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The Bell Witch: A True American Horror Story

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Mariapaula Carranza

English 201

T/Th 305PM-420PM

September 2017

                                The Bell Witch: A True American Horror Story

        One of the most popular hauntings in America is that of the Bell Witch of Tennessee. The hauntings started the summer of 1817 in Adams, Tennessee. During this time the story of the Bell witch drew so much attention that people of all over travelled to the Bell family home to witness the phenomena, President Andrew Jackson among them.

        The story begins in North Carolina, where the Bell family originally owned a successful farm. It wasn't until 1803 that the farm started to have problems that led to financial losses. John Bell, the family patriarch, and his wife, Lucy, had many friends who had decided to try their chances farther west than North Carolina. They sent the Bells letters telling them about the “most beautiful and fertile land anywhere” (Fitzhugh, 27) in reference to Tennessee. It was with the promise of fertile farm lands and religious well being that the patriarch of the Bell decided to sell his farm in North Carolina, and move to the Red River settlement of Robertson County, Tennessee in the winter of 1803.

        The Bells prospered in Tennessee. John and Lucy had three more children, the farm was flourishing, and the community welcomed them with open arms. Esther Bell and Jessie Bell both married their neighborhood sweethearts and it wasn't long until the Bells became a family of great prominence in their area, their home becoming the site of many social gatherings. It wasn't until 1817 that anything troubling started to occur.

        During the summer of 1817 John Bell was walking through his cornfields when a strange dog-like animal appeared. Bell shot at it, but it vanished, “changing shape as it went” (Hartford Herald). Similar incidents continued to happen to the members of the family and their slaves, where strange animals or people would appear and, just as quickly, would disappear.  Several weeks passed without any strange occurrence, until one night the Bells began hearing small knocking sounds on the door and outside walls of their house. This proceeded to happen every night without any explanation, and the force and frequency of the knocking sounds grew with the passage of time. Fear began to settle into the Bell family home. Winter soon came, and with it the nights grew colder and longer. The noises that once disturbed the outside of the Bell home moved inside. The children began waking during the night, complaining that there was rats gnawing at their bedposts, but, upon further inspection, no rats where found. Soon the children began to feel light jerking of their pillows and sheets whenever they went to bed, and it would increase when they tried to hold on. Sometimes when the Bell children resisted, they were slapped across the face by an invisible hand.  The more the Bells resisted, the more vicious the force became.  The Bells started to hear the sounds of stones falling and chains being dragged across the floor at night. However they barely spoke of the disturbances during the day and evening, seemingly due to their level of exhaustion and emotional stress.

        It wasn't until the being started targeting young Betsy Bell that things began to get distressing. Betsy began to experience her hair being pulled, feeling her body being struck by invisible pins until she screamed, and became subject to fits of spasms. When the seizures took hold, no effort could help her. She would then wake from the seizures as if waking from a slumber. Her father experienced personal attacks as well. His tongue would swell to the point where he couldn't speak or swallow, later progressing to twitching spasms across his body.

        The happenings in the Bell home became so unbearable that John Bell invited one of his neighbors to spend the night and investigate. After their neighbor experienced the unexplainable events at the Bell residence, he told the story far and wide, inviting others to witness them. Many people’s curiosity and interest was piqued and  they began to visit the Bells to experience the haunting themselves. The stories people told about their experiences made it so many wanted to visit. The spirit was a connection to the supernatural world, a sort of confirmation about there being an “other” power. Surely if a spirit existed in and haunted the Bell home then God and religion must be real as well. Believing in the Bell witch and experiencing her was like a confirmation of their faith, a way to prove that their religious beliefs were true.

         It wasn't long until people started to attempt interacting with the supposed spirit in the home. They would ask it questions, and the spirit would reportedly reply with knocks and scratches. Soon people began to hear it speak. At first it was whispered murmurs that slowly developed to a voice that was able to be heard around the room. When asked the most pressing question, what or who was behind the happenings in the Bell home, the voice would never commit to a single story, telling those who asked a different tale with every query.

        The spirit treated people differently based on their character and intentions, which it seemed gifted at sussing out. It had the ability to read a persons’ past, present, and future. What truly scared people the most was the fact that the spirit also had the ability to divulge their deepest darkest secrets. Usually people left the Bell farm at the first sight of trouble, but some stayed to try to solve the mystery of the spirit’s identity or to prove that it was all a big lie, among these detectives and witch hunters. They thought that the Bells were behind what was happening in their home, looking for attention and money but “The economic conditions in the Red Ricer area at the time, coupled with John Bell’s documented financial condition, make the notion extremely unlikely” (Fitzhugh, 62). Others believed that while in New Orleans during the War of 1812,  two of John Bell’s sons,  John Bell Jr. and Dreary Bell, learned ventriloquism and mystical arts. The shared their knowledge with Betsy and some other neighbors and created the hauntings for attention, but this was later proved to not be the case by a doctor that travelled all the way from Missouri to attempt to prove this theory true. The spirit reportedly took pleasure in tormenting skeptics and exposing the supposed “experts” as nothing but frauds. It was also well-versed in the topic of religion, often singing hymns and reciting bible verse as well as gossiping about the community.

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