This month’s haunting brings us all the way back to Portland, Oregon, to an abandoned structure in the thick woods there. The bones of this legendary building stand on land on which a bloody and misogynistic murder took place, and some believe the land to be cursed or haunted. What happened at the site of the Witch’s House? And why is it called the Witch’s House, if no witches are mentioned in the lore at all? Let’s explore.
For once, our historical section of the haunted house is pretty set in stone – there are corroborating historical accounts and documents to back it up. The history of this plot of land goes back to the 1850s, when Portland was undergoing intense development. Danforth Balch bought the land on which the Witch’s Castle stands today. Because the land was wooded, Balch hired a man to help him clear the trees. The assistant was named Mortimer Stump. The working relationship went well…until Stump, a grown man, fell in love with the 15 year old daughter of Balch, named Anna. Balch was vehemently against this relationship, and refused to give his blessing for the marriage. When Stump and Anna threatened to elope, Balch said he would murder Stump if they went through with that plan.
The couple did, indeed, run away and elope in November of 1858. This development led to Balch spiraling into deep depression – he drank for days and slept little. When Stump and Anna returned for supplies, Balch confronted them. Fueled, with rage, he shot Stump in the stomach and killed him. Balch was then arrested for Stump’s murder. Balch was immediately apprehended and, while awaiting his trial, broke free from his holding cell. He tried to hide out in the woods, but was caught by law enforcement quickly. He was sentenced to death for his crimes and publicly hanged on October 17, 1859 – the first legal execution in the state.
The land was bought and sold throughout the ensuing years, but was never developed into anything. Eventually, the city of Portland itself took ownership of the acreage, on which they erected the stone building that has come to be known as the Witch’s Castle. It was used as a base for park rangers and had facilities for those hiking through the area. The structure was abandoned in the early 1960s after it was damaged in a severe storm, and apparently deemed unfit to fix. After this, nature began to reclaim it – moss consumed the stone, the trees encroached on its perimeter,, windows and doors eroded. People made their way out to the structure to leave their own mark on the stone, as well – graffiti has often been found marking the stone. Disrespectful, if you ask me.
When it comes to haunting phenomena, there is said to be a variety of ghostly activity at the witch’s. First, some say that they have seen the spirits of the Balch family and Stump floating around the structure, despite the structure not having existed during their lifetimes. Apart from the murder, visitors feel deeply uneasy upon entering the bathrooms that stand on the land now. The toilets there also flush on their own.
There are also the garden variety “orbs” and strange noises in the woods. These are always easy to write off. Orbs can be dust motes caught in a camera flash or a bug’s wings reflecting oddly as they fly through the frame. Noises in the woods could be anything – animals walking through the brush or flying, other humans traipsing around, or dead vegetation shifting and falling. Of course, I can’t say definitively that every experience had at the Witch’s Castle is easily explainable. Investigators have also allegedly gotten intelligent responses on EVP, meaning that their questions are answered correctly and the responses to their conversations make sense. Just Google “Witch’s Castle EVP.”
As for the name, there are two schools of thought. The first states that Balch accused his wife of “bewitching” him, forcing him to murder Stump. Of course, there is no other documentation of his wife practicing any sort of magic or even holding any ill will towards Stump. If Balch truly did make the bewitchment claim, then it would seem that he was looking to pass the buck and shrug off responsibility. And if you have studied the history of witchcraft claims at all, you’ll be aware that women were accused of witchcraft for such transgressions as reading or speaking against her husband. Perhaps Balch’s wife even spoke out in support of or indifference to the marriage, and the claim was a way to punish her for her conflicting views.
The other origin story for the name is not tied to the lore at all. After the structure was built and abandoned, local teenagers began to make the trek to the structure to party. Because kids party in the woods. What better spot in the woods than a creepy abandoned structure with a horrific legend attached to it? Around the 80s, teens gave the structure its name – possibly because they knew about the “bewitching” aspect of the legend, but possibly also because witches are just inherently creepy. There is also the Satanic Panic of the 80s to consider. Seemingly every out-of-the-way structure was a den of iniquity and the teens that gathered there were conducting dark rituals to commune with Satan. In reality, 99% of those teens were just looking for a quiet place to get drunk or high, but I don’t think it’s out of the question that locals believed the teens gathering at the abandoned structure in the woods were up to some sort of witchcraft.