Category Archives: Oregon History

Thanksgiving and My Back Porch

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Every single day I count my blessings for the love of my family and friends, my health, the beautiful planet on which I live, and every positive thing that has been bestowed on me. You know what I’m thankful for today? My back porch.

Most houses have a back porch, or a back room, or even a spare bedroom, that kind of serves as the innards of the house. Here are the lightbulbs that light our house, the seeds for next year’s garden, board games we play with friends and family, the linens, our mushroom and berry gathering baskets, and the fresh water we bring from the spring on the mountain. There is paint back there, and wrapping paper, and shelves for the overstock from our pantry. Flower vases in which we put our beautiful bouquets. And outdoor plants who are patiently waiting out the winter by the sunny windows. The porch holds hidden Christmas gifts, the cleaning supplies, and the laundry area where everything has its place.

Our porch looked pretty sad when we first got here. It was painted light shit-brown with scars from dogs who clawed the doors and chewed the door trim, furniture that scraped the walls as it came through, dirt tracked onto the bare plywood floor by endless footprints, dead flies, spiders, and a lot of cobwebs. Earlier this year we painted it sunny yellow with nautical gray trim and a bright woven rug. I have wind chimes and other what-nots hanging in there, and shelves loaded with boxes and coolers, but also important things like clothespins, candles, and my trusty little red toolbox.

My porch is accessible through a door off the kitchen. It’s a wonderful, century-old door with a window in it from the days before the porch was built on. When you look through the window, you can see our green plants lazing about on the sunny yellow shelf. In winter, we open the door when we do the laundry because it helps warm the house. But we also open it when the woodstove makes the house too hot. In summer, the back door opens to let in the sunshine from our yard. Otherwise it remains closed at this time of year, but just going out there to retrieve cat food or a can of tomatoes gives me a very homey feeling.

I’ve always wanted a back porch. My great-grandparents had one, and that is where my great-grandpa mixed his crock of whiskey eggnog and invited all the grown-ups to have a taste. We had one on back of our old house in Pasadena, and I had a teeny one in the first house I ever rented. My stepmother used to have one off the kitchen, in a wonderful old house she and her family moved deep into the woods outside of Flagstaff. My in-laws have a really cool backroom that is accessed through a secret door. In these places, I and dozens before me have held secret conversations, snuck out for a cigarette or a drink, spent time in solace while idly folding laundry, and peeked out to watch birds and squirrels and random cats from the windows.

Sometimes, even looking for the damn batteries is kind of fun, ratting around and finding some other important item you’ve been looking for in the process. “Dang, so that’s where that is,” you might mutter to yourself. Nobody will hear you. Nobody will hear you going over your shoulda-woulda-coulda list as you organize the shelves. Nobody will really care what you are doing back there as you stash some gift or other secret thing only you know about in a cupboard behind the rag bin. It’s a marvelous place, that back porch of mine. It makes me feel like I have truly come home.

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.