Mary Pesonen ‘walks again’ in ghost TV show

Mary Pesonen, portrayed by Jenna Austin, appears in a white dress on the walkway of the lighthouse during filming of the TV show “Ghost Adventures.” It will air Saturday,Oct. 27, with an open mic ghost story party afterward.

Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, watching “Ghost Adventures” is entertaining to recognize the North Coast and Long Beach Peninsula locales.

Saturday’s episode features a handful of Peninsula actors, including Jenna Austin, who will portray Mary Pesonen who jumped to her death from the North Head Lighthouse in 1923.

Four other local actors will join her on screen. John Bageant filmed scenes as Pesonen’s husband and Dan Lee, Pat Schenk and Michael Mathis also appear.

The TV show premiered 10 years ago and filming has taken place all around the United States and overseas. This latest series of four episodes with Zak Bagins and his team has featured scenes at the wreck of the Peter Iredale at Fort Stevens State Park in Warrenton, Astoria’s Norblad Hotel and underground locations in Astoria.

After the fourth “Cape Disappointment” episode airs Saturday, Austin and others will gather at 8 p.m. at the Salt Hotel and Pub, 147 Howerton Ave., Ilwaco, to celebrate the show and tell some open mic ghost stories. 

Austin, prominent in the Ilwaco community through Queen La De Da’s/Don Nisbett Art Gallery, said her involvement came about after an unusual contact.

While running an errand at the Port of Ilwaco, she was stopped by a visitor parked next to the gallery. The man said his crew was filming at Cape Disappointment and needed net and ropes for a scene. Unable to locate any, she referred him to Hobo Junction — which led to its co-owner, Lee, being recruited.

Later, the man asked if Austin would be available for two to three hours of filming that afternoon. “There would be no lines and I would wear a white dress provided by them,” she said. “I would be playing the ghost of Mary Pesonen, the lighthouse keeper’s wife who jumped to her death many years ago.”

She met the director at the old lighthouse keeper’s residence at North Head.

“I ended up being asked to come back the next day as well. It was a bit more involved than was originally presented to me and I had no idea it was for a show called ‘Ghost Adventures’ or even what that show was about until I was about halfway through it,” Austin said.

The movie company wanted male extras “to play ghosts on the beach.” Schenk and Mathis joined the cast after Austin posted a call for actors on Facebook; Bageant was recruited through Peninsula Players.

Lee and his wife Yvonne own Hobo Junction in Long Beach. He had experience as an “extra” when he lived in Las Vegas and enjoyed another opportunity. After the production staff had purchased some nets from his store, “They said, ‘We are looking for a dead guy — and you fit the bill!’”

Filming took them into wooded areas, then the lighthouse.

“They said I was too clean, so I set about getting dirty and rolled around in mud puddles,” he laughed, recalling a scene where he and others had to play dead on the beach. “Nobody said there’s a wave coming — I literally had the wave over my head and was losing my glasses.”

The main character portrayed in the episode, Mary Watson Pesonen, was born in 1870, the wife of North Head Lighthouse keeper Alexander “Ikey” Pesonen, a Finnish immigrant who used to operate the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. They married in 1890, a couple of years after his posting to North Head as its first keeper.

He was approaching retirement when a Portland doctor reportedly diagnosed his wife with “melancholia,” a word used in the 1920s for depression-related illnesses. A brave assistant lighthouse keeper climbed down and retrieved her body from the ocean.

The lighthouse is 194 feet above the cold ocean on a bleak promontory that takes the brunt of bad weather. Newspapers suggested her “rash act” was prompted by the “desperate life of isolation and the incessant howling of the winds.”

Pesonen died two years later and they are buried next to each other in the Ilwaco Cemetery.

Over the years, the Chinook Observer has reported how visitors to the North Head have experienced feelings of a ghostly presence; volunteers, too, have reported unusual electrical surges and objects that appear to move.

The casting of Austin to portray Pesonen was a “serendipitous encounter,” she said.

Some while ago. Austin bid on a three-night stay at the lighthouse during an Ocean Beach Education Foundation auction.

She will tell about her unusual experience there at the premiere party Saturday.

“I have always been intrigued by Mary’s story and it turns out I possibly had a ghost experience with her and didn’t even know it was a ghost experience at the time!” she said.

“Graveyard of the Pacific: Cape Disappointment,” the last of four related episodes of the TV show “Ghost Adventures” shot on Oregon’s North Coast and Long Beach Peninsula, debuts at 6 p.m. Saturday,Oct. 27 on the Travel Channel.

A TV “premiere party” is planned for 8 p.m. Saturday,Oct. 27 at the Salt Hotel and Pub, 147 Howerton Ave., Ilwaco, with open mic ghost stories to follow. 

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