As the weather changes and the winds creak the shedding trees, our thoughts turn to the peaceful plots buried in our past. With storied towns filled with folklore, a few skeletons lurk in the closets. Join us as we walk softly through some of the graveyards of Pacific County to visit the final resting places of infamous characters whose legacies still haunt our history today.
Graveyard of the Pacific
One of the most famous graveyards of Pacific County is our coastline. It is the final home to many lost ships and souls. Grimly named The Graveyard of the Pacific, it’s a watery resting place stretching from the Columbia River’s mouth to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, Canada. Tempestuous shorelines, murky mists, and cruel currents have caused more than 2,000 shipwrecks and claimed more than 700 lives. More than 200 of those wrecks occurred along our coastline.
Visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center to view water-logged artifacts pulled from several notable wrecks along our shores. Take the self-guided tour of the Shipwrecks Along the Discovery Trail. Or hike to Cape Disappointment Lighthouse for a bird’s eye view of the passionate waters that claimed so many lives.
Beard’s Hollow and Dead Man’s Cove
More briny proverbial burial plots are two beaches in Cape Disappointment. Beard’s Hollow, a small beach near North Head Lighthouse, is named after the discovery of Captain E.N. Beard’s body on the sandy shoreline. A casualty of the Graveyard of the Pacific, Captain Beard helmed the Vandalia in 1853. The ship washed up with four bodies, including the captain, and the area now carries his namesake. Additional bodies were found around the bend in Deadman’s Cove near Cape D Lighthouse. Though the monikers are somewhat grim, both beaches gave a peaceful resting place for the lost souls.
Heed this warning! If you’re attempting to visit or pay your respects, Deadman’s Cove is only accessible during low tide. Stay out of Davy Jones’ locker by avoiding the cove when the tide is high.
Willie Keil’s Grave
Willie Keil was born in 1836 and was the son of Dr. Wilhelm Keil, the founder of the religious colony Bethel in Missouri. Willie enthusiastically supported his father’s plan to move the colony west and was planning on driving the wagon during the journey. Less than a week before they departed, Willie died suddenly from malaria. Before he passed, he begged his father to take him on the journey.
Determined to keep his promise to his son, Dr. Keil and the colony fashioned a decidedly unusual coffin for him. Willie was placed inside a wooden barrel lined with lead and covered with 100-proof Golden Rule whiskey. He was preserved in whiskey for six months as the wagon train traveled from Missouri to the Willapa Valley. He is the only person known to have crossed the Oregon Trail dead.
Over time, his story became a legend, and Willie became known as “the Pickled Pioneer.” His final resting spot joins the graveyards of Pacific County on a hill near Menlo. Tribute plaques tell his tale at the gravesite, and you can find his original wooden grave marker at the Northwest Carriage Museum in Raymond. More than just folklore, Willie’s story now represents the power of a promise kept. When you visit the site, pour one out for ol’ Willie.
Just past the shell-crackled streets of Oysterville sits one of the most peaceful graveyards of Pacific County. Built in 1858, Oysterville Cemetery houses the graves of many of the pioneers and original settlers of the town.
Notable plots include plots for the Espy and Clark family, as well as the decorated grave of Chief Nahcati. Chief Nahcati is credited with showing R.H. Espy the hearty oyster beds (though later discoveries would point to another individual.) Not far from Chief Nahcati’s plot is the haunting homage to the unknown sailors who washed ashore in Oysterville. A stark wooden marker reads, “And the sea gave up its dead…” as a tribute. And when you’re there, be sure to lay some flowers on the grave of Sarah Crouch. Sarah drowned in the Willapa River in 1893 under what some called mysterious circumstances.
Riverside and Washington Cemeteries
Located directly across from each other, you can find these two graveyards of Pacific County in Raymond. The plots haphazardly cover the hilly grass patches off Cemetery Road. The land once belonged to Job Lamley, Pacific County’s first sheriff. When his son, George, died in 1891, they buried him in the orchard on their farm. The land eventually became the cemeteries we know today.
Many of the wooden markers were lost to rot or weather conditions. The tangled vines and weeds made visiting a chore. In recent years, they have been lovingly tended to by locals, though the passing of time has weathered the remaining headstones. When visiting, try to find Martha Miller’s grave. A mother of nine, Martha became a resident of Pacific County in 1889. She settled here when it was still wilderness and built a farm from the timber. Her obituary noted that she was one of the county’s most beloved and cheerful women, and a considerable crowd braved a blustery storm to attend her funeral.
Hearses of the Northwest Carriage Museum
The beloved Northwest Carriage Museum is home to more than 60 historical carriages, buggies, work wagons, and sleighs. A figurative final resting place for most of these cherished vehicles, the collection also includes several soul-stirring hearses as old as 1900. Their hand-carved Vienna hearse is breathtaking in its craftsmanship. Once owned by one of Vienna’s largest mortuaries, it transported dignitaries and the wealthy. And the ebony, intricately carved panel hearse is a showstopper. Made in 1888, you’ll spy it in the Errol Flynn film “Gentleman Jim.” Polished to a shadowy sheen, the wooden carriage has a spotlight feature in the museum. When you’re visiting, be sure to ask what the compartment below the caskets is used for.
Our cherished graveyards of Pacific County hold the final chapters of the beautiful stories of some of our most beloved characters. The next time you visit our towns and shores, be sure to take a stroll through their history.
By: Danelle Dodds
Danelle is an international traveler, road tripper, writer, and artist. She firmly believes in testing the limits of word count, mileage, and AYCE sushi.