Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Bell Witch (Haunted or Not?)

There is no greater ghost story in the history of American than that of the Bell Witch of Tennessee. It would require an entirely separate book to chronicle the strange haunting that occurred in Robertson County between 1817 and 1821 (and I have written one -- see my book Season of the Witch for the complete account) but in short, the family of a local farmer named John Bell was plagued by a mysterious and violent spirit for nearly four years. The haunting involved spectral creatures, disembodied voices, unbelievable violence and even resulted in the death of John Bell --- all at the hands of the infamous Bell Witch.
The haunting began in 1817 when the Bell family began experiencing strange phenomena in their home. First, the house was plagued with knocking and rapping noises and scratching sounds.
Blankets were pulled from their beds, family members were kicked and scratched and their hair pulled. Particularly tormented was young Elizabeth Bell, who was slapped, pinched, bruised and stuck with pins. At first, John Bell was determined to keep the events secret, but soon confided in a friend, who then formed an investigative committee. John Bell's friends soon learned that the strange force in the house had an eerie intelligence. It soon found a voice and from that day on was seldom silent.

The spirit identified itself as the "witch" of Kate Batts, a neighbor of the Bell's, with whom John had experienced bad business dealings over some purchased slaves. "Kate" as the local people began calling the spirit, made daily appearances in the Bell home, wreaking havoc on everyone there. People all over the area of soon learned of the witch and she made appearances, in sounds and voices, all over Robertson County.

The ghost became so famous that even General Andrew Jackson decided to visit. He too experienced the antics of the witch and his carriage wheels refused to turn until the witch decided to let them.

John Bell fell victim to bouts of strange illness, for which Kate claimed responsibility. While he was sick in bed, the spirit cursed and prodded him, never allowing him to rest. One day, he went to bed and never recovered. He was found senseless in his bed one morning and a strange bottle was found nearby. Bell's breath smelled of the black liquid in the bottle, so a drop of it was placed on the tongue of a cat and the animal dropped dead. John Bell soon followed suit and Kate screamed in triumph. She even made her presence known at his funeral, laughing, cursing and singing as the poor man was buried.

Kate didn't vanish immediately after the death of her proclaimed enemy, though. She stayed around, threatening Betsy Bell to not marry the man that she truly loved, Joshua Gardner. The witch would never say why, but she did allow the girl to later marry the local schoolteacher, Richard Powell. Kate soon left the family but promised to return in seven years. She did come back and plagued the family again for two weeks. She soon departed but many believe that she may not have gone far.

Who was the Bell Witch? Was she really a ghost, who claimed to be connected to a living person? Or did the resentment and the hatred of the real Kate Batts create an entity of its own? Or could the haunting have been poltergeist activity linked to Betsy Bell? No one will ever know for sure -- but whoever, or whatever, the Bell Witch was, many believe that she has never left Adams, Tennessee at all.
Near the Red River, on the former Bell farm, is a cave that has been called the "Bell Witch Cave". Thanks to local legend and lore, many people have come to believe that when the spirit of the witch departed from the torment of the Bell family, she went into this cave. Others (myself included) believe that the cave marks the entrance to a doorway through which Kate came into the world, departed, and perhaps even returns today. Who knows? But I can tell you that with the large number of bizarre incidents reported in and around the cave in modern times, notions of the witch returning may not be as odd as you might think.

If you dare to read more on the Bell Witch follow the link below. But be weary this is some spooky stuff. It sent shivers down my spine reading the whole story.
Happy Haunting,
Tabitha Blake


Penelope said...

The movie An American Haunting is based on this story. In that version, the poltergeist was actually created by the lost innocence of Betsy Bell because her father had molested her. Her inner child wanted her to remember.
Good post - one of my fave haunting stories. :)

Brenda said...

This is a great and scary post. Perfect for Halloween.