You know, over the past few months I’ve received several email about the movie “An American Haunting,” asking me if it really is based on a true story, or much like the Amityville Horror, was based on a true HOAX. I could have sworn I had done a column on the Bell Witch long before the movie came out but I have gone through all of my old Nyogtha’s from Volume I and II, and nope. I never did. I must have done one way back in the late 1990’s for the VC. It’s the only explanation for why I was so adamant in my head that I had done a column on this very subject.
But yes, the story of the Bell Witch is one of the few ghosts considered “real” or to be a “factual haunting.” I’m not talking ghost hunters either. I’m talking the American Federal Government lists the Bell Witch as 100% real and has since President Andrew Jackson listed it as such. It’s just never been taken off the books. Of course Andrew Jackson was one of the worst presidents we ever had, so this is par for the course for him. If only the Adams vs Jackson election wasn’t considered as controversial and tainted as Bush vs. Gore.
The Bell Witch is arguably the American South’s most famous ghost. However, like all good ghost stories there are three distinct variants of the tale out there, so I might as well inform you about all three. All involve John Bell’s horrible torment by the Bell Witch, but each has a different flavour to it. The first tale is pieced together from the diary entries of Richard Williams Bell. The second is one I found in the book, The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits by Rosemary Ellen Guiley. The third is found in the contents of the books Season of the Witch: The Haunted History of the Bell Witch of Tennessee.. I’m only going to discuss the first one as the others are most likely bogged down with rumour and innuendo, whereas the first tale actually comes from a family member who witnessed much of this.
Before we start, please note I have not seen the film, nor do I ever plan to. However, you can read Inside Pulse’s coverage of the film here with Brad Torreano’s “Mondo Culto”.
The Bell Witch
In Adams, TN, there lived a farmer by the name of John Bell. He had a wife named Lucy, eight children and together they all farmed one thousand acres of TN land. By all accounts they were model citizens and devout Southern Baptists. So of course it came as a wee bit of a shock when in 1817, they began to be haunted by a malicious and evil creature which we all now know as the Bell Witch.
At first the Bell Witch manifested itself before John Bell in a myriad of animal forms like spectral hound that would disappear when Bell would shoot at it, or a gigantic turkey. Yes, a turkey. What do you want? This was 1817. They hadn’t been desensitized by Hollywood gore fests.
After the creatures came poltergeist type activity. The outside of the house would have its doors and windows pounded upon. Rapping and scratching would occur at night. Then the sounds moved inside. It would appear to the bell family that rats were gnawing on the wooden frame of the bed. Something would scratch its long nails across the floor. Again, nothing could be seen; only heard.
For just over a year this unseen menace plagued the family. For some strange reason they stayed. I mean, I might enjoy the concept of the supernatural, but I don’t think I’d put up with a year of something trying to cause my entire family sleep deprivation. Then of course, it got worse. The invisible thing got meaner. It would yank off bed covers. it would yank the hair of the girls and randomly slap people across the face. Little twelve year old Betsy got the worst, in which she would be repeatedly bruised by the ghostly thing.
Bell for some reason kept the entire affair secret and forbade family members from speaking about the thing to anyone else. However, once the spirit became exceedingly physically violent, John Bell had no choice but to turn to a name to release over a year of frustration and madness. This neighbor, one James Johnson began to witness the phenomenon, and found that the thing could be temporarily banished by invoking a prayer to the Christian god. Johnson convinced Bell to let him gather a group of people from the community and that perhaps, by putting all their heads together, a solution would be achieved. And with that gesture, the Bell home would cement itself in American history as people would come from across the 50-odd year old nation to see the occurrences first hand. They would not be disappointed.
As people came to witness the thing, so too did its power grow. The invisible thing began to make whistling noises and then eventually developed the ability to speak. This is perhaps similar to voodoo where the more you believe, the more power the Houngan actually has. The Bell Witch would prove to be a compulsive liar, giving multiple identities and origins. It claimed to be from both heaven and hell. It claimed to have existed for millions of years. It claimed to be the spirits of a body buried in the woods long ago and whose remains were disturbed by the Bell’s farming. This story would go on and claim that one of its teeth was trapped under the bell home and it demanded it back. Alas, the tooth was never found. Another story the Bell Witch told was that it was the ghost of a wealthy immigrant who left behind a vast fortune and it returned simply to pass on its finances to Betsy. The Bell Witch named a location and the men of the Bell family traveled there and spent an entire day digging. of course, nothing was to be found. When they returned, the spirit wracked the house with hideous laughter.
The townspeople, have heard, witnessed, and most of all gossiped about the goings on at the Bell house came to the conclusion that the invisible thing was not a ghost at all, but a witch in disembodied form cursing the family. When the theory was proposed to the Bell Witch, it admitted to it and said that it was in fact townswoman Kate Batts. Kate Batts was a well known heavy set woman in town who was married to a local invalid and who had sworn revenge on old John Bell for a business dealing she felt he cheated her on. Now here is the odd thing. Actually two odd things. The first is that Kate Batts was still alive while all this was going on. The second is that no one ever recorded her thoughts, feelings, or issues on the subject. Nothing at all. Did the town go into angry mob mode and kill her? Did she claim innocence? Admit the witch was indeed her? No one will ever know as anyone that did is now long since dead.
After its “identity” had been revealed, the Bell Witch began to appear in the Bell home daily. It also began to journey outside the Bell farmstead and harass other people across Robertson County. It would torment the townsfolk much in the same way it did the Bell family, just not as severe. It also made prognostications foretelling not only the eventual Civil War, but also World War I and II. The witch finally made its true goals known around this time as well. “Kate” sought to torment John Bell to death and also prevent young Betsy from ever marrying her true love, one John Gardner.
Kate became so famous that eventually future president Andrew Jackson (then General Jackson) came to visit the Bell farm and brought with him a professional exorcist who was well known to him. However, the carriages wheels froze up inches from the Bell farm and the Bell Witch’s voices rang through the carriage daring both the Exorcist and General Jackson to face her power that very night. That evening the Witch first manifested as a series of ghostly footsteps traversing through the Bell house. The exorcist attempted to shoot the invisible thing with a blesses silver bullet, but before he could the Witch began to beat him severely and eventually the exorcist fled from the house into the night. Andrew Jackson would spend the rest of his life proclaiming not only that ghosts are real, but that the Bell Witch was the most bizarre thing he had ever encountered.
From this point on, the Witch stepped up its attacks on the Bell family. John bell began to suffer an almost constant series of illnesses, which the Bell Witch claimed were manifestations of her curses upon him. The sicker John bell grew, the meaner and more profane the Bell Witch became. Finally John Bell was found close to death on the morning of December 19th, 1820. It was found that someone had placed poison within the Bell medicine cabinet and labeled it an elixir. Of course the Bell Witch took credit. When John Bell died the next morning, the Witch’s laughter could be heard countywide.
After John Bell’s death, the Bell Witch’s attacks appeared to subside and almost dissipate completely. In hopes that she was finally gone, Young Betsy renewed her engagement to Josh Gardener. This served only to awaken the Bell Witch and renew its anger. Finally, Betsy broke it off and married a different young man by the name of Dick Powell.
When this marriage occurred, the Bell Witch announced she would leave them alone for a total of seven years. True to its word, the thing reappeared seven years to the day and would assault and torment Mrs. Bell and her remaining two sons for a fortnight before leaving again. This would be the last time Bell Family would encounter her, but before leaving, the Bell Witch proclaimed she would return for a third time, only this time it would be 107 years later, in the year 1935. It is unrecorded as to whether or not the Witch resurfaced at this time.
In April, 1993, a majority of the Bell Land was purchased by a man named Walter Kirby for tobacco farming. Until Kirby’s purchase, the land had remained empty and unsellable after the last owner Bill Eden died unexpectedly after reporting several strange happenings within his home and land. The Kirby family too witnessed apparitions and ghostly happenings and managed to make audio records of the noises, as well as misty shapes appearing in photographs. Is it an attempt to make the land into a tourist attraction, or is it that the Bell Witch walks the earth once more?
In modern times, the Bell Witch is believed to have resurfaced. Those who know dwell on the land that was once owned by the Bells have reported a strange apparition taking the shape of a dark haired woman walking the fields. There are also countless reports of strange knockings and scratchings on various homes. The witch is also believed to haunt a nearby cave which locals have named “The Bell Witch Cave.” Of course, this cave was never once mentioned in any of the original reports of the haunting, but that doesn’t stop the reports of horrible sounds, strange footsteps, and clanking chains from inside the cave.
This week I thought I’d give you a recipe for a very nice Seafood Chowder. Now I’m from Philly and a Yankee through and through. However, even though I was born and raised in the Mid-Atlantic and my heart belongs to the home of Mike Schmidt and ECW, my stomach was long ago claimed by New England.
I love chowder. Clam with red broth, clam with white, haddock chowder, scallop chowder, and so on and so forth. This week I’m give you an aquatic feast in a nice filling broth. Now some of you may say “It’s July. Who eats soup in July?” To that I would point you in the direction of native New Englanders that will tell you there is no better time to eat shellfish or any seafood really than this time of year.
2 pounds haddock or other whitefish
3/4 pounds scallops, chopped into 3/4 inch dice
2 cups bottled or canned clam juice
4 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning (also good with potato chips!)
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced
1/4 pound bacon, finely chopped
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 cup half and half (you may need more. See below)
Salt and group pepper to taste.
1. Place the haddock and scallops in a large pot. Add the clam juice, water, and Old Bay Seasoning. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the seafood is almost but not quite cooked through. This should be approximately 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside. DO NOT DRAIN.
2. In a large saucepan, cook the potatoes in boiling and salted water until they are tender. This should be about 10 minutes. Then drain and reserve the potatoes
3. In a medium-sized skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until it is halfway done. This should be about 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook the bacon until it is browned and the onions are softened. This should take another 10 minutes.
4. Using a slotted spoon, remove the seafood from the cooking liquid and transfer it into a large bowl. Put the cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk in about 1/2 cup of the seafood liquid until the mixture is smooth. Bring the rest of the seafood liquid to a simmer and whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Bring it all to a boil, whisking constantly, and cook for about 2 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the base is smooth and thickened. Add the fish, scallops, potatoes and bacon-onion mixture to the pot. Stir in the half-and-half, bring to a simmer, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
In Movies, both Tom Pandich and Mike Noyes review the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I enjoyed it as well. Not as good as the first, and clearly nowhere near the best movie I’ve ever seen, but worth seeing in theatres. I’d give it a 6.5.
In Wrestling, Eric S. recaps the usual WWE and TNA Crap-o-Ramas, and Hevia frightens me with revelations of an MTV run wrestling federation. Ugh. UWF, where art thou?
In Music, Gloomchen feels exactly the same way I do about cover songs, and welcome back Mr. Fernandez, who attempts to ride my coattails by mimicking my use of volumes and issues to designate columns.
Eh. It was a pretty lackluster week last week. 4th of July weekend = a lot of people not writing/doing anything really.
Closing That’s all I have for this week. Enjoy the rest of your week.