A few weeks ago Mr Husband and I took advantage of a string of dry days and headed out for a little local adventure (and for a walk somewhere besides the neighborhood). Little were we to know the trouble we’d be stirring up with Finn McSpool.

A Little Mansion to Start Your Day

Our planned day out was a hike in Forest Park along a portion of the (almost) 30-mile long Wildwood Trail and rather than start at our “usual” spot by the zoo, we headed up to the trailhead at Pittock Mansion.

Now, ever since I got to go there on school trips, I have wanted to live in this little mansion (a mere 46 rooms), but until the City of Portland decides to gift it to me, I have to make do with strolling the grounds and peeking in the windows of this historic home that overlooks the city from its hilltop location.

Quick Fact: Pittock Mansion was the inspiration for Eury’s home in my book The Trials of Hercules. I’m sure this bit of trivia will one day be added to the mansion’s history page on the Pittock Mansion website.

Gawking complete, it was time to hit the trail.

Down Down Down

From the mansion it’s a long, steep walk downhill for about two miles. And yes, the whole time the fun thought of, “I’ve got to walk all the way back up” danced in my head. Ugh. But we did passed this group of cute men in funny hats on the way down.

Eventually, the long descent dumped us out at MacClay Park where we spent a little time checking out the resident birds at the Audubon Sanctuary before continuing down the next steep descent (in the mud, the slippery slippery mud, mind you) to Balch Creek Canyon.

Balch Creek

Due to its steep and narrow sides, the canyon barely sees any sunlight. This and the moist conditions make perfect growing conditions for clumps of moss and baby ferns.

And doesn’t this look like the perfect limb for Finn to explore?

Finn? Finn?

Uh-oh. Yep, in our hurry to get out and about, we forgot our favorite Beastie. Ah well, he’s probably not going to be very upset.

Love and Murder and Witchy Ways in the Old West

Once we’d played slip and slide down the muddy slope, the path leveled out along the creek. Our legs were grateful, but something had our spines tingling. Wait, do you hear something? Was that someone cackling? Could be, because we’d just come upon the Witch’s House.

The only cackling you’ll hear these days from this little stone house is that of drunken teens on Friday nights, but the Witch’s House has the perfect  history for a haunting.

Back before Oregon was officially a state, Danford Balch (who the creek was named after) bought this land and wanted to develop it. Well, this isn’t exactly mow-the-grass-and-slap-up-a-house kind of territory so he hired a worker with the appropriate name of Mortimer Stump to fell some trees and clear a potion of the property.

As will happen when you bring a hunky lumberjack into your home, one of Balch’s daughters, Anna,  got all googoo for Mortimer. Old Morty was an upright fellow and asked Balch if he could marry Anna. Sweet, right? Nope! Dad said, “No way Stumpy Boy.”

In total Shakespeare/romance novel fashion, Mortimer told Balch that he and Anna would just elope. I know what you’re thinking…if you’re going to try to elope you probably don’t want to be announcing it to your future father-in-law.

Balch clearly had some anger management issues to sort out and told Morty that he would murder him if he eloped with Anna. After a threat like that, you’d think Mort might either back down, or (in true Shakespearian/romance novel fashion) steal off with his lady love and begin a new life far away from psycho dad.

Since real life is always more interesting than fiction (and the characters in real life far stupider), Mort and his new wife Anna return from their elopement. Does Balch realize his errors? Does he jump for joy that his daughter has returned to him? Hell no. Batch has been on a bender since the couple fled. He greets Morty not with open arms, but with a shotgun blast to the face in true Old West style.

Balch doesn’t get away with murder, but here’s where the Shakespearian tragedy takes on a Keystone Cop aspect. The authorities put Balch in a wooden jail cell. In little time, he escaped from his half-assed prison. The officials must have been aware of the fault in their jail design because they quickly caught Balch and executed him.

What’s the stone house in the pictures got to do with this story? Um, nothing. It happens to be built on Balch land sort of near where the homestead was, but the stone house itself was only built in the 1930s as a station for park rangers and work crews.

But hey, that doesn’t mean the land can’t be haunted, right? Except for the fact that both Morty and Balch were killed/executed miles away from the actual homestead site. Ah well, it makes a good story, nonetheless.

Soothing the Savage Beastie

We managed to make it away from the “haunted” Witch’s House and back up those steep slopes, but we feared what we might come home to. Maybe Finn had been sleeping the whole time and didn’t even realize we’d been gone.

The minute I opened the door, I knew it wasn’t going to be that easy. You could almost feel the chill of Finn’s displeasure. Even my toucan whistle was giving me the evil eye.


Luckily monsters are easy to divert from their anger. I took Finn by the paw and led him outside where he delighted in the sight of the crocuses that just popped up…and in Finn’s favorite colors!

How about you? Any slippery hikes lately? Any haunted houses or angry monsters near you? Thanks for popping by. I’ll be back next Wednesday with some writing news, and Finn will be back in a couple weeks with another at-home creation! See you then!!!


Curious About More Portland History and/or hiking? Check Out These Books…

Hidden History of Portland

Walking Portland: 30 Tours of Stumptown’s Funky Neighborhoods, Historic Landmarks, Park Trails, Farmers Markets

Wicked Portland: The Wild and Lusty Underworld of a Frontier Seaport Town

One City’s Wilderness: Portland’s Forest Park

Portland in Three Centuries: The Place and the People

Take a Walk: Portland: More Than 75 Walks in Natural Places from the Gorge to Hillsboro and Vancouver to Tualatin

Roadside History of Oregon

16 thoughts on “Witchy Houses & Angry Monsters, aka “Your Average Day Out in Portland”

  1. Oh, poor Finn! Isn’t it lucky those crocuses (croci?) popped up to soothe his wounded pride, or you might have had a serious tantrum on your hands? And thanks for sharing that great tale of love, tragedy and shotguns… Those old-time folks had some seriously awesome names, didn’t they?
    Also, a heads-up – I’m totally coming to visit you when the city finally sees sense and gifts that mansion to you! 😀


    1. I believe it’s “crocusiises”. I might have an extra s in there though. Yeah, I don’t care if it’s male or female, I’m determined to name my next pet “Mortimer” even if he wasn’t the smartest guy in the love department. Or in the don’t-get-shot-in-the-face department. And don’t worry, the moment the deed is signed over to me, I’ll set aside one of the rooms as The Helen Suite first thing! :))


      1. Ah yes – if in doubt, go with the Gollum school of pluralising conventionses! Mortimer is an excellent name for a pet as well – I can see it working for everything from a goldfish to an elephant. Now I’m off to pack my go-bag for my trip to Portland… I reckon that house is coming to you any day now! 😀

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      2. YES!! I’m looking forward to your first book for kids, “The Adventures of Finn and Mortimer”… in which a small woolly monster attempts to upstage a bemused pacyderm several thousand times his size! 😂

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  2. We actually have a house nearby which could be haunted. It’s been decrepit for years, just sitting on the corner after the owner died, with all the outbuildings falling to pieces as well.

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  3. How’d I miss this post?! Trying to get caught up on everything!!! Awww how could you do such a thing to Finn??? Hhahaha. I’d be very afraid now he’s got that toucan on his side! Looks like you had a lovely day though, and I suppose it’s for the best that Finn didn’t have an opportunity to sample those mushrooms. Ooooohhh I love the insider fact about Eury’s mansion! Gosh, Anna Balch sure caused a lot of family strife, didn’t she? I guess she must have felt pretty guilty that she survived the blood bath. Okay, I’m off to see what else I have missed!

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    1. Ah yes, Anna the little trollop! Glad you liked the peek into Eury’s mansion. I’ll have to do a post from Salem, Oregon, so you can see the inspiration for the Salemnos palace. I know, I can’t believe I forgot Finn. I mean what’s the point of going out and doing things if I can’t make a Finn-based blog post about it? Especially since the Finn posts are always more popular than the “just me” posts.

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      1. Oooohhh the Salemnos palace seems sooooo nice… except for now I know it’s haunted by several murder victims!!!!!! And haha – I know! We visited a ridiculous ‘Cheese Museum’ and ‘Tulip Museum’ in Amsterdam for the sole purpose taking pics of Sinead… worth it!


      2. Oh come on, tell me you took her to the Sex Museum…that place is hilarious and I imagine it would have been even more fun if I’d hadn’t been Beastie-less when I went there.

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