The Great Oregon Witch Hunt
By Stephanie Fox
Part 2 of 2
IT WAS IN the secret meetings that officials may have made the decision
to remove all books pertaining to the occult from the school library. Student
president Shannon McPherson protested. "It's lousy," he said. "They're
trying to keep us in the dark." The school superintendent, Ken Carver, denied
that the books had been removed from the shelves. He claimed that he had
merely "checked out" all 40 of the books "just like anybody can."
He then passed them on to a censorship committee made up of parents and
With the books gone, the lack of information availible on witchcraft only
helped spread to alarm through the school student population. Any excuse was
enough for one student to accuse another and they enacted medieval tests to
determine whether another student was a witch. One student was suspected
because she wore a black sweater and skirt. She was approached by another
student who pressed a paper cross against her arm.
"You must not be a witch," the student accuser said. "because the cross
didn't burn you."
Other students used the situation to get attention. They pretended that they
were witches; they left death-threat notes on other students' lockers or
claimed they'd hexed or been hexed by other students and teachers.
The school superintendent made up a list of all students who had ever checked
out any of the occult books and distributed it to the teachers. Those on the
list were watched for possible involvement with witchcraft.
Reverend Thomas advised parents to watch their children for signs of occult
activity. He told parents and students to look to him and other local
ministers to lead the fight against non-Christian religions such as witchcraft,
Hinduism and Buddhism.
"If you arn't a Christian, you can't fight it," he declared. "The devil will
deceive you. This is a spiritual battle and the Devil is as real as God is.
We have witches here in Oakridge from the very pits of hell."
But the reverend and police chief had log since lost control of the situation,
and the monster they'd created began to turn on them. Thomas was receiving
negative letters from other ministers around the country. "They tell me I'm off
the wrong end. Well, that's what told Peter and John," he said.
Betty Taylor, one of the original women accused of being a witch, hired a
lawyer who started making slander-suit noises. Accusations could no longer be
made without proof for fear of litigation. Although it was announced that
there would be other meetings, none was ever held.
SEVERAL WEEKS after the final meeting, the Walkers appeared on a statewide
television talk show. They told the audience that after learning about
Paganism and Witchcraft from legitimate members of the Old Religion and other
occult groups, they concluded that Newell wasn't a witch, although they still
disliked her and thought she might have some responsibility for their daughter's
suicide. They said they saw nothing wrong with Witchcraft and nature religions
and felt everyone should be free to choose his own style of worship. "We don't
believe in banning any religion," they said.
The reverend continued to rail against witchcraft, other non-Christian
religions and liberal Cristianity, which he called "tommyrot." But he could no
longer make direct accusations against individuals for fear of legal action.
The police chief was subsequently demoted.
Ironically, durring the entire episode no one ever explained how so-called
witchcraft had led to Ginny Walker's suicide.
Since the episode Oakridge has again become the quite little town it once was.
But beneath the surface here, and in places like it, runs a fear of things and
people who might be different. Persecution takes many forms and comes in many
guises. Witch hunts--- real witch hunts--- are not dim memories from the
Dark Ages. They are real, they still happen and they can happen again.
This article is from the February 1989 issue of: FATE magazine
3510 Western Avenue
Highland Park, Illinois