Wednesday, October 6, 2010


   With Halloween just around the corner, here's a true American haunting story.The story of the "Bell Witch.
   The haunting, which took place in the early 1800's on a farm in Tennessee has never been explained, although a lot of theories exist about what might have happened there.  The strange activity has captured the minds of many writers over the years, who have gone to write their own fictional ghost stories.  One of the best known is "The Blair Witch Project".
   As is the case with a lot of ghost stories, there are many different versions about who the Bell Witch really was.  However, the most popular belief is that she was a rather disagreeable neighbor of the Bell family.  Apparently, she felt that she had been cheated when the Bell's purchased a piece of her land.  It wasn't a slight that she intended to overlook, so as the story goes, she cursed the Bell family on her deathbed, promising to kill John Bell.  The supposed curse earned her by title of "witch" among many in the community.

Bell Cabin
   Sue enough, shortly after her death, the Bell family began experiencing malicious activity.  The ghost's favorite targets were John Bell himself and the only daughter still living at home, a girl named Betsy.  For fun, the ghost liked to pull their hair, slap their faces, and even poke them with sharp objects.  If she was particularly aggravated, she threw dishes and furniture at them.

John Bell

   The ghost particularly delighted in keeping young Betsy from sleeping at night.  She would make noises, yell, and continuously open and close doors and windows in the girl's room.  Sometimes, the witch would be so loud as to keep everyone in the household, including guests, awake.
   The pranks she levied at John were equally disturbing.  She seemed to take great joy in knocking away John's food at dinner time.  Other times she would fill it with extra salt or sugar to make it inedible.  She also like pushing him out of his chair, knocking him to the ground, and beating him about his head and face.
   Although she never manifested herself visually, all of the Bell family and many of their guests experienced the witch's presence and heard her voice.  Some reported that she spoke in a high pitched and sing songy voice, while others insisted it was more like a whisper and was musical in nature.  It appeared that the manner of the witch's manifestation varied according to the person and her feelings about him or her.  For example, because she liked Mrs. Bell, she rarely tormented her at all.  She used the same thought process in deciding how to torment guests, friends and family visitors or who lived outside of the home.

   Some were merely greeted with her contemptuous laughter.  Others had their covers pulled off their bed at night.  Some were pinched or slapped out of nowhere.  A few had milk spilled all over their heads.  No one seemed able to agree on the spirit's real intent; if it was there just for the mischief or if it intended grievous bodily harm.
   The story of the Bell Witch captured attention across the state and nation.  But, perhaps the most famous person to pay her tribute was that of General Andrew Jackson.  He was determined to expose the ghost as a hoax in order to stop its popularity from growing.  So he gathered a group of friends and experts in the field to go with him to the Bell farm.

   Apparently, however, the witch wasn't in the mood to entertain her famous guest.  She even attempted to stop the party from driving onto the Bell property.  Such as it approached the place, the wagon stopped dead in its tracks and no matter what he did, the driver was unable to get it moving again.
   Jackson and his men dismounted from their horses and attempted to push the wagon past its unseen barrier.  However, they were unable to budge it so much as an inch.  Next they removed the wheels, one by one, to seek which might be faulty.  But all revolved properly when tested.  Then, out of the blue the horses started inexplicably on their own accord, easily pulling the wagon onto the property.
  By most accounts, Jackson's visit to the Bell farm was eventful.  The ghost had fun pulling away covers, pinching, slapping, and pulling the hair both the general and his men.  They gave up trying to get and sleep over night due to the continuous cries of young Betsy Bell.  Unable to prove the ghost was a hoax, the group left shortly after the sun arose.

The Bell House

   The one thing that never changed, however, was the torment inflicted upon the Bell family itself.  It continued for years, eventually culminating in the death of John Bell.  \
   In the fall of 1820, Bell became ill.  He was no longer able to speak, had problems swallowing and could no longer manipulate certain parts of his body.  In later years, doctors suggested that he might have suffered a massive stroke.  Certainly, his symptoms were in line with what would later become known of the condition.

Bell Witch picture before her death
   One morning the family was unable to awaken Bell from a stupor.  He appeared to be lingering somewhere between life and death; unresponsively starring straight ahead.  When his family went to give him the medication prescribed by his doctor, they found it gone; replaced by a vial of some unknown liquid.
   The doctor was called to the farm to care for Bell and took the strange vial back to have it tested.  It was eventually discovered that it contained a slow acting poison.  No one in the family had any idea where the vial came from.
   Bell died a couple of months later with the "witch" verbally admitting to his murder.  Following his funeral, she greeted the family back with joyful singing.  Her fury temporarily satiated, the ghost left the family alone for years.  She supposedly returned some seven years later and appeared to John Bell Jr.  However, there are not eyewitness accounts to validate that story.
   Despite all of the documentation that was kept about the Bell haunting, many experts of the supernatural continue to denounce it as a hoax.  To them, there appear to be too many errors in both fact and logic.  Many believe that a teacher infatuated with young Betsy perpetrated the hoax.  However, he knew that her father would never approve of him courting his daughter.  And Betsy was already promised to a young man by the name of Joshua Gardner. 

Betsy Bell

   With Bell and Gardner being two of the main people attacked consistently by the ghost, this story would seem to hold some merit.  However, none of the researchers proposing this theory for the ghostly happenings could in any way prove its validity.
   Others in the paranormal field continue to believe that the haunting was authentic, although most disagree with the label of  "witch" levied upon the trickster.  Even the state of Tennessee seems to agree that the story was true.  It is currently the only state in the nation tht has formally recognized the death of a human being at the hands of a ghost.