The Legend of the Bell Witch is an enduring piece of southern folklore, a tale of a sinister wraith who tormented a family of 11 in the woods of northern Tennessee some 200 years ago. The witch, a pox on the Bell family from which she got her name, may still lurk around the small town of Adams, TN, depending on who you ask. Whether she still haunts the small Tennessee town or not, her legacy is a rich one. From spooking future presidents to inspiring major motion pictures, the Bell Witch has a very spooky and influential history - an iconic figure of the American paranormal.
But just who was the Bell Witch? What makes her one of the truly creepiest urban legends from the south? Let's get to know this terror out of Tennessee.
As the Bell Witch haunted the family that chose that cursed patch of Tennessee land, she grew stronger and stronger. No longer placated by doling out scratches and verbal abuse at nightfall, the Bell Witch became emboldened to affect more lives.
Some accounts say the Bell Witch began to draw large crowds, where she spoke fluently of the Bible. Remarkable as that may be, her omnipresence was more astounding - she was said to be able to haunt two places at once, sometimes miles apart.
According to some, the earthly identity of the Bell Witch, and the reason for her hauntings, are actually quite easy to piece together. It's said that she's the ghost of Kate Batts, a former neighbor of John Bell and his brood who felt cheated by his land purchase.
It's rumored that on her deathbed Batts vowed to haunt the Bell family from beyond the grave. In 1821, after John Bell passed away, the haunting did calm down, suggesting that Batts had perhaps thought her work to be done.
Though the young Betsy Bell had a been a target for the Bell Witch in her youth, it was when she was older and became betrothed that she experienced the ghost's real wrath. Betsy was to wed Joshua Gardner, a young man from neighboring Robertson County, but the Bell Witch had a strong and violent aversion to the idea, at one point vocalizing her reservations to Ms. Bell:
“You will not have happiness with Joshua Gardner, and future generations will see it true.”
Though her intent remains a mystery, it's theorized that the Bell With - the ghost of Kate Batts - had projected feelings she felt about her own father, an abusive man she loathed, onto Mr. Gardner.
John Bell died in 1820 (coincidentally, from complications due to the neurological disorder Bell's Palsy), and when he died in the family home, a mysterious vial was found near his bedside. The grieving family, for whatever reason, fed the liquid contained within it to their cat, which promptly died. This chain of events evoked the spirit of the Bell Witch, who claimed responsibility for John's death.
The Bell Witch, according to some accounts, was so pleased that she sang at John Bell's funeral. With the object of her ire out of her way, she also went on a haunting hiatus, telling the widowed Lucy Bell that she would return in seven years.