One of the conclusions that I've made while researching the history behind the names found around Cape Disappointment is that many of them come from tragedies. Many of the names come from tragedies, such as the naming of Waikiki Beach, involve shipwrecks.

The mouth of the Columbia River has been called appropriately the Graveyard of the Pacific. Keeping with this analogy, I believe many local landmarks or natural features are like headstones bearing the names of either a ship that went down or a member of the ship. Some names, like Deadman's Cove or Deadman's Hollow don't specify who exactly was lost - in these two cases chances are there have been multiple personalities washed ashore in these locations. Other names are more revealing and serve as reminders of why this body of water is considered so dangerous.

The earliest name that I know of stemming from a shipwreck is Peacock Spit. In 1841, the Wilkes Expedition arrived at the mouth of the Columbia in order to make a more accurate map for the U.S. government. This expedition had been sailing all around the world making scientific observations; they claimed to have been the first Americans to visit Antarctica among other achievements. Well, as experienced as Wilkes' crew was, their visit here left behind another name stemming from tragedy. While mapping the river's mouth, one the boats, called the Peacock, got stranded on a sand bar and was broken to pieces. No lives were lost in this mishap, but the name Peacock Spit can still be found on the maps, even though the North Jetty almost entirely eliminated this hazard.

One of my favorite places at Cape Disappointment State Park is Beard's Hollow. There never seem to be too many people there and the rocks and the caves intrigue me. Although the hollow has been filled in with acres of sand since the North Jetty was built, this corner on the north side of North Head still has the name given to it in the 1850's. It was January 1853 when a boat called the Vandalia washed ashore with several bodies surrounding it, one of which was Capt. Edward Beard. No one knows what happened that night, but the name still sticks, remembering another victim to the mouth of the Columbia.

Benson Beach had barely been formed entirely before it was named. After the North Jetty was completed in 1917 much of the sand that was flushed out of the river's mouth built a new beach. This beach grew and grew, extending from near the tip of the jetty to North Head, with its maximum growth reached around the late 1920s. Even though Peacock Spit was almost entirely washed out, it was still lingering around under the water beyond the tip of the jetty. It is this shallow area that stranded a huge passenger ship known as the Admiral Benson. The Benson got stuck in 1930 and started to sink in the sands almost immediately but was still visible for almost 20 years after. The ship has now been sucked entirely into the sand, but the name still sticks.

If you are interested in learning more about any of these places or names, I invite you to check out the viewing room, also known as the Clifton-Rudeen Gallery, at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. The exhibits that focus on shipwrecks include artifacts, maps and journal quotes to increase your understanding of these tragedies that have left their names behind on the landscape like epitaphs on headstones.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.