Carol Nicholson, PhD.
Carol Nicholson, PhD.

The Mystery of the “Bell Witch”: America’s Most Notorious Poltergeist Haunting

The-Bell-Witch

 

The “Bell Witch” story is one of the most chilling and documented accounts of a poltergeist haunting of a family in early America. In the early 1800s, a family by the name of Bell moved to the Red River bottom land in Robertson County, Tennessee. They settled in a community that later became known as Adams. It is there that they prospered and became respected members of the community and pillars of the local church.

One day in 1817, John Bell, the father, along with his son, was inspecting his cornfield when he encountered a strange-looking animal sitting in the middle of a cornrow. Shocked by the appearance of this animal, which allegedly had the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit (this sounds like an *elemental.) , Bell shot several times to no avail. The animal vanished and John Bell thought nothing more about the incident–at least not until after dinner. That evening, the Bells began hearing “beating” sounds on the outside walls of their house. These mysterious sounds continued with increased force each night.

The-Bell-Witch-HouseAs time went on, the Bells began to hear more strange noises. Only this time, they sounded like faint, whispering voices–too weak to understand–but sounded like a feeble old woman crying or singing hymns. The encounters escalated, and the Bells’ youngest daughter, Betsy, began experiencing physically brutal encounters with the entity. Eventually the wrath of the poltergeist settled on John Bell and the “witch” severely physically assaulted him for two years.

On the morning of December 20, 1820, after a long battle with a strange disease which swelled the tongue and caused trouble eating, John Bell breathed his last breath. As family and friends began to leave John Bell’s burial site, the “spirit” laughed loudly and sang a cheerful song about a bottle of brandy. Did John Bell actually die from the “Bell Witch’s” horrible torment? We’ll never know. It is documented, however, that the poltergeist phenomena was so strong and witnessed by so many people (including future president Andrew Jackson), it’s hard to believe a living person could have created a hoax. (See postscript below)

In April of 1821, the “spirit” visited Lucy Bell and told her that “it” would return in seven years for a visit. Seven years later, in 1828, the “spirit” returned as promised. Most of this visit centered on John Bell, Jr. The “spirit” discussed with him such things as the origin of life, Christianity, the need for a mass spiritual reawakening, and other in-depth topics. Of particular significance were the “spirit’s” predictions of the Civil War, World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II.

After three weeks, the “spirit” bade farewell, promising to visit John Bell’s most direct descendant in 107 years. The year would have been 1935, and the closest direct living descendant of John Bell was Charles Bailey Bell, a physician in Nashville. Charles Bailey Bell himself wrote a book about the “Bell Witch”, but it had been published prior 1935. No follow-up was published and Bell died some years later in 1945.

Today, the “spirit” which haunted the Bell family nearly 200 years ago is believed by many to be the source of numerous manifestations in the area where the story took place. Some believe that when the “spirit” returned in 1935, it took residence in Adams, Tennessee, once a part of the Bell farm. The faint sounds of people talking and children playing can sometimes be heard in the area. It is also very difficult to take a good picture there.

Postscript: Some have speculated that John Bell had molested his young daughter and that Lucy Bell instigated the Bell Witch story and eventually used it to cover up poisoning him to death in revenge. It has also been theorized that she and Betsy were masquerading as “the Spirits” . However, Betsy, was so physically battered by the witch (or demon), one cannot see this as being the case. See the movie, “An American Haunting”.

 

*Elemental: A name given to a lower astral entity which shows up to do mischief or is a herald of bad news. An elemental is said to smell like a decomposing body or sulfur. They most often visibly manifest as some kind animal aberration. (See Leap Castle’s Elemental). These kinds of elementals are not to be confused with the elemental kingdom beings, such as faeries and gnomes, responsible for the guardianship of nature .