The lighthouse stands sentry on a rocky bluff just north of Florence, Oregon. Officially commissioned in 1894, the lighthouse at Heceta Head was manned around the clock until it went automated in 1963, and the light can still be seen from 21 miles out to sea. The lighthouse itself, the keeper’s house which stands farther down the cliff, and the rugged coastline below create a picture-perfect image of a time gone by.
Visitors can still tour the lighthouse, and climb to the lantern room up top. The keeper’s house has been turned into a romantic Bed and Breakfast, and weddings are often held on the manicured grounds. No one present much wants to talk about the gray apparition sometimes seen wandering the cliffs and trails around Heceta Head, but she’s there, just the same.
Her name is Rue, and legend has it she lived in the keeper’s house just after the turn of the 20th century. Rue was a bit lonely as a lighthouse keeper’s wife, but she planted a flower garden near the cliff’s west side, and by most accounts, was a contented woman. When her daughter was born, Rue truly came alive. She loved taking the girl for long walks in the woods behind the house.
One night, while Rue was occupied with cooking dinner, the little girl slipped out of the house unnoticed. Perhaps she was headed for a nighttime stroll, or out to check on her mother’s flowers. Either way, the small girl slipped off the cliffs and died in the wild Pacific waters below.
Rue went mad with grief. Day after day, she could be found sitting on the rocks above where her daughter’s body was recovered, tossing her precious flowers into the churning, tumbling waves. She was inconsolable, unable to move on, unwilling to leave the place where she felt her child’s spirit dwelled. Year after year, season after season, she sat and threw flowers into the water, until finally she died herself, either of old age, or a broken heart.
But even in death, Rue remains. Visitors to the lighthouse have reported seeing a gray shrouded figure walking the forested path from the lighthouse to the keeper’s residence. Flower petals often wash up on the small beach at the bottom of the cliffs. Maintenance workers at the keeper’s house have reported tools going missing, and later being found in impossible places. Strange noises and lights occupy the hillside late at night when no one is around.
By all accounts, Rue is a sad ghost, but not violent or malicious. She doesn’t set out to scare or startle. Perhaps she’s simply trapped and unaware of her passing. For Rue, her entire existence may well be a never-ending nightmare. She searches for her daughter on the rocky cliffs and tree-lined paths, and perhaps one day, she’ll find her. Only then will Rue finally be able to rest.
So the next time you’re driving down that lonely stretch of Highway 101 between Newport and Coos Bay, follow the signs and pull into the little parking area just before the bridge. Climb the trail, take in the view, and drop a few flower petals into the sea. And if you feel a warm breeze caress your face, or hear a slight sigh from behind you and turn to find no one there – well, that’s just Rue, still around after all these years.