Halloween Hauntings Part 2: OLD HICKORY & THE BELL WITCH

Halloween Hauntings 2:

OLD HICKORY & THE BELL WITCH

Andrew Jackson visits the witch.
Andrew Jackson attempted to solve the mystery of the Bell Witch, but even he was no match for the Mysterious Spirit.

“A volume might be written concerning the performance of this wonderful being, as they are now described by contemporaries and their descendants. That all this actually occurred will not be disputed, nor will a rational explanation be attempted.”

—–Albert Goodpasture, 1886

John Bell, patriarch of the Bell clan, who were bedeviled by the
John Bell, patriarch of the Bell clan, who were bedeviled by the “Mysterious Spirit”

Much has been written about the supernatural doings between 1818 and 1820 in Adams, Tennessee.  In Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, I devoted two full chapters to the Bell Witch, and in my latest effort, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, I discuss her along with other Tennessee witches.  Although referred to as the Bell Witch, it was neither a witch, nor did it belong to the Bell family, although they were the ones mainly bedeviled by it.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.

It began innocently enough; knockings and scrapings at night; then strange creatures were sighted in broad daylight.  John Bell, the patriarch of the family, at first thought it was just some local youths playing pranks on his family.  But soon it became clear to him and his family that no humans were causing the sounds and other physical phenomena.  Then one night it began to attack members of the family—notably John Bell and his beautiful daughter Betsy.  Quilts were pulled from the bed in the dark of the night, and Betsy and the others were violently assaulted by unseen hands; scratching and slapping and biting.  Yet there was nothing and no one to be seen.

At first the Bells only discussed the incidents among themselves, calling it “Our Family Troubles.”  Eventually word got out about the malevolent poltergeist haunting their home.  First their neighbors visted to see what was up; then the curious came from farther away came to see it for themselves.  Fame of the Mysterious Spirit spread far and wide.

At times the spirit was just mischievous and amusing; but it could turn vicious at a whim.  Moreover, it seemed to be aware of goings on over the whole community, traversing great distances unseen.

This image is the closest we have as to what the Bell Witch may have looked like. Here she is terrorizing the Bell children.
This old engraving is the closest we have as to what the Bell Witch may have looked like. Here she is terrorizing the Bell children.

The unearthly phenomenon even attracted the attention of the famous General Jackson, who mounted an expedition to get to the bottom of the haunting.  He arrived with a wagon and an entourage of skeptics.  First Jackson’s wagon became frozen on the road–until he acknowledged the Witch’s reality.  Then that night, one of Jackson’s entourage thought he could outsmart the invisible spirit–instead the would be witch-slayer became the object of the entity’s wrath and was driven out of the house.  Although Jackson was all for staying, his followers decided to flee for the safety of Nashville–the first time General Jackson was ever forced to retreat!

Many of the disturbances focused on the beautiful, buxom Betsy Bell, and the spirit—by now called The Bell Witch—took a personal interest in the girl, to the point of telling her to break up with her fiancée, and threatening violence if she didn’t.

Betsy Bell, called the Queen of the Haunted Dell; even after she married and moved away, rumor has it she was beset by paranormal events in Mississippi.
Betsy Bell, called the Queen of the Haunted Dell; even after she married and moved away, rumor has it she was bedeviled by paranormal events in Mississippi.

Ultimately Betsy married the local schoolteacher and moved to Mississippi with him.  As for her father, it was said he was poisoned by the witch; but who the witch really was, no one could say.

It is alleged that the Mysterious Spirit murdered John Bell by poisoning.
It is alleged that the Mysterious Spirit murdered John Bell by poisoning.

A local matron of common birth but ample girth, Kate Batts, was named by some as the culprit.  While Kate Batts had a number of personal oddities in her behavior, for all of that she was a God-fearing woman and no one dared accuse her to her face. Indeed, her modern descendants I have talked to say she was more sinned against than sinning by John Bell. The Bell family today has a different story, needless to say.

Kate Batts, accused of witchcraft, was a god-fearing woman, shown here going to church.
Kate Batts, accused of witchcraft, was a god-fearing woman, shown here going to church with her entourage.

Still, when Kate died, cats howled around her grave in a most uncanny way and such a dread fell on her resting place that no one dared approach it.  Her grave became overgrown and forgotten and to this day its location is not known.

As the historian Goodpasture declared, a book could be written about the Bell bewitchment—and have.  In fact, quite a number of books, plus two plays and an opera at last count.  Still, no one has fully plumbed the mystery—nor can it be said that the Bell Witch has ever truly gone away from Adams.

This frontier home where most of the poltergeist activity took place. The Bell homestead near modern Adams, Tennessee is gone but the Bell Witch Cave is open to the public and is allegedly still haunted.
This frontier home was where most of the poltergeist activity took place. The Bell homestead near modern Adams, Tennessee is gone, but the Bell Witch Cave is open to the public and still haunted–so they say.

This brief post cannot hope to tell you all you need to know before you go to Adams; for further reading see, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and my more recent Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

Go there, if you dare, and see for yourself

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South. Witches, Haints, Strange Lights & Sights, Uncanny Creatures; and where to go to experience them.
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The Thirteen Halloween Hauntings, Part 1

 

Black Cats are Lucky
In Wales black cats are considered good luck

The Thirteen Days of Halloween, Part I

In honor of that spookiest day of the year—October 31—I am penning thirteen blogs daily, now through fright night.

Why thirteen?  Well, we have the twelve days of Christmas—or at least we used to.  Yuletide should run from December 25 through January 6 by rights, although lately it seems folks want to get the holiday season over with early on December 26.  I am among that obstinate minority who prefer to enjoy Yuletide for as long as possible–and that means quaffing flagons of Yuletide Cheer from big Christmas to Little Christmas. Moreover, in Wales, not only are black cats considered lucky, so is the number 13. Ultimately, for no particular reason other than it sounds good, I chose thirteen for Halloween.

DRAGON WITH A FLAGON BY OMAR RAYYAL C 2016
The Dragon with the flagon holds the brew that is true. Happy Halloween!

Black Cats and Thirteen anything–what could be more Halloweenish? Of course, the Welsh being Celts, they have a strong contrary streak and so whatever superstition their English neighbors adhere to, one can almost guarantee the Welsh will tend to believe just the opposite. My black cat, Enoch, was certainly lucky: he got to sleep all day, ate when he wanted, and pretty much did as he pleased (which was not much). And if cats normally have nine lives, Enoch was blessed with at least double that amount.

Speaking of superstitions, one Southern superstition that Yankees north of the Mason-Dixon Line may not have heard of is enshrined in the expression “jumping the broom.”  Among folks in Dixie, to “jump the broom” is another way to say getting married.  It comes from the belief that if newlyweds place a broom across the threshold to their new home, witches can’t follow them in and put a hex on the marriage. Although in Appalachia they don’t call it hex, they call it “spelt.”

In the old days, couples literally did put a broom across the entrance to their cabin on wedding day and then physically jumped across it.  Brides and grooms who jumped the broom were believed to enjoy a more harmonious and fruitful marriage, and to judge by the number of children they had in the old days, this seems to have been true.

The Mid-South abounds in uncanny and unexplained phenomena, from professors who suddenly burst into flame, to sightings of strange craft over the Tennessee Valley in the days when no such craft existed, to the numerous “Spook Lights” found in almost every state of Dixie. This is in addition to the many ante-bellum manse’s that each is a Gothic horror show in itself. Of course, what would Appalachia be without it’s “Wise Women” and whether you regard them as a bane or a boon, you best not get on their bad side in any case.

For more about Tennessee witches and witchcraft–and how avoid being spelt or to counter their curse if you are–see my original accounts in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. And while you’re at it, also check out Dixie Spirits a sampler of all things uncanny in the Southland.

Halloween marks the beginning of the season when all life dies away–to the eye–not to be truly revived until its sister holiday, April 30. The ancient Celts called the two festivals Semaine and Beltaine and the period in between was a time when one gathered round the hearth and told tales to enchant young and old. Beltaine is also known as the Witches’ Sabbath when, like Halloween, all manor of spirits, uncanny creatures and other fey folk are abroad in the dark. On Halloween we have the additional bane of evil beings such as politicians roaming the land seeking votes.

Fear not, however, we shall limit our discussion only to the supernatural and similar things and while we won’t limit these thirteen entries just to the South, there are more than man can ken in the region to venture farther afield in search of the uncanny. So curl up with your favorite flagon–or favorite dragon–stoke the hearth (even if it’s just a video loop on Roku) and enjoy stories to curl your toes and give you goosebumps!

If you want to know more of things that go bump in the night, you can do no better than curl up with a copy or three of Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee or Dixie Spirits–after which this blog is named.

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Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills and Valleys of Mid South
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True tales of the Volunteer State, from the Hag Infested Hollows of East Tennessee to the Paranormal Madness of Memphis with a few side trips to the Haunted Honkey-Tonks of Nashville.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dixie Spirits via Sourcebooks
Dixie Spirits: true tales of the Strange and Supernatural south of the Mason-Dixon Line.