11- The Bell Witch (American Folklore).
The Bell Witch Haunting is a traditional American folklore legend from Tennessee. As the story goes, a mysterious spirit tormented and haunted the Bell Family and surrounding area between 1817 and 1821. The story has become one of the most infamous hauntings in America, and has been retold in various books and movies, most recently a 2013 film. While many of the specifics of the story have been debated, and the conclusion as to what exactly was taking place has been adamantly contested, the Bell Witch has become an integral part of American folklore.
The legend revolves around John Bell Sr., his daughter Betsy, and her betrothed Joshua Gardner. The haunting began with a series of unexplainable apparitions of various dogs, birds, and other classic witch familiars that supposedly stalked and pursued members of the Bell family and their estate. This escalated into Betsy being singled out by the spirit, who would hit, pinch, and harass her in multiple ways, such as pulling her hair. The spirit increased in ability, and was able to communicate through disembodied speaking, telekinetic altering of the physical environment, shapeshifting, clairvoyance, and bilocation (being in multiple places at once, traveling great distances in short amounts of time). The Bell Witch as an entity has much in common with poltergeists, jinn, hobgoblins, and various other creatures and cryptids from world mythology and folklore.
The most comprehensive analysis of the haunting came in 1894 when Martin Ingram published the “Authenticated History of the Bell Witch”. While some critics have labeled this a fraud, others have viewed it as a thorough analysis of American folklore. In the book, Martin claimed that the haunting was perpetrated by a spirit named Kate, or “Old Kate Batts’ witch”. The haunting culminated with the Bell Witch poisoning John Bell Sr. After his death, the spirit continued to harass the mourners by loudly singing drinking songs throughout his funeral and procession.
The witch was seemingly distressed at the union between Betsy and Joshua. After the death of her father, Betsy called off the engagement, at which point the spirit informed the family that it was leaving. She returned again after 7 years, in 1828, however the family chose not to engage with it and she again disappeared. Descendants of the Bell Family, as well as new owners of the original Bell Farm, have continued to experience harassment from the supposed entity. One prophecy from the spirit said that she would return 107 years later in 1935. In 1934, neurologist and grandson of John Bell Jr, Charles Bailey Bell, retold his family’s legacy through his book “The Bell Witch: A Mysterious Spirit” in which he discussed the periodical recurrence of strange events and unexplainable phenomenon.
The Bell Witch haunting went from regional hysteria to a national attraction. Visitors from around the country went to investigate the occurrence, including Andrew Jackson, whose men were supposedly terrified by the witch. Some have deduced that the spirit was the ghost of someone John Bell Sr. had murdered in North Carolina, while others connected the spirit to a Native American burial ground upon which the Bell Farm was built (various expeditions have been undertaken to find this, and it has never been proven). The legend continues to draw tourists to the area, and has influenced generations of folklore and paranormal portrayals, including the film franchises of Poltergeist, Paranormal Activity, and the Blair Witch Project. While there is no certainty as to exactly who, or what, the Bell Witch was, her harassment of the Bell Family has gone down as one of history’s most unexplained paranormal occurrences. While not a witch in the standard sense, the Bell Witch fits the archetype of spectral harassers that tormented victims and struck fear into the minds of hysterical townsfolk.