Lafayette, Oregon Passing through the iron gates at the bottom of the hill, one feels like they’re crossing an otherworldly threshold. The long path winds between trees, barely visible as it makes its way to the top of the hill. Whispers are heard on the wind, and stories are told from those who’ve been here before and those that have the scars to prove it. It is no house protected by dogs, but a city of the dead watched over by one who was murdered by a town and the malignant prophecy that some say will soon be fulfilled.
The most famous of times for American witches is probably during the Salem witch trials, in which many lost their lives for their faith. Several of those executed were wrongfully accused, and still others were guilty only of following the edict of the nation’s founders, that this country shall be free for every religion.
Little is known about the woman who was hanged as a witch in Lafayette, Oregon, only tales passed down from the older generations to today’s youth. Who she was and what her specific crimes were may be forever lost to history. But what is known is that she was accused of being a witch and was therefore hung.
Methods of coercion in the 1850’s were, to say the least, brutal. A person accused of being a witch had quite the smorgasbord of painful devices to look forward to, each more painful than the last. Efforts to obtain confessions included branding, whipping, and being put on public display in the stocks. If the usual methods didn’t yield a confession, pressing, in which the accused was placed beneath a board and rocks were piled on until a confession was obtained or the victim was crushed, was often used, as was holding the victim’s head under water until she drowned. More painful methods included thumbscrews and "witches sandals," metal shoes which were heated red-hot and then placed on the victim’s feet.
However the method of coercion, the woman was found guilty of practicing witchcraft and sentenced to hang. On the eve of her hanging, the woman confessed her religion in a most profound way, by laying a curse upon the city of Lafayette, saying that by her word, the city would burn to the ground three times. She was hanged and her body buried in what would become Lafayette Cemetery.
Since that time, the city of Lafayette has burned to the ground. Twice. The first fire ravaged the town in1857. Since the second fire leveled the town, many have lived in fear that the witch’s curse might just come true.
While most people agree that a cemetery as old as Lafayette should, and probably does, have several resident specters, there is only one that causes people alarm, and it is the witch herself.
From the moment one passes the cemetery gates, it becomes clear that there are others watching. Feelings of dread and foreboding are common, intensifying the closer one comes to the top of the hill. All that, however, could be easily attributed to imagination. It is, after all, a cemetery.
More difficult to assign to the realm of imagination is the fact that many people have seen her. Several amateur ghost hunters have reported seeing her standing just at the outskirts of the main burial area. Others claim to have been followed. Still more have watched as she strolls through the cemetery, as if she’s watching over the graves and laughing at those interred within.
Many who have chanced entry into this cemetery have their own souvenirs of the experience. A woman who was new to the area went with her husband in June of 2002 to see what all the fuss was about. When they got back home and reviewed their videotape, they were startled to hear a woman’s voice moaning "RUN HOME!" in the playback.
The most dramatic evidence of the witch’s presence, however, is of a grisly nature. Those that have lingered too long in the cemetery at night say they’ve been chased away by the witch and that she screams and lashes at them with pointed talons. When skeptics laugh and tell them it was their imaginations, they are met with the scars on the backs of the victims. It seems that the scars were made by something sharp as a razor, slashing down at them from above. According to them, it was the witch, furious with having her resting place disturbed.
The Lafayette Cemetery still stands in the city of Lafayette in Yamhill County, just south of Portland. The heavy iron gates stay locked at night, and trespassers who aren’t afraid of the witch could easily have living problems, as the police routinely patrol the area.
She can be seen at night, though her presence is felt all day long. There doesn’t seem to be a "best" time to visit this site, as sightings occur year round and with no real pattern. The 2002 sighting and voice recording occurred in the summer month of June, but there has also been reported activity in the dead of winter and the cool months of spring. Since the city has already burned twice, however, be on the lookout for floating embers. The third time’s a charm!
As with any type of folklore or urban legend, it is often the case that stories run askew of, or even contrary to, the facts. While some points of this story are historically accurate and verified by other sources, some points appear to be wholly fiction. However, it bears mentioning that folklore is nothing more than repeating a story that has been told before. Special thanks to the Yamhill County Historical Society for their part in clearing up any inaccuracies.
See you in two weeks!
Original artwork by Bill "Splat" Johnson