By Laura Swanson
The recent return of a certain table that graced the first mayor of Manzanita, Ben Lane’s office to the Nehalem Valley Historical Society, and its “history” of being made from wood salvaged from various Manzanita Beach shipwrecks led to a review of the many historical shipwrecks.
Ben Lane’s table has a teak top which came from the Mimi, and the legs were said to come from a “mystery” shipwreck, possibly the beeswax ship.
From the 1500’s to lat
e 1800’s, the main mode for transporting goods and for exploration was by ship. Dangerous voyages were marked by pirates, gales, rocky and fog-shrouded shores. All these factors increased the odds against a successful voyage. The Spanish archives list 30 Manila cravels and galleons lost on westbound passages, with the initial crossing in 1565 until the final voyage in1815. There were also many English, Oriental and Portuguese ships that never returned to port. But Spain ruled the seas, having more treasure, more land colonized and more ships than other countries during this period.
Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain, and the beaches and the sand spits within its shadow were magnets for drawing ships to disaster. Many ships wrecked along the 10-mile area from the rocky point of Neah-Kah-Nie to the stretch of Manzanita Beach. The most famous, or maybe infamous, being the supposed “treasure” ship and the “beeswax” ship – neither vessel found or identified. The beeswax ship could have been the 1,000 ton Manila galleon the San Francisco Xavier, believed to have been lost at sea possibly between the years of 1705 to 1707. Or there was the San Jose, sailing from LaPaz in 1769 that was never heard from again. Both ships carried large cargoes of beeswax of the “ghedda” variety. Many pieces of this type of wax have been found on local beaches, some inscribed with bill of lading marks, dates and religious markings. Attempts to determine the beeswax origin are further complicated by other vessels that may also have met with disaster in the vicinity. Tons of beeswax hav been found along the beaches, and tons more probably remains. The source could be several ships’ cargo strewn along the spit, buried and even possibly lifted into Nehalem Bay during the 1700 tsunami. Recently, a 70 pound piece of beeswax was returned to the Nehalem Valley Historical Society. The exact origin of the beeswax is yet to be determined, but it’s possibly from the Manzanita Beach beeswax ship(s).
The early day galleon wrecks are surrounded by mystery and tragedy, and the 20th century also brought shipwrecks to the area, though most were not as mysterious, but still tragic. One of the earliest shipwrecks to come up on Manzanita Beach was the German bark, the Mimi. She came ashore on a foggy evening in February, 1913. The captain had lost his bearings and thought that he had reached the mouth of the Columbia River. The Mimi remained erect, and after nearly three months of deliberation, an attempt to pull her off the beach was made. The salvage crew made a mistake when they removed the ballast, so when she was pulled into deeper water, she fell on her side, and 17 men were killed in the salvage effort.
Later in 1913, on October 1st, the Glenesslin came ashore and was dashed against the rocks at the base of Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain. No lives were lost in the wreck, but there was controversy over how the ship came to rest on the rocks, as it was reported at the time that the captain may not have been at the wheel, and that he and the crew had been drinking. This big iron-hulled ship was built in Liverpool, England in 1885 and was one of the best ships of the DeWolf fleet. The Glenesslin was a record holder, making a run from Port Elizabeth, South Africa to Portland, Oregon in 74 days, a record never equaled by any other sailing vessel. In 1901, she won a trans-ocean sweepstakes race over a field of eight square-riggers. In 1902, she covered a thousand miles in four days running. The Glenesslin was stricken by Neah-Kah-Nie but she had left her mark.
The Frances H. Leggett shipwreck in the fall of 1914 was a catastrophe. She carried 67 passengers and crew, and a capacity load of railroad ties. She ran into winds and high seas just north of the mountain. The ship was never seen again but its load of railroad ties washed up all along Manzanita Beach. Only two of the 67 people on board were rescued.
In April of 1916, a lumber schooner, the Oakland, came ashore on Manzanita Beach unharmed. It was pulled down the beach, and put into the bay with very little damage.
The Nehalem Valley Historical Society is located beneath the Pine Grove Community House in downtown Manzanita, and they are open on Friday and Saturday afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m. The 70 pound piece of beeswax and Ben Lane’s table as well as a wide variety of other local area historical objects and photos are on display. For more information about the Nehalem Valley Historical Society, go to www.nehalemvalleyhistory.org.