PEOPLE TODAY SENSE THE PRESENCE OF THE BELL WITCH
It has been fifteen years in 2002 since I picked up the Bell Witch Story and like every other investigator I am no closer in determining what actually happened. But one thing about which I am certain, the Bell Witch Legend is almost entirely fictitious. Can I convince the "true believer?" Not a chance. To a person, they tell me how they can sense the presence of the Bell Witch in one form or another, although they do not know what that means.
Getting caught up in the hysteria that surrounds this legend is easy. All modern day reports of the Bell Witch haunts are nothing more than evidence of our own suggestibility. Our love for a good scare has created the billion-dollar spook industry. But, Kate does not reside in the Bell Witch cave and all reports to the contrary are nothing more than attempts by few enterprising people to capitalizing on the gullibility of the general public.
Even around my home. I swear I hear noises that I never heard before. I see images out the corner of my eyes that I never experienced before. Has the Witch come to seek its revenge on me for claiming everything about it is fake?
While researching the Internet for information on poltergeists, I stumbled across Melissa Sanders self-interview for her book, All That Lives. She discusses her experience with the legend. Her grandma, who lived near Adams, TN told her the story of the Bell Witch when she was five years old.
ALL THAT LIVES
That night, I woke up screaming, sitting up in bed. Instead of seeing my grandma switching on the light, leaning over me, trying to shake me awake, saying, "Child, child, wake up!" I though I saw the Bell Witch possessing her, manipulating the features of her face into something unrecognizable. I was certain the witch had stolen her soul and was coming for me next. As soon as I was able to stop screaming I managed to tell my grandma what I'd seen.Without a doubt Grandma was right. The first person to have that nightmare was Richard William Bell, who as a six year old boy shared a bed with Betsy, and wrote about it twenty years later in his diary, My Families Troubles.
She held me and laughed a little, saying I wasn't the first or the last person to have bad dreams about the Bell Witch.
In 1999 as an adult, Ms Sanders decided to write a novel about the Bell Witch. She had a publisher and was working on the ending when she again experienced some strange happenings. She had decided that Betsy should burn in the final scene when she and the Spirit had their final confrontation. Just before she started work, she noticed the smell of smoke in her house. Going to the fireplace in the living room, she saw an old charred log, but it was spring and her family hadn't used it since winter.
She ignored it and went to work on her manuscript. Deep in thought she heard a crackle and a rustle in the living room. She stopped to listen. Maybe her cat was tearing some paper or maybe there was a fire !
I forced myself to get up and open the door. I walked down the hall and into our living room where I immediately saw the source of the noise; there was a roaring fire in our fireplace, the old dead log I'd noticed earlier was hissing, sending flames up into the chimney. I got down on my knees in front of the fire and raised my eyes to the ceiling, afraid I was being visited by the Spirit. "It's a sign, isn't it?" I said loudly into the empty room. "I am doing my best to tell this story, please let me do it well."
That night she told the story to her husband. He said that he had been burning junk mail in the morning, which explained why the house had smelled and how the log could have happened to catch on fire. In 1846, twenty years after he experienced his nightmare, what was going through Richard's mind as he wrote his story about his nightmare? It doesn't require a lot of wisdom or psycho-analysis to figure it out
BESIDES BEING INGRAM's FICTIONThe first rule of critical thinking is - don't consider extraordinary causes until eliminating the ordinary causes. No evidence exists for the paranormal events like those described in Ingram's book, either in centuries pre-dating it or in the subsequent century. So our first task is to explore the ordinary.
It is not unreasonable to conclude something outside the ken of the primitive Adams residents might have occurred in 1817 to 1820 that was unusual enough to spark the imagination of a small, closely knit, superstitious community. We say might because no one has found documentation, other than a brief statement by Goodspeed, that something out of the ordinary was ever reported. We have fallen into the trap of trying to explain an event for which no verification need to exist. Because hundreds of stories about Santa Claus are told, doesn't prove that Santa Claus exists and it is absurd to take on the job of giving explanation for what some people may think they know. The explanations are likely to be as ludicrous as the claim.
Nevertheless, let's still consider possible ordinary causes. History is replete is stories of bizarre behavior elicited by hallucinogenics, hysteria, and the like. Consider the story of the Salem Witches. Everyone now accepts that no witch-craft was involved, but no one knows what cause the bizarre behavior of the girls. Because it is common, ergot poisoning is suspected. Because no first hand record of symptoms exists for the Bell Witch we have no idea what Goodspeed reported.
Likewise, the events in Adams could have also been a poltergeist manifestation, not the paranormal type, but the psychological dysfunction type, similar to schizophrenia. Consider the following:
1) Hundreds of poltergeists have been reported over two millennia. Science accepts its existence, although it does not have an explanation for it, due in part to obfuscation by paranormalists. All parties agree about the agent. The primary disagreement is - science does not accept claims of psychokenisis. It accepts psychosis.
2) Mississippi version of the Bell Witch Legend is a precise description of a classic poltergeist. Although the Mississippi story has numerous errors in facts, it lacks the bizarre, occult fantasies in Ingram's tale, who claims authenticity via a diary, which he possesses, from a six year old boy written twenty years after the fact. (FYI: That diary has never been seen.) The Mississippi version is derived from other Bell family members, including Betsy Bell, who relocated to Mississippi several years after the death of John Bell.
3) The situation in the Bell household could have been made even more bizarre by the possibility of Folie a Deux and almost certain hysteria for the people closest to the Bell family. Again, community hysteria has been reported countless numbers of times throughout history, especially in intensely religious and superstitious circumstances. Manifestations based on hysteria are accepted by science and most paranormalists.
Like the vast majority of poltergeist incidents, the manifestations ceased when the stress agent was removed - the relationship of Betsy with her father John. Bell Witch authors comment that John Bell, Jr was supposed to have conversed with the Bell Witch several years later, but these accounts were most likely imaginative. The Witch also promised to return around 1930, which also never happened.
The 2006 movie The American Haunting starring Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek received terrible reviews and consequently I chose not to see it. However, when it appeared on my Netflix list I succumbed to my curiosity. Not only did the movie live up to its horrible reviews, but it misrepresented what few facts we do have in evidence about the Bell Witch Legend.
The opening scene specific to the legend has John Bell in front of the First Baptist Church elders arguing a case of usury against Kate Batts for which they excommunicate John Bell. The usury case against Bell, unlike many other reports for the legend, has good independent third party documentation both in the church minutes and in the Springfield Circuit Court. The usury incident was not with Kate Batts. It was with Benjamin Batts, the brother of the husband of Kate and no evidence exists that Kate harbored any unusual ill-will regarding Benjamin's affair. From this point the movie went downhill fast.
The only "source" documentation of the Bell Legend is the book by Martin Ingram. However, it is based entirely on second generation hearsay and the diary of a elementary grade-school boy written nearly a quarter century after the incident. One might argue that we really have no facts associated with bizarre occurrences from which this legend grew and that the theories presented in this movie are just as good as any others. That claim is acceptable if this version attempted to offer a reasonable explanation, but it doesn't. For the sake of its dismal attempt to create suspense, the movie provides horrible concoctions of events invented in a totally disjointed fashion that often leaves the audience confused.
For those of us familiar with the Bell Witch, we found it difficult to identify the legend in this cinema. It scrambled what little we think we know so badly that it left us more in the dark than the tenebrous scenes in the movie.
For additional review of this movie read The Little Ghost on the Prairie by Grady Hendrix