Saturday, October 25, 2008
Southern Ghosts Part Twelve - The Bell Witch, Tennessee
The marker at right tells the story of what is probably America's best known haunting, the Bell Witch incident.
Strikingly similar to the much better documented Edgefield Ghost in South Carolina, the Bell Witch was the name given by residents in the Adams, Tennessee, area to a series of bizarre events that supposedly happened in the area beginning in 1817.
The manifestations targeted the family of John Bell, a farmer and prominent settler that moved to the area from North Carolina. The "witching" primarily focused on Bell and his daughter Elizabeth or "Betsy," then a teenager.
According to legend and the memories of a family member written down long after the fact, the haunting began with mysterious noises and sightings of a strange dog-like creature and grew over time to completely disrupt life in the Bell home. Numerous people claimed to have experienced the events and one legend even holds that Andrew Jackson went up from Nashville to investigate, although his personal papers mention nothing of it.
According to the legend, family members and neighbors finally concluded that the haunting came from the spells of an angry witch and much speculation revolved around another neighbor. There is no evidence, of course, that she was actually involved.
The haunting climaxed with the mysterious death of John Bell. It was determined that he had swallowed poison and family members were convinced that it was placed in the house by the witch. It has been claimed that this was the only incident of a spirit killing a human being in U.S. history, but there were other similar allegations in other locations during the same era.
In modern terms, the Bell Witch haunting could best be described as a "poltergeist event." These are usually associated with the presence of an adolescent in the house and many believe they are pyschic, not spiritual. Others, of course, don't believe in them at all.
Whether you believe in the legend or not, the Bell Witch story is an important part of Southern history and folklore. It is a particularly important part of the culture of Tennessee and, curiously, later carried over into other states. More on that in the next post.
If you are interested in reading more about the Bell Witch haunting from a historical perspective, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bellwitch1.