Real Ghost Story: The Bell Witch

posted on 7/24/13

One of the most infamous stories of a real-life haunting takes place in Tennessee at the turn of the 19th century. When the Bell family started noticing strange occurrences around their rural property, people in the local community took a keen interest. Before long, word of this ghost story had spread all over the country. In fact, the Bell Witch became so famous that the future President Andrew Jackson even paid a visit to the haunted farmhouse.

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According to folklore, the haunting began in 1817 when the family’s patriarch John Bell encountered a mysterious beast on their property. He described it as a peculiar black dog that had the head of a rabbit. The creature disappeared into thin air after John attempted to shoot it with his rifle. Things got worse that night when the family started hearing knocks on the outside of their house, although no one was there. The noises continued every night after that, with growing intensity. Soon, the Bell children were having trouble sleeping. They claimed that spirits were ripping their blankets and pillows off their beds in the night. Disembodied voices were heard whispering and signing hymns in the home. The Bell Witch would reportedly slap and push members of the family, leaving bruises and marks on their bodies.

John Bell turned to his neighbor, James Johnston, for help when the haunting became too much for him to bear. The Johnstons spent the night in the house and reportedly witnessed the same paranormal activity that had been terrorizing the Bell family for weeks. Tales of the Bell Witch spread throughout the community and all the way to Nashville. It was there that Major General Andrew Jackson became intrigued and supposedly visited the farm to see for himself. According to local legend, Jackson and his men were spooked by the Bell Witch and fled the haunted residence.

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When the Bell’s youngest daughter, Betsy, became engaged to a young man named Joshua Gardner, the spirit tormentor became even more malicious. The Bell Witch told Betsy she could not marry Joshua. Apparently Betsy’s school teacher, Richard Powell, also expressed regret that she was going to be off the market (even though he had a secret wife in Nashville). Some people thought that he might be responsible for the haunting of the Bell Farm if he had been dabbling in the occult to win Betsy’s affections. Eventually the poltergeist bullying got the best of them, and the couple decided to call off their engagement.

Although the Bell Witch’s wrath towards Betsy subsided following the end of her engagement, this vicious spirit still focused its energies on terrorizing John Bell. On December 20, 1820, the long suffering patriarch died after slipping into a coma the day before. His mysterious death and the frightful occurrences attributed to the Bell Witch have never been explained. The legend has endured as one of the most well-known hauntings in American folklore. In 2005, Hollywood adapted the story into a movie called An American Haunting, which stars Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek. While modern skeptics have denounced the Bell Witch as nothing more than old-timey superstition, or possibly a hoax, the story is still a source of intrigue 200 years later.


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