Our Halloween Post: “America’s Greatest Ghost Story,” Or Eisha’s Gonna Kill Jules for Posting This Image

h1 October 31st, 2007 by Eisha and Jules

{Note: Please see the post below this one for today’s Robert’s Snow schedule}

Jules: Happy Halloween! I am starting this post, to which Eisha plans to add some comments. And let me tell you that when she sees this image, she just might kill me. It’s taking a great deal of courage for me to post it to begin with.

That’s an image from the Bell Witch legend, a story, according to that link, which is “America’s Greatest Ghost Story.” Or so says Dr. Nandor Fodor, a researcher and psychologist. Or, if you grew up in middle Tennessee, it’s the “One Story That Will Scare the Holy Utter Crap Out of You for the Rest of Your Life,” or so say bloggers Jules and Eisha. The image you see there (in the public domain) is an artist’s sketch of Betsy Bell. Perhaps the most widely-used “Bell Witch” photo in existence, it was created in 1893. (The printing plates were made by Sanders Engraving Company out of St. Louis, MO and were used for M.V. Ingram’s 1894 book, An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch).

And as for the book cover image below and what it has to do with the Bell Witch, well, I’ll get to that in a moment.

If you saw the movie “American Haunting” last year, you may know the basic story of the Bell Witch. Author and historian Pat Fitzhugh will tell you everything you need to know about the legend at this site (and, specifically, on this page). Here’s the basic summary, as found on this informative Wikipedia page: “The Bell Witch is a ghost story from American Southern Folklore. The legend of the Bell Witch, also called the Bell Witch Haunting, revolves around strange events allegedly experienced by the Bell family of Adams, Tennessee, in 1817–1821.” And this might help (from this site), which will tell you a bit more:

“The spirit identified itself as the ‘witch’ of Kate Batts, a neighbors of the Bell’s, with whom John had experienced bad business dealings over some purchased slaves. ‘Kate’ as the local people began calling her, made daily appearances in the Bell home, wreaking havoc on everyone there. People all over the area of soon learned of the witch and she made appearances, in sounds and voices, all over Robertson County.

The ghost became so famous that even General Andrew Jackson decided to visit. He too experienced the antics of the witch and his carriage wheels refused to turn until the witch decided to let them.”

Official State of Tennessee historical marker on Highway 41Sure, I don’t believe in superstition and, sure, John Bell might have suffered from Bell’s Palsy, as modern analyses of his symptoms concur (instead of being tortured by the witch who made his face twitch and such, as his family claimed). And if you were to ask me my thoughts on life after death, I’d quote Russ Rogers: “Life is a great mystery; then you become one.” I am decidedly agnostic (is that an oxymoron?) on whether or not our souls live on after we die. My point? I ain’t afraid of no ghosts, and I don’t believe in them. Or, uh, so I thought. ‘Cause, I’m tellin’ ya, if you grew up in Middle Tennessee, the story still manages to scare the pants off of you, even as an adult. Well, ahem, I guess I should just speak for myself.

Eisha, how about you? If I merely read about how she was said to have thrown the covers off John Bell’s sleeping daughter and scratched people’s faces and pulled people’s hair and what-not, I want to hover and cry. And then there’s the childhood, middle-Tennessee legend that if you go in your bathroom in the dark and say a certain sentence repeatedly (a certain sentence that is the antithesis of declaring your love for the Bell Witch, a certain sentence I WILL NOT REPEAT HERE), that she will appear in the mirror and blood will stream from it. Dude, I still hear those words in my head in that short amount of time between entering the bathroom at night and turning the light on. Sweet bastard, I’m still scared of that woman, and I’m thirty-five years old.

Know what else, Eisha? I am related to someone who was BEWITCHED by her. Yes, she put a hex upon someone in my family. My father reminded me of this today (how I could have forgotten this is beyond me; I suppose I was repressing it). Will you still speak to me, Eisha? Here’s the low-down, straight from The Village Green: Greenbrier, Tennessee, 1858 – 1920 (a history of the town near Adams, Tennessee, where the Bell family lived):

Lavencia Choate was the grandmother of Frances (Choate) Suter. “Aunt Vence” as she was known was the source of many stories among her descendants. The famous Bell Witch of Adams, Tennessee cast a spell of sleeping sickness on Lavencia at the age of 16 because she would not give the witch some white geese. The spell was broken when her dad carried her over a certain stream of water.

That is the relative of an in-law of mine, so I’m related, Eisha (though not by blood lines), and I hope you’ll still associate with me. Mwahahahahahaha. And, no, I’m not making that up. Eisha, should I be proud to be associated with a famous legend — or scared to go to sleep tonight (or at least relieve my bladder at 3 a.m. near the bathroom mirror in the dark)?

Betsy Bell and her brothers encounter the Bell Witch

eisha: CRAP! Jules, are you kidding me? You post this whole thing, practically begging Kate to show up out of the ether and disprove your agnostic self, and then you identify yourself as a relation of someone she’d cursed? When you know very well that she likes to pester families for, like, generations? And you do it on our blog? That you share with me?

What are you thinking?

We are so screwed.

I remember when I was in school, the story went that you could go to this certain spot on the train tracks outside Adams, and she’d appear as a light moving down the tracks. But you didn’t want to get too close. And yeah, I remember the mirror thing, too, and now that you’ve reminded me I probably won’t be able to pee tonight either. CRAP!

You’ve probably cursed me by association. Seriously, Jules, right now I need to be possessed by a vindictive southern spirit like I need a hole in the head. I’ve got stuff to do! I can’t be going on job interviews and managing my Cybils category while I’m worrying about someone I can’t see tossing my bed around with me still in it, or slipping me poison in my sleep. This is the opposite of awesome.

Readers, if there’s no post tomorrow, you’ll know what happened to us. Let this be a lesson to you, one you pass down to your children: do not, under any circumstances, speak of the Bell Witch. Don’t even think about her. It’s too late for us, but you can still save yourselves. *sniff* Remember us fondly.

Jules: Okay, if we’re not here tomorrow, I’ll take all the blame, unless I’m too dead-in-the-bathroom (after having relieved my bladder, one can hope) to take responsibility.

And, hey, remember The Shakers, that folk-y band from Hendersonville, and their little four-song album (1988, Carlyle Records — I had to look that up), “Living in the Shadow of a Spirit”? It was all about the Bell Witch legend. It was good. I think my husband still has it. Remember this song? It’s live from Elliston Square in 1989. Dude, seriously, I think my husband was at that concert. I’ll have to double-check with him (this will probably only be of interest to us. Oh well, here it is):

I promised I’d say something about the book pictured above. This is Michael Teitelbaum’s The Scary States of America (Random House; July 2007; review copy), and the chapter on Tennessee is all about the Bell Witch and one boy’s account of entering with his friend the cave on the Bell property where her spirit is said to live to this day (check out the cave’s web site and teeeeerrrrrrifying music). Teitelbaum — who has written more than 200 books for children, many of them series nonfiction – gives us in this new title a collection of short stories all about the paranormal. He writes in the voice of a twelve-year-old boy, Jason Specter, and presents stories for each of the fifty states that he says were sent to him by visitors of his blog.

I haven’t finished this book, but you can see a detailed review here at A Fuse #8 Production. Based on what I’ve read thus far of the book, I’d agree with her final analysis:

Urban legends never die. They just morph into children’s books. Consider pairing this book with the compelling title “Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May or May Not Exist”. Both books deal with otherworldly creatures. One just has the benefits of fiction on its side. Plus, with the sheer length of this book on hand, you can bet that this will keep any kid satisfied and terrified for many long car rides to come. A book that fulfills a need.

(And I also agree with her that I wish the “what I learned in history class” notes that open each chapter lined up with the “story you won’t find in your textbook” narratives that follow them).

All in all, a fascinating fictional read that will leave middle-school-aged lovers of the paranormal and creepy and gross-out very happy.

And, yes, I had to be sure to read the Tennessee chapter on the Bell Witch during the day time.

Thanks, Eisha. Here’s to no hauntings tonight.

5 comments to “Our Halloween Post: “America’s Greatest Ghost Story,” Or Eisha’s Gonna Kill Jules for Posting This Image”

  1. And I thought us Fredericksburg-ians (VA) are the most haunted, what with all those Yankee bloodstains on the floors of people’s houses and the ghost of Clara Barton on the church steps and numerous blue ladies and white ladies and such. But we ain’t got nothin’ as scary-ass crazy as the Bell Witch. I’m scared knowing that Virginia and Tennessee share a border!

  2. Aw, I hate the Bell Witch. o.0

    (Two more times, and you’re in trouble…)

    I couldn’t have been at that show. I didn’t find out about them until late ’89, and (alas) if it’s the place I’m thinking of, I’d have been carded. Blue Sky Court? Hell yeah. Elliston? Not for a few more years…


  3. Eisha, I don’t think you need to be bringing any crazy witch ghosts into the Empire State. Just saying.

  4. Not my fault. See above.

  5. Parts of this story make me think of Bloody Mary in Miami in the article my husband just sent to me: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/1997-06-05/news/myths-over-miami/1

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