The Witch’s Castle
May 12, 2023
On the Monday of October 17, 1859, a prominent land owner named Danford Balch was executed via public hanging after being found guilty of murdering his son-in-law Mortimer Stump. His own daughter and widow of Stump was present, front and center of her father’s hanging. Mortimer Stump was hired by Balch as a laborer to clear the large piece of land that was owned by the family. Mr. Balch was not just a landowner, he was also the husband of Mary Jane and together the couple had nine children. Anna was the oldest daughter at 15 years of age in 1858.
This very pretty young lady caught the eye of Mortimer Stump and he asked Balch for Anna’s hand in marriage. Balch subsequently rejected Stump’s request. Anna was devastated at her father’s refusal to allow the marriage; the star crossed lovers ran away together to Vancouver, Canada to get married on November 8, 1858.
Balch was furious at the discovery of his daughter missing and began to go on drinking binge that lasted for several days. When the newly weds returned to the property, Balch was waiting for them with a double barrel shotgun. On the Stark Street deck on the Willamette River; Danford Balch shot Stump to death. The public execution of Danford Balch, was the first legal hanging in the state of Oregon. Balch tried to defend himself by stating that he did not mean to shoot Stump; that the gun went off by accident. Also, Balch denied responsibility of Stump’s death because his wife Mary Jane “bewitched” him into taking action against the man. After Mr. Balch was put to death, his family continued to live on the homestead. As the children became of age; the land was divided among all nine of them. Eventually, in 1897 a Donald Macleay gave the property to the City of Portland to be used as a park.
The land of which this murder and execution took place is now a wilderness preserve called Forest Park. The picturesque landscape has been a popular location for joggers and campers for decades. So much so that the Portland Parks and Recreation Department constructed a stone building that functioned as a Park Ranger headquarters and public bathroom for patrons. In 1962 a powerful storm crashed through the city of Portland and caused a great amount of roof damage to the Park Ranger’s office in Forest Park. For reasons unverifiable, the building was never repaired and soon after was abandoned. In the years to follow, this stone structure was slowly reclaimed by nature and became a frequent underground venue for late night teenage parties.
Due to the abandoned office being made of stone and mortar and the walls becoming overwhelmed by moss; the locals dubbed it “The Witch’s Castle.” Despite the name, there have been no reported occurrences of the land being used for Occult practices. With or without the presence of Occult happenings; this small building acts as a landmark for paranormal activity. Two fully bodied apparitions have been reported over the many decades. These apparitions are of two men and are believed to be the restless spirits of none other than Danford Balch and Mortimer Stump.
Also, it has been said that if one goes to The Witch’s Castle at or around midnight; two groups of spirits are spotted quarreling with each other. The theory is that the Balch and Stump families continue to battle amongst each other over the murder of Mortimer. It is not only warring spirits that are seen, but also spirit orbs have been spotted and the whispers and screams of children. The land of Forest Park has seen a great deal of history and most of it has not been recorded. With a land steeped in high conflict, blood shed, and emotion it is no wonder that there are mysterious, unexplained occurrences happening at this location. It seems that it is not the building that is the source of the supernatural phenomena; it is the land itself that has imprinted the chaotic dynamic of the people that called this place home. As for the building, it is unusual that the local government of Portland has allowed it to decay, instead of repairing or demolishing it. Perhaps the otherworldly beings of the land keep construction work at bay; Perhaps they are protecting their home from outsiders.