Oregon coast timbers may be from shipwreck that inspired ‘The Goonies’
Special To The Washington Post July 10, 2022
When archaeologists entered caves along the Oregon coast last month, they found no evidence of the booby-trapped pirate ship Inferno or its captain, One-Eyed Willie. But they did locate a dozen timbers they think came from the 17th-century sunken Spanish galleon that inspired Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film “The Goonies,” which featured the fictional pirate and his treasure-laden vessel.
“No booby traps, just the timbers,” said Scott Williams, president of the Maritime Archaeological Society. He and his team retrieved the timbers in mid-June in an archaeological expedition that wouldn’t have been out of place in “Indiana Jones” - another Spielberg creation.
“The caves are incredibly hard to get to,” he said. “They are located on a beach that is only accessible at high tide, and it’s a tough hike to get to it over landslides and boulder fields.”
This discovery continues to fuel the search for the wreck of the Santo Cristo de Burgos, a Spanish galleon that disappeared in the Pacific Ocean in 1693. Historians say it may have sunk off the coast of what is now Oregon, where items believed to have been on the vessel have washed ashore for centuries.
The idea of a missing ship turns up in “The Goonies,” a cult classic starring Sean Astin, Josh Brolin and Corey Feldman as a group of ragtag kids searching for treasure after discovering a long-lost map.
According to a spokesperson at Spielberg’s company, Amblin Productions, the movie mogul used the story of the San Cristo de Burgos as inspiration for the film, which is set in Astoria, Ore. — near where the timbers and other artifacts have been discovered.
In “The Goonies,” the pirate ship Inferno breaks free from its hideaway and sails off with no crew to parts unknown. In reality, the 105-foot movie prop was destroyed after filming was completed.
What exactly happened to the Santo Cristo de Burgos in 1693 is a mystery. The ship simply disappeared during a crossing from Manila to Acapulco, Mexico — a common trade route for Spanish merchants at the time. The vessel was known to be carrying a cargo of beeswax to make candles, rare silks and Chinese porcelain.
For two centuries, people have been finding evidence of a shipwreck along the Oregon coast, fueling a belief that the Santo Cristo de Burgos was blown off-course in a storm and foundered nearby. According to a National Geographic story, oral histories of local Indigenous tribes recall a long-ago sinking. Blocks of beeswax with Spanish markings and broken pieces of porcelain have washed ashore near Astoria since the early 1700s, Williams said.
“Both offer strong clues that this was a Spanish galleon,” he said. “The Chinese porcelain is important. That was a luxury good where the designs changed every 10 or 20 years. We can tell this porcelain was made between 1680 and 1700, which helps us date when the ship wrecked.”
For 15 years, archaeologists have been trying to find what is now known as the Beeswax Wreck. Recently, a local fisherman found some ancient-looking timbers on an Oregon beach, prompting the search of nearby caves for more of the weathered wood. Immediately, people began saying the 12 timbers discovered last month — one measuring nearly 8-feet in length — were from the Santo Cristo de Burgos.
But are they?
“We’re about 90% sure they are, but there is nothing definitive that we’ve seen that says they are from the ship that went missing in 1693,” said Williams, who also is a cultural resources program manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation.
“It’s some kind of ship built in Asia or possibly South America, which would have been the case with the Santo Cristo de Burgos,” which is believed to have been constructed at a Spanish port on the Pacific Ocean, Williams said. “There’s a chance it’s an unknown shipwreck, but the odds are small for that. The simplest explanation is that these timbers are part of the galleon.”
So could the remainder of the Santo Cristo de Burgos still be off the coast of Oregon? Williams hopes so. His team with the Maritime Archaeological Society, a volunteer organization that documents shipwrecks and studies maritime history in the Pacific Northwest, plans to do more research.
“The area offshore is part of a marine reserve, so we can’t go in there and start digging things up,” he said. “However, we do plan to do some diving over the summer. We also have an underwater remote-operated vehicle with a camera and we’ll try to run that around offshore.”
What’s left of the wreckage is most likely submerged in sand, making it difficult to find. Williams hopes his team will spot something that proves it is the Spanish galleon.
“We’re hoping that one of our divers will stumble on a Spanish cannon laying on the ocean floor,” he said. “That would be pretty exciting!”
If they do find the wreck, maybe it will provide Spielberg with the inspiration to make a sequel to the 1985 movie. The film producer and director, who declined an interview request through his company spokesperson, has said for years that he wanted to make “The Goonies 2,” but the timing was never right.
To quote a classic line from the movie, “Goonies never say die!”
Apparently, neither does the legend of the Santo Cristo de Burgos.