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Monday, July 16, 2007

Introduction to The Strange Case of the Bell Witch

One of the things about living in Tennessee - one of the only things - is that I have access to all sorts of historical resources you aren’t likely to find in any other state. Amongst these are actual accounts of the “Bell Witch,” whom many called “Kate,” but the Bell family insisted on referring to simply as The Spirit. The family resented the use of their family name in conjunction with the Spirit, who terrorized all but two of the family: the mother and John Bell, Jr. The former for her piety; the latter for his intelligence and courage.

For some reason, the witch took particular glee in tormenting John Bell, the father and eldest of the household. She even said she would kill him and eventually, she did exactly that.

Of course, the problem with this classic tale of the paranormal - much as with all the others - is that many of the historical books in which an account appears (for it is one of the most sensational tales in the state’s history, and the world, in fact) take a dim view of it and include only for completeness. One historian in particular, a Hugh Walker, makes a brief, two-page mention of it in his book, Tennessee Tales, and states, “Perhaps the tale more properly belongs in the category of folklore.”

Someone should have taken Mr. Walker aside and explained to him that the case of the Bell Witch is possibly the most well-documented and best authenticated of all hauntings, and its “performances,” as many in the Bell family refer to them, were witnessed by many prominent Americans and Englishmen (the Bells were originally from England).

Over the next several months, before I move (as I still intend to do), I will delve very, very deeply into the history of this phenomenon. I live only a few hours away from Johnson County and can visit the very land and caves on which the events took place (the structures have long since been torn down), but I am more concerned with visiting the libraries there and peering into their microfilms. Of course, I don’t know that I will be able to do that, so I may have to be content with doing what research I can do from where I am.

I found out today that the microfiche here goes back to at least 1893, which is many years after these events occurred, but the Tennessee resources room is chockful of historical data which, as I noted, usually contains at least a mention of the events.


  1. Is there another section where you have written about your findings on this subject?

  2. If you click on the link at the top left, it will take you to all of the posts on the Bell Witch. I moved away from the area and have not been able to get back there for more research since my last post on the matter.

    Look under Subjects & Discussions on the sidebar to the left and it's the last link. Thanks!