Twentieth Anniversary of Heaven’s Gate Cult Suicide and its Oregon Coast Roots

On September 14, 1975 approximately 200 people attended a meeting at the Bayshore Inn in Waldport on the Central Oregon Coast in response to a flyer posted around the area. The flyer read:

UFOs—Why they are here. Who they have come for. When they will land. Two individuals say they were sent from the level above human and will return to that level in a spaceship (UFO) within the next three months. This man and woman will discuss how the transition from the human level to the next level is accomplished, and when this may be done. If you have ever entertained the idea that there might be a real physical level in space beyond the Earth’s confines, you will want to attend this meeting.

At the meeting, Marshall Applewhite (Bo) and Bonnie Nettles (Peep) announced the imminent arrival of a spaceship that would transport interested parties to the “next evolutionary level.” Shortly afterward, 23 Waldport-area residents left with Applewhite and Nettles. The incident made national news and prompted CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite to remark during the October 8 broadcast, “A score of persons from a small Oregon town have disappeared. It’s a mystery whether they’ve been taken on a so-called trip to eternity…or simply taken.” Twenty-two years later, on March 26, 1997, coinciding with the appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet, 38 members of Applewhite’s Heaven’s Gate cult, including its founder, committed suicide by asphyxiation at the cult’s compound near San Diego. They killed themselves by swallowing a concoction of applesauce, Phenobarbital and vodka while plastic bags were fastened around their heads. All victims wore matching sweat suits and Nike sneakers. Males had been castrated. None of the Waldport people were among the dead.

The New York Post rushed out a book two months after the suicide. I’ve read it and it has some decent reporting here and there. In 2014, a university press published a professor’s book on the Heaven’s Gate cult. From what the online reviews indicated, the book proved a rather uninteresting and broad academic treatment of phenomenon that lacked a human dimension. I haven’t bothered to read it. Just why did these coastal people pack up and leave their lives in a matter of days? Who were they? Who are they now? It’s an existential mystery of the highest order!

Over the years, I’ve heard that some of the original 23 are back in Waldport. Perhaps they are willing to talk. No writer, as far as I can tell, has ever bothered visiting Waldport to seek out this incredible Oregon story. I am still kicking myself for not pursuing it when I lived in the area. I was in Waldport on a regular basis for events or hitting the dive bars and probably interacted with a few of the cult’s refugees.

The more interesting story of Heaven’s Gate is just waiting for someone curious to get on it.