Are There Witches In Salem Oregon? Were The Salem Witch Trials In Oregon?

A few weeks ago, I had some family in town for the holidays and I ended up seeing some of my nieces and nephews for the first in a few years, as they live out of state.

At one point after dinner, my nephew comes up to me and says, “Hey uncle, you know things about history, right?” I thought about it for a second and I said, “I know some things about history, but not all of them. Is there anything specific you’re interested in?”

He said his teacher at school had mentioned they would be talking about the Salem Witch Trials and he wanted to know more about them so he’d be prepared.

Also, he wanted to know if they had taken place in Salem, Oregon since he heard me mention I’d gone there last weekend. I told him I’d tell him everything that I remembered from high school about it.

Did the Salem Witch Trials Take Place in Oregon?

No, the Salem Witch Trials did not take place in Salem, Oregon, nor did they take place in the cities of the same name in Florida, Alabama, New York, New Jersey, or 13 of the 14 other states that have a town by that name.

They actually took place in Salem, Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693. Over 200 people were accused of witchcraft with 19 people being hanged after being found guilty.

The reason for this is not known, although there are many theories. Personally, the one that I believe is ergot poisoning from infected local grain caused delusions and hallucinations, which led to the crusade against “witchcraft”.

However, just because the actual witch trials did not take place in Oregon, there are several stories involving (alleged) witchcraft that have been reported in the area.

Are There Witches in Salem, Oregon?

The answer to that question lies in what you’d consider a witch. If you mean a woman in a pointed hat with flying monkeys like Margaret Hamilton’s character in The Wizard of Oz, then probably not, although I haven’t met everyone in Salem and can’t say that for sure.

The other type of witch that Salem does have are practitioners of Wicca, the modern form of the ancient Pagan religion which has its origins in the occultist traditions of men like Aleister Crowley.

The most popular group here is the Wild Witches of the Willamette, whose members gather for witch walks, esbats, and online classes via Zoom.

The Temple of Oculus Anubis

Branching out a little bit into the greater Salem area, about 50 miles northeast of the city lies the former city of Damascus, which was disincorporated several years ago after years of lawsuits and controversy.

Near the now-incorporated community can be found a large, gated estate at the end of a cul-de-sac that people online call “The Temple of the Ocular Anubis“, as it is decorated with Egyptian art and statues, as well as a series of large “No Trespassing” signs.

Many theories have abounded about this place, from cult activities to a breeding ground for witches and just about everything in between. It has been dubbed “the creepiest place in Oregon” by several online commentators.

Adding to the mystery is that it is entirely private property and the few people every year who choose to ignore the no-trespassing request are quickly asked to leave by law enforcement.

The reality may be disappointing to some, as there is evidence that the “Temple” has nothing to do with witches or the occult at all.

It was revealed several years ago that the home belonged to an optometrist in Gresham who was convicted of insurance fraud and may have used some of those ill-gotten gains to purchase the art and statues on the property.

This hasn’t stopped some internet conspiracy theorists, however, who believe that there is more to the story and that an army of witches will emerge from the property any day now.

Lafayette Witchcraft

About 25 miles north of Salem is the city of Lafayette, which has about 2,500 people and, is named for Lafayette, Indiana, where the town’s founder was originally from.

There are many different versions of this story but this is the one that I’ve always heard and, as I understand it, the one with the most historical accuracy (allegations of witchcraft notwithstanding).

In 1885, a woman named Anna Marple moved from Corvallis to Lafayette with her son Richard and his wife. Sometime later, Anna started dating a local shopkeeper named David Corker.

In November 1886, Corker was found brutally murdered by an axe inside his shop, which had been ransacked.

The police spoke to Richard Marple, who denied having anything to do with the grisly murder but, like a Law and Order character, decided to insult the victim repeatedly during his police interview.

After a search of his house turned up a bloody shirt and the murder weapon, he was arrested for the killing and, a year later, was sentenced to death by hanging.

His mother, who had been accused of witchcraft previously, was in attendance at his execution and allegedly cast a terrible curse on the town, declaring that it would never be prosperous and that it would burn to the ground on three separate occasions.

Many websites that have reported on the story claim that the town has been burned twice already and a third may be on its way any day now.

However, after checking into the historical records, it turns out the town has actually suffered seven or so major fires since she made the declaration. That doesn’t sound as cool, though.

She moved away shortly after her son’s hanging but people still claim to see her ghost and hear footsteps or voices in the town’s Pioneer Cemetery. Could the town be haunted by the ghost of this witch? I don’t know; I’ve never been to Lafayette.

The Witch’s Castle

About 45 miles north of Salem in Portland, you’ll find an abandoned building called “The Witch’s Castle” in Forest Park. There are two theories as to why the structure got its name, the first of which relates to the history of the property itself.

The Witch’s Castle (now covered in graffiti)

In 1858, the property belonged to a man named Danford Balch, who lived with his wife and eight children on a homestead near what had recently become the city of Portland.

Balch needed help clearing out some of the trees nearby, so he hired a 25-year-old man from Vancouver, Washington, who went by the name of Mortimer Stump. Probably hired him because the last name was appropriate for someone involved in cutting down trees.

At first, everything was fine, until Mortimer met and fell in love with Balch’s daughter Anna, who was either 15 or 16 depending on the source. She, too, loved him and they asked for Danford’s permission to marry.

The elder Barch was enraged and fired Mr. Stump, told him to leave the property immediately, and promised that he would shoot Mortimer if he ever saw him again.

The young Anna disagreed with her father’s decision and a few days later, left the house and fled to Vancouver to get married. The laws were more relaxed and it was a popular destination for people looking to elope. It was the Las Vegas of the 1850s.

A few weeks later, Mortimer, his parents, and Anna returned to Portland to gather supplies, where Danford Barch coincidentally happened to be walking down the street. After a brief confrontation, Mortimer was shot and killed by his father-in-law.

Danford later claimed that his wife “bewitched” him into doing it, which is one possible origin for the other name.

The other is that a group of teenagers who used to hang out at the stone building (which was actually a park ranger’s office and bathrooms built on the spot of the Barch’s old house) claimed that they felt dark forces at work, like a witch casting spells.

No matter how the building got its name, you can check it out for yourself by visiting Forest Park’s Upper Macleay Loop parking lot and hiking for about one-half mile.

The Wrap-Up

As you can see, although the Salem Witch Trials did not actually take place in Oregon and the city itself does not have many stories involving magic, there are many stories about encounters with witches from the surrounding area.

Just like a ghost story in a television episode or movie, all of these can be easily explained as coincidences or distortions of the truth. However, it could just as easily be possible that it’s all real.

Whether you’re a big believer in witches and magic or you think it’s a bunch of nonsense, you’re bound to have a great time on your next trip to Oregon. We can’t wait to see you soon!

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