Haunted Live Examines the Legend of the Bell Witch

Tennessee Wraith Chasers ring the Bell Witch's door and run as Travel Channel’s Haunted Live explores America's first ghost story.

The Bell Witch case has been labeled the first true American ghost story. It’s the only haunted house to ever be investigated by a state government and deemed to be true, according to Travel Channel’s ghost hunting series Haunted Live. There is a simple log cabin and a school on the property currently. According to the Travel Channel, only one person has spent the night in the cabin without fleeing the Bell Witch. The Tennessee Wraith Chasers, hosted by Jamie Kaler, with the team Chris Smith, Steven “Doogie” McDougal, Scott Porter, Brannon Smith and Mike Goncalves, are planning to bunk up with the Bell Witch, as they explore the “First True American Ghost Story: The Bell Witch Haunting in Adams, Tennessee.”

“The family of a local farmer named John Bell was plagued by a mysterious and violent spirit for nearly four years,” reads the press statement. “The spirit identified itself as the ‘witch’ of Kate Batts, a neighbor of the Bell’s, with whom John had experienced bad business dealings over some purchased slaves. The haunting involved spectral creatures, disembodied voices, unbelievable violence and even resulted in the death of John Bell — all at the hands of the infamous Bell Witch.”

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The Wraith Chasers won’t be staying there alone. They will be joined by special guest Bob Bell, the fifth great grandson of John Bell Snr. Fifth-generation embalmer Bell owns and operates of the local funeral home near Adams, TN. “When Bob was young the Bell Witch story was not spoken about by his family until strange incidents started to happen in his grandmother’s home,” reads the press statement. “Dishes would fly out of the cupboards and footsteps would be hear on the steps. Finally, his father revealed to Bob the legend of the family curse. After a lifetime of paranormal experiences at the hands of the Bell Witch, Bob is steadfast in his belief that his family is yet to escape her grasp.”

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The Bell Witch haunting was substantiated by eyewitness accounts and legal affidavits.  Researcher and psychologist Dr. Nandor Fodor labelled the Bell Witch legend “America’s Greatest Ghost Story.” Newspaper editor Martin V. Ingram published Authenticated History of the Bell Witch, the first full-length record of the legend, in 1894.

“To the north was the farm of John Bell, an early prominent settler from North Carolina,” reads The Bell Witch Historical Marker in Adams, Tennessee. “According to legend, his family was harried during the early 19th century by the famous Bell Witch. She kept the household in turmoil, assaulted Bell, and drove off Betsy Bell’s suitor. Even Andrew Jackson, who came to investigate, retreated to Nashville after his coach wheels stopped mysteriously. Many visitors to the house saw the furniture crash about them and heard her shriek, sing, and curse.”

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Or was the Bell Witch just a patsy. Bell family neighbor Kate Batts believed John treated her unfairly on a land deal. She also wanted to stop John’s youngest daughter Elizabeth, nicknamed Betsy, from marrying a boy named Joshua Gardner.

John Bell Sr. and his family farmed along the Red River. He  was inspecting his corn field when he spied what he would later describe as a dog with a rabbit’s head in 1817. He shot at the animal several times and it vanished.  That evening, there was beating against the walls of the family’s log house. Nothing was outside. Over the next few weeks the Bell children would wake up after hearing the souds of rats were gnawing at their bedposts. They experienced bed covers being pulled down and heir pillows being thrown to the floor by an unseen force.

Betsy reportedly was slapped several times. People who spent spent the night corroborated the torments. They reported hearing the disembodied voice of a woman singing hymns and quoting scriptures. After Betsy woke up with hand prints and welts on her face, John called in his friend James Johnston, who spent a night in the house and confirmed hearing unusual sounds.  By 1819 future president Andrew Jackson, who was an Army Major who fought in the Battle of New Orleans.

“I heard that Andrew Jackson wanted to investigate because this man was also a farmer,”southern magician and herbalist Vanita Karma explains to Den of Geek. “He took a group of men, and as they neared the cabin the wheels of their carriage mysteriously stopped. As they got out to investigate one man was hit with a large stone. There was nothing to prevent the carriage from rolling, but the men began to fear for their lives, so they decided to turn back.  Fearing that the carriage was now also haunted, they left it and doubled up on the horses that they brought with them.”

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Further reading: Salem Witch Trial House Up for Sale

Reports say Jackson and his men stayed at the house and one was physically attacked by an unseen force. Jackson reportedly fled saying “I’d rather fight the entire British Army than to deal with the Bell Witch.”

The legend says his family and the local area came under attack by an invisible entity from 1817-1821. The entity could speak, shift its shape and affect the physical environment. John Bell died on December 20, 1820 after falling into a coma. The family found a vial of poison in the room. Local stories claim the Bell Witch proudly claimed responsibility for forcing him to drink.

Practicing magical users agree that energies can be used to influence the thoughts and actions of others, especially if there is fertile ground for implantation. “Guilt is a powerful emotion when externalized,” says Marie Bargas, paranormal investigator and Hollywood Witch.  “Magick is openly the result of emotions, among other things. Guilt is powerful enough by itself to cause manifestation.”

Betsy broke off her engagement to Joshua three months later. The death of the farmer and the broken engagement weren’t enough to quell the witch’s appetite for the Bell family. John Bell Jr. reportedly said the Bell Witch visited him in 1828, giving him a prediction of the Civil War.

There have been some reports that strange activity spread to the “Bell Witch Cave” behind the farm, where the witch was repuited to live, and some believe still does.

The Blair Witch Project from 1999 was partially inspired by the Bell Witch story. It was also filmed for Bell Witch Haunting in 2004, An American Haunting in 2005, Bell Witch: The Movie in 2007.

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Haunted Live “11-16-18”premieres Friday, November 16 at 10 p.m. on The Travel Channel.

Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.