Sunday, May 22, 2011

Here is what some people have heard about the Tennessee Bell Witch

In response to my blog called “Rumors, Facts, Truth, &  Lies about the Tennessee Bell Witch part 1," this is what some readers have said in reply:

Response from Reader named Nicky from Greece:

There have been so many books written about the Bell Witch that I'm not even going to bother naming them. But, for their sources, they all draw upon the earliest book, Authenticated History of the Bell Witch from 1894, by Martin Van Buren Ingram, owner of a regional newspaper. This was the first book published about the Bell Witch, and it was published 75 years after the hauntings. That's a long time. Long enough that the author wasn't even born when the hauntings took place. So what was his source?

Martin Ingram's book is based entirely upon the handwritten diary of Richard Bell. Richard Bell, one of John Bell's sons, was born in 1811, so he was about six years old when the hauntings began. According to Ingram, Richard waited until 1846, more than 30 years, before he actually wrote down the events in his diary. He recorded his 30 year old memories of being a six year old child. Ingram goes on to say that in 1857 Richard gave the diary to his son, Allen Bell, who subsequently (and quite inexplicably) gave it to Ingram, with instructions to keep it private until after the deaths of the immediate family. That happened around 1880, when Ingram began writing his book. Conveniently, every person with firsthand knowledge of the Bell Witch hauntings was already dead when Ingram started his book; in fact, every person with secondhand knowledge was even dead.

Martin Ingram never said anything about what became of this alleged diary. There is no record of anyone else having seen it, and logically, Ingram should have promoted the diary's existence in his newspaper to publicize his book. He did not. I am certainly not convinced that the diary ever existed at all. Why would Richard Bell wait 30 years to write down such an incredible story? Why would Allen Bell give away such a unique heirloom to Ingram? Those are big questions, and Ingram had every reason to falsify the diary's existence.

Ingram's book also falsified at least one other source. His book claims that in 1849, the Saturday Evening Post ran a story about the Bell Witch, blaming the crazy daughter Elizabeth for everything, and then retracted the story shortly thereafter once she threatened to sue. People have looked for such an article and none was ever found. I called the Saturday Evening Post, and was told that their microfilmed archives for that period no longer exist. Researcher Jack Cook went through other microfilms of the Post for several years on either side of 1849 and confirmed that no such article was ever published. Even people looking for it in 1894, following the publication of Ingram's book, failed to find such an article; which casts doubt on Ingram's own ability to have found it. Without exception, all of Ingram's sources for his book were conveniently untraceable.

Historians have found only one printed reference to the Bell Witch that predates the publication of Ingram's book, and it's a brief one-paragraph blurb in the 1886 first edition of Goodspeed's History of Tennessee in its chapter on Robertson County, which reads as follows:

“A remarkable occurrence, which attracted wide-spread interest, was connected with the family of John Bell, who settled near what is now Adams Station about 1804. So great was the excitement that people came from hundreds of miles around to witness the manifestations of what was popularly known as the "Bell Witch." This witch was supposed to be some spiritual being having the voice and attributes of a woman. It was invisible to the eye, yet it would hold conversation and even shake hands with certain individuals. The freaks if performed were wonderful and seemingly designed to annoy the family. It would take the sugar from the bowls, spill the milk, take the quilts from the beds, slap and pinch the children, and then laugh at the discomfiture of its victims. At first it was supposed to be a good spirit, but its subsequent acts, together with the curses with which it supplemented its remarks, proved the contrary.”

Notice the two most significant events are missing: The witch's murder of John Bell, and Andrew Jackson's involvement. No newspapers described either event. No court records or recorded minutes from churches described either event. The story of John Bell's murder at the hands of the Bell Witch was never described in any published account, nor placed into the pop culture version of events by the frightened family's reports. It seems almost incredible ...unless Ingram made it up.

Ingram almost certainly made up the entire Andrew Jackson incident. Andrew Jackson's whereabouts between 1814 and 1820 are well documented, and there is no known record of his having visited Robertson County during those years. In all of his own writings and in all of his many biographies, there is not a single mention of his alleged Bell Witch adventure. The 1824 Presidential election was notoriously malicious, and it seems hard to believe that his opponent would have overlooked the opportunity to drag him through the mud for having lost a fight to a witch. All known documentation shows Jackson elsewhere during the period in question, and all published material about his encounter with the Bell Witch relies on Martin Ingram's book as its sole source.

So what evidence of the Bell Witch are we left with? Vague stories that there was a witch in the area. All the significant facts of the story have been falsified, the others come from a source of dubious credibility. Since no reliable documentation of any actual events exists, there is nothing worth looking into. Ingram also wrote that the Bell Witch promised to return in 1935, and since nothing happened in that year either, I chalk up the Bell Witch as nothing more than one of many unsubstantiated folk legends, vastly embellished and popularized by an opportunistic author of historical fiction.

Response from Reader named David from Illinois:

Nicky from Greece is not the author of the tale they told. In fact, if Nicky laid claim to it, that would be blatant plagiarism!!! The original author can be found here:

Demystifying the Bell Witch: According to David, this is the original of the article shared by Nicky from Greece. Thanks to both of you for sharing.

Response from Reader named Casey from Tennessee:

I’ve heard the bell witch has four different entities within herself: Cypocraphy, Black Dog, Jerusalem, and Mathmatix.

Thanks, Casey, for sharing. I’ve heard that myself. I wonder how much truth there is to that rumor?

Response from Reader named Taryn, Sally from Tennessee:

Yes, I have heard about her and I think that she is very true. I mean if she died, then it is very possible for her to haunt her neighbor or really even anyone...

Response from Reader named Peter from Indiana:

I heard that John was a child rapist and it snapped his daughter Betsy to the point of no return.

Response from Reader named Sandra Ellison from Memphis, Tennessee:

I am doing a research paper for my comp class in college and yes I have heard of the Bell witch before.  What I am currently looking for is the reason for the witch. There are SO many documentations that I do believe it did happen.

Response from Reader named Joe from Marietta, GA:

I grew up in Guthrie, KY about 8 miles north of Adams, TN. My maternal grandmother was from Adams so I had many relatives in that area. I grew up with the stories which were related to me by my grandmother's brothers and sisters (my grandmother died before I was born). I have read all of the different accounts, made multiple trips to the area to learn what I could and as part of a cave exploration group lead the survey team that mapped the cave on the premises. My god-father, Clarence Covington, was related to the Bell family and is buried in the Bell family cemetery in Adams.  My great grandfather was the sheriff in Adams during the 1870s and knew some of the people mentioned in the book. He passed on stories to his children who related to me much of what they had heard from their parents. Based on what I have heard I believe that something occurred in the area. I stop short of trying to say exactly the nature of what took place.  I would love to engage in some discussion on the topic.

Response from Reader named Alinda from Kentucky:

Just watched the movie the American Haunting last night. Other than that wondered how true the story was.

Response from Reader named Fatima from Prince William County,Va 

Kate Batts loved John Bell and thought she was engaged to him.

Response from Reader named Lulu from the United States:

That she had turned into a spirit at a young age.

Response from Reader named Shawnna from Cannon County, TN:

I have heard a lot about the bell witch ... it is REAL SCARY.

Response from Reader named Shatika from Tennessee:

I have heard that the bell witch was haunting John Bell because he scammed her on a business deal. She also wanted to cease the marriage of Betsy and Joshua Gardner. That was supposedly the reason upon her return and also to haunt that time. Some say she is the witch of either Cate or Kate. She ended up killing John Bell and ruining the marriage of Betsy and Joshua Gardner and also scarring the lives of many others. She was called the BELL WITCH because she haunted the Bell family!!!

Response from Reader named Elizabeth from Latham, Ohio:

She indicated that she had never heard of the Tennessee Bell Witch.

Response from Reader named Danielle from the USA:

No, I never heard of this Tennessee Bell Witch.

Response from Reader named Maggie from Tennessee:

She kills children. 

Response from Reader named Dolores from Tennessee:

That she tormented a family named Bell for years. I have toured the cave with my family.

So, what have the rest of you heard about the Tennessee Bell Witch? Please share in the comment section below.

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