Revenge of the Bell Witch
I enjoy reading out on the deck, watching fall colors descend on the forest of trees that surround the house.
As Halloween approaches, writers are always casting about for good ghost stories. The eerie contrast of vibrant color atop the trees and long shadows beneath make for the perfect setting for such tales.
Iíve just closed the cover on an impressive book that offers that very thing. This legend lives in Robertson County near the town of Adams (45 miles northwest of Nashville). So says the book by Pat Fitzhugh entitled The Bell Witch.
It chronicles the experiences of John Bell and his family. Bell was of Scottish ancestry having moved to Tennessee in 1804 from North Carolina. At the age of 32 Bell took himself a bride, Lucy Williams, aged 12. That was back when 14 year old girls were considered long in the tooth. My own daughter is 24 and still hasnít taken the plunge. (Not that she hasnít been asked, he quickly noted, lest he hear about it.)
Soon after, the Bells were set upon in their new home by a series of sightings, hauntings and visions that had them convinced they were being visited by something wicked.
Fitzhughís narrative records the stories faithfully. As proof of their accuracy however he offers the general statement that many of these occurrences were attested to by members of the clergy. While I may accept that members of the clergy are less suspect of outright fabrication than say, the town drunk, Iím not certain they are immune to the same kinds of auto-suggestion the rest of us are, but I digress.
ďThe Bell WitchĒ apparently haunted the Bell family until driving their patriarch insane and into an early grave. Legend has it that ďKateĒ (the witchís moniker) poisoned him in 1820. There is no evidence to the rumor that Bell fell victim to an undercooked pot roast by his child bride. I offer it here only as an alternative conspiracy theory and have already contacted Oliver Stone re: a movie deal.
The first sighting was made by John Bell while standing in his corn field. He claimed to have been inveigled into a staring contest with an animal having the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit. I submit to you that this was not the first spirited vision a farmer ever pitched in his cornfield. My own family has recorded a number under similar circumstances. The fact that a mason jar is often in evidence during such phantasms should detract nothing from their veracity.
My own sainted father once witnessed the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand off the port bow of his combine in a cornfield just south of Ponca City, Oklahoma. But I digress some more.
Fitzhughís book shakes a fistful of ghostly anecdotes at us from hair pulling episodes among the little Bells to disembodied sermons preached in the voices of ministers who were delivering them miles away at the time. I can identify with this. I canít count the number of times I sat in church listening to a sermon I wished were being delivered miles away. I really must stop digressing.
Despite my skepticism for ghost stories I do understand how such legends grow. Take the case of Juaquin Murietta, the Bandit King. For years he terrified the California countryside. His reign of terror was so horrific that the governor of California offered a cash reward for his head!
Trouble was, Murietta didnít exist. It seems that invoking the name of Juaquin Murietta every time a well lacquered husband had to explain his lost wages and disheveled appearance became the preferred specific to avoid an avenging skillet wielded by an angry wife. It was also discovered that if the story was repeated in the bar, subsequent embellishments were worth a free drink. Digression: fight the feeling.
If youíd like to know more about The Bell Witch you can go to the website at www.bellwitch.org.
Well now Iíve gone and done it. I sat out to give you an honest fright for Halloween and all Iíve done is make sport of The Bell Witch Legend. This is just the kind of disrespect that makes witches and the like single out people for haunting. Iíd be scared if I put stock in such things.
Hmmm....look there under the maple tree. Never saw that kind of animal before.
Itís just staring at me. It looks like a big dog but its head is misshapen.
Itís probably nothing.
Iíll just stare back at it until it goes away.