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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse: History & Tales of Terrible Tilly is a maritime history book written by Brian D. Ratty. The Tillamook Lighthouse was the last of three lighthouses that were set up to help mariners safely navigate the Columbia River Bar. This area, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific, is second only to the entrance to the Amazon River in danger to shipping. Rip tides, fog, massive waves and rocks have combined their forces to sink nearly 2000 ships since 1792, earning the area the title of the Graveyard of the Pacific. Cape Disappointment, on the northern shore of the Columbia River Bar, was the first lighthouse, built in 1865. Then, ten years later, a second lighthouse, Point Adams, was built on the southern shore. The two, while they framed the entrance of the river, were not sufficient to keep mariners from danger, and it was decided that a third would be necessary. Locating it was problematic as the original planned site, Tillamook Head, was nearly always enshrined in fog. The surveyors finally settled on a large rock one mile offshore. While the location did prove to be the best option, getting the lighthouse built and kept in good condition proved to be anything but. Terrible Tilly earned her name early on.
Brian D. Ratty’s maritime history book, Tillamook Rock Lighthouse: History & Tales of Terrible Tilly, will thrill anyone who’s interested in lighthouses or in the history of the Pacific Northwest. I’m interested in both, so this book was a natural for me. Ratty’s story is beautifully told, giving the reader an insider’s look at every aspect of the process of preparing the rock, getting the workers to and from it, despite the inclement weather and waves, and the difficulties encountered by those lighthouse keepers who kept the light going. One of my favorite places to visit in San Francisco is the Maritime National Historical Park's Visitor Center, where a First Order Fresnel Lighthouse Lens is on display, so reading about how this lens was installed and used in the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was particularly of interest to me. Ratty includes a most impressive collection of photographs of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse under construction, shipwrecks, detailed pictures of the rock and its fissure and the lighthouse keepers who kept Tilly lit. Ratty’s own family history -- his grandfather nearly lost his life working on the lighthouse -- and his inclusion of letters and writings of the lighthouse keepers themselves, cap this absorbing and fascinating true-life story. I had a marvelous time reading this book! Tillamook Rock Lighthouse: History & Tales of Terrible Tilly is most highly recommended.