walking towards him, saying, “Don’t worry Harold, you are welcome here.”

The hitchhiker, who had no idea that Harold Welch was the last person to see Muriel Trevenard alive, responded. “Thank you ma’am,” he said, “but I’m not Harold. I thought this place was deserted.”

For what seemed a long time, the man felt the young woman peering at him in the dark. “I see you are worried,” she said at last. “Do not worry. In the morning you will find work in Newport. That job will give you sufficient money and food to complete your journey.” Then she turned back towards the man in the doorway, looking back at the hitchhiker one last time before entering the lighthouse and softly closing the door.

Unbeknownst to the traveler, two ships and a small aircraft had reported to one another that the old lighthouse was lit that night. One of them, a Coast Guard boat, had actually seen the light on a number of occasions. In the morning, however, the young man clearly saw that Yaquina Bay Lighthouse had not been occupied for some time. The hitchhiker broke camp and left for Newport that morning, where he indeed secured a job and a hot meal.

In 1996, Yaquina Bay Lighthouse finally was restored to its original splendor. Today visitors are welcome, and some of them have indeed reported hearing voices and feeling like they are being watched. Is Muriel still there, along with the possible ghost of Evan McClure? Most of the docents at the lighthouse say no, but those sensitive to spirits answer with a resounding yes.

Hidden Harlots at the Heart of History

c 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

For nearly thirty years, the long-gone, loose women of the American West have been chasing me around. I began by taking an interest in one, a prominent madam named Laura Bell McDaniel of Old Colorado City, Colorado. In researching her, more women followed, and before I knew it I was up to my ears in shady ladies.

Not that I minded, but I do have other history interests to write about. Over time, however, I have discovered that even when I am researching something entirely different from the prostitution history of the West, the ladies still show up. They casually appear in old news articles, right next to the one I’m reading. They pop up in old property ledgers, law books and miscellaneous documents. In census records, my trained eye automatically spots words like “sporting”, “red light” or any other term applied to women of the night.

Fortunately, the ladies have paid me for spending time with them by allowing me to write about them in relative peace. Three of the books I have written focus on the world’s oldest profession. The newest one, Wild Women of Prescott, Arizona, came out just a couple of years ago. This book focuses on the time period between 1860 and 1918, when the west was still quite young and struggling to come of age.

I’m not telling you this just in the name of shameless self-promotion. Rather, I enjoy emphasizing how the prostitution industry was an important aspect of western history as we know it. Love it or hate it, nearly every camp, boomtown and city sported its own special neighborhood where lonely miners, traveling salesmen, local husbands and other men could escape the drudgery of their lives with a little female companionship.

The ladies of the lamplight did much more than provide entertainment. In addition to their services, these women purchased property, paid taxes, bought business licenses, contributed monthly fines and fees to city coffers, shopped locally, and made untold numbers of donations to charities, schools, churches and other causes. Their posh parlors were often the scene of impromptu meetings between prominent men to discuss civic affairs, laws and other important issues of the day. The right madam knew every man in town, and willingly offered advice and opinions on sensitive matters. These unseen, unappreciated contributions helped shape the west and assisted places that are now fine, upstanding communities.

In places like Prescott, prominent men of the city actually owned and rented houses of prostitution to women who not only generated local business but also assisted in making important decisions regarding city growth, politics and commerce. What went on in the bordello generally stayed in the bordello, making for a great place in which to conduct business and other important meetings. The men knew the madam would keep their secrets, and that whatever plans they discussed were less likely to be overheard by the wrong person.

For me, this information is secondary to the fact that most prostitutes were amazingly brave to work in a dangerous industry. The realm of prostitution often included violence, drug and alcohol abuse and a slew of personal problems ranging from suicidal tendencies to unwanted pregnancies. The law could offer only limited assistance in times of trouble, usually after that fact – if any assistance was rendered at all. The sad stories overwhelmingly outweigh the good ones with tales of abuse, stabbings, shootings, suicide, death from overdose, stillborn children, asylum or jail time, lonely deaths and sad endings. I can only counter this blatant history with a healthy handful of success stories ending in wealth, vindication and happy days.

Many women, including Prescott madams Mollie Sheppard, Annie Hamilton, Gabe Wiley, Lida Winchell and others were willing to put themselves at risk in order to make their way in a man’s world. Done right, running a bordello was an attractive alternative to living the boring life of a housewife or working menial jobs which kept women in poverty. It also provided a means to widows with little mouths to feed. A woman had to take much care to keep from suffering from her own vices and succumbing to the hazards of working as a prostitute.

Fortunately for all, Prescott was more tolerant than most places across the West. Residents exhibited a most unique tenderness for the girls of the “restricted district”, allowing them to work and live within the confines of fairly lenient laws and ordinances. For many men, the working girls were “friends with benefits”, women who offered soft skin, scented necks, open arms, and even open ears as the men voiced their troubles. The men’s memories remained fond long after the girls were gone, gleaned through the occasional interview or perhaps an eloquently written obituary if one of them passed away.

Refreshingly, writing Wild Women of Prescott reminded me that the spirit of those sporting girls remains very real today as women of my generation struggle more than ever for empowerment. Always an advocate of the old “you can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been” adage, I find that my readers sense that the needs and wants of women are not much different now than they were then. In the old west prostitute’s case, here was a class of women who dared to venture forth and try to make money with the only tangible weapon they had.

If you are a fan of the wild west, I hope you can find time to pick up a copy of the book. You can find it at, as well as Amazon.