Funeral Industry News

“Terrible Tilly” Lighthouse-Turned-Columbarium Owners Seeking Investors

December 3, 2019

“Terrible Tilly” Lighthouse-Turned-Columbarium Owners Seeking Investors

It’s not everyday you meet someone who owns an island. Or a lighthouse. Or a 140-year-old historic landmark. If you ventured back to visit with the folks at Booth 1972 at the 2019 NFDA Convention and Expo, now you can say you’ve met someone who owns all three. And she’s offering you the chance to do the same.

Mimi Morissette purchased Oregon’s historic Tillamook Rock Lighthouse in 1980. Then an idealistic real estate investment counselor, Morissette and her partners dreamed of turning the structure into a columbarium. They gutted and cleaned the lighthouse, which had been neglected since it shone its final light in 1957. They reopened the long-closed doors of the lighthouse as Eternity at Sea Columbarium, eventually amassing 30 sets of cremains.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

The tale of Terrible Tilly

Serving as a repository for human remains isn’t Tillamook Rock Lighthouse’s only connection to death. In fact, it’s history is so littered with deadly tales that the lighthouse has earned the nickname “Terrible Tilly.” 

It’s said that Native Americans believed 1000-foot-high Tillamook Rock, which is situated about 20 miles south of northern Oregon’s Columbia River, was haunted by evil spirits. It wasn’t ghosts, though, but fierce winds and waves and 240-foot sheer cliffs that scared off most later visitors. In fact, the first surveyor to visit the rock after the U.S. Government commissioned a lighthouse for the property fell from the rock and was lost at sea.

Tillamook Waves

After more than 500 days of construction (by non-local workers who knew nothing of the legends), the lighthouse began operation in 1881. Unfortunately the giant lens was lit too late to save the crew of the Lupatia, which crashed on the rock two weeks earlier, killing all 16 men on board.

Boulders hurled by a historic 1934 storm smashed the lighthouse’s lantern room, and the lens was never replaced. In 1957, the structure was shuttered entirely. It remained uninhabited until Mimi Morissette — and the columbarium’s 30 current residents — moved in.

Old Tillamook Postcard

Tillamook today

Morissette and her team made great strides in 1980 toward shielding the structure from the elements. They replaced interior wood with cement, bricked up windows, and added a protective layer to the exterior. However, after 39 years, the lighthouse/columbarium is showing the inevitable signs of wear. 

To prolong the existence of Eternity at Sea Columbarium for, well, eternity, Morissette believes titanium is the answer. She would like to replace the metal covering the structure’s openings with titanium, which she calls the “forever metal.” To that end, she and partner Michael Allen Daves are seeking buyers or partners for Tillamook and Eternity at Sea. They’re also selling urns made of 99.9% pure titanium, the “only politically correct metal for maritime exposure and longevity.”

Although the columbarium’s license is currently invalid, if properly restored the structure could house the remains of up to 300,000 souls. Access to Tillamook Rock is restricted due to its remote location and the endangered seabirds that share the rock with the deceased. Tillamook is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Morissette listed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. 

If you’re interested in this unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, email Mimi Morissette at tobetterworld@msn.com.