The Bell Witch
Posted on Sunday, 4 October, 2015 | 6 comments
Columnist: Sean Casteel
That poltergeist activity often follows in the wake of a UFO encounter is a generally recognized fact and has been documented frequently by researchers of alien abduction and other paranormal investigators. Whatever the source of the energy is that drives a “noisy ghost,” UFO witnesses seem to possess it in abundance.
There is even a scene in Steven Spielberg’s classic 1977 UFO movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” in which actress Melinda Dillon is laid siege by various household objects moving of their own accord and creating a frightening sense of chaos that precedes the abduction of her young son by the aliens. It is sometimes argued that many kinds of paranormal events – including Near Death Experiences and hauntings – form a kind of supernatural continuum and are all manifestations of the flying saucer occupants operating from various planes outside our everyday reality.
If such is the case, then it behooves us to study subjects like poltergeist hauntings in the hope of better understanding how the different aspects of UFOlogy form a cohesive whole. The new release from the publishing house Global Communications called “The Bell Witch Project” does just that when it examines an early 19th century poltergeist haunting that received wide publicity in the U.S. and remains a controversial case to this day. The new book is part of the “Very Strange People” series that also includes a volume on “Mad” Mollie Fancher, a celebrated “fasting girl” who claimed to live for 51 years without ingesting a single morsel of food.
WHO WAS THE BELL WITCH?
The uniquely American story of the Bell Witch haunting, in which a ghost took up residence in the home of a Tennessee farming family in 1817, began when John Bell, the head of the family, was out walking through his cornfield. He sighted a strange, doglike creature in the distance that suddenly disappeared. Around the same time, Bell’s son and daughter were walking through an orchard when they noticed an old woman walking beside them. When the daughter spoke to the old woman, the old woman simply disappeared.
These sightings were followed by strange, inexplicable noises in and around the Bell house, such as knocking sounds on doors and windows, wings flapping against the roof and animals fighting and scratching. As the noises became more intense, the family tried desperately to find the source but found nothing. Then bed coverings began slipping off the beds as if being pulled by someone. Sometimes one could hear noises like lips smacking and gulping. The Bell household became a noisy nightmare.
One night the spirit began to talk, introducing itself with hysterical, mocking laughter. When asked its name, the spirit answered “Kate.” The spirit began to speak incessantly, arguing theology, teasing and tormenting, spreading gossip and singing loudly. She seemed to know intimate details about everyone and took great delight in being able to pester the household at will.
The poltergeist claimed to have been conjured by the deceased spirit of a woman named Kate Batts, whose invalid husband had been cheated in a slave deal with John Bell. There are historical records to the effect that Bell had been convicted of the crime of usury, or charging excessive interest, in the deal. On her deathbed, Kate Batts swore she would haunt Bell and his descendants.
The spirit abused John Bell in many ways. She threw furniture and dishes at him, pulled his nose, yanked his hair and poked needles into him. She yelled at night to keep him from sleeping and snatched the food from his mouth at mealtime, all in the effort to vent her anger and hatred.
No one ever saw Kate/the Bell Witch, but every visitor to the Bell home could hear her all too well. Future president Andrew Jackson, who at the time was a general in the Tennessee militia, once visited the Bell home, curious to see if the widely circulating stories were true. “I’d rather fight the British in New Orleans than have to fight the Bell Witch,” Jackson is alleged to have said after spending the night in the Bell home.
John Bell died in 1820, weak and exhausted by years of physical abuse from the Bell Witch. At his funeral, attended by hundreds of friends and curiosity seekers, Kate laughed and mocked the family, singing loudly and joyously in her triumph. Kate stayed on the Bell property for another year and then departed. She returned briefly seven years later. The remaining members of the Bell family either died or moved away but, to this day, strange lights and ghostly apparitions have been seen in the area. Some believe that John Bell’s restless ghost still wanders the land he once owned and farmed.
ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE ON THE BELL WITCH STORY
“The Bell Witch Project” also offers the perspective of present day psychic Shawn Robbins, a protégé of the late ghost hunter, Hans Holzer. Hans often relied on Shawn’s psychic abilities in order to facilitate contact with spirits from the other side since he possessed few such powers himself. In the book’s opening chapter, Shawn talks about the day Hans invited her over to try to establish a “remote-viewing” link to the Bell Witch house. After Hans put Shawn into a hypnotically-induced, trancelike state, she revealed aspects of the story previously unknown.
“I immediately encountered the ethereal spirit, Kate Batts,” Shawn writes, “who had a distraught and distressed look on her face. She quickly pointed to her belly and said, ‘It is not my child.’
“‘Who then?’ I asked. ‘The slave Wilbur,’ she replied. I asked Kate why this was important. She answered, ‘I was raped.’ At that very moment I knew this was the information that Hans sought and had eluded so many others. In further conversations with the Bell Witch, Kate revealed to me she carried the child for seven months and gave birth to it prematurely. The male child died a few hours later. When her husband saw the baby was not his, he immediately went into shock and accused Kate of having an affair.”
The relationship between Kate Batts and her husband Frederick was never the same afterward. Frederick never forgave what he took to be her adulterous union with a slave, and Kate never forgave herself for never telling Frederick she was raped.
When Shawn awakened from her trance, Hans wrote down everything she said and later used the material on the Bell Witch in one of his many books. The idea that Kate Batts was raped by a slave adds credibility to the notion of her anger and desire for vengeance and its expression from beyond the grave.
VAMPIRES IN EARLY AMERICA
“The Bell Witch Project” also covers other forms of paranormal strangeness, including legends of vampires and spectral invaders. Noted author and talk show host Paul Eno – www.behindtheparanormal.com – has collected many a weird tale over the years, including – surprisingly enough – real life vampires in early America.
“Each of our six New England states has had vampire cases,” Paul writes. “Several of the more striking incidents occurred in eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island in the period between roughly 1770 and 1900. Belief in vampires, in one form or another, has filtered down from the remote past.”
Eno tells the story of the Brown family of Rhode Island. Mary Brown, the mother, died of consumption on December 8, 1883, leaving her husband to care for their one son and several daughters. Six months later, the oldest daughter, 20-year-old Mary, died of the same disease. Edwin, the son, contracted consumption and relocated to Colorado, hoping to recover in a different climate. Declining rapidly, Edwin returned to Rhode Island, only to find that his 19-year-old sister Mercy had the disease and was in even worse shape than he.
As Edwin battled for his life, Mercy died in January of 1892. Twelve members of the Brown family conferred on what could be done for Edwin, who, given his former strength and health, should not be wasting away. They concluded unanimously that a vampire must be draining the life out of him – a vampire that likely resided in the grave of one of the three deceased family members.
“So, on a cold March day in 1892,” Eno recounts, “a grim assembly arrived at the Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Exeter. The remains of Mrs. Brown and Mary, buried for years, proved to be only skeletons. But in Mercy’s grave was a startling find. Not only did the body look in the pink of health, with blood in the heart and arteries, but it had turned over partway in the coffin. The vampire hunters cut the girl’s heart from her body and burned it on a rock that still can be seen not far from the grave.”
The ashes of the heart were gathered up, to be dissolved in medicine in the hope of curing Edwin. The grotesque remedy did Edwin no good; he died shortly thereafter.
HOOLIGAN SPIRITS INVADE
Paul Eno has another interesting story to tell in “The Bell Witch Project.” In 1692, in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, an apparent invasion by an army of ghosts or demons took place. It started at the home of Ebenezer Babson, who, along with his family, on a nightly basis, heard strange noises outside their home “as if some persons were running hither and thither about the house,” Eno writes. Returning home late one night, Babson saw two figures emerge from his front door. After his family told him no one had been there, Babson grabbed his gun and gave chase. The two figures fled into a swamp and one was heard to say, “The man of the house is now come, else we might have taken the house.”
In the days that followed there were other similar local incidents of phantom figures who were immune to bullets and spoke in an incomprehensible language. More of these specters appeared both by day and night, dressed in white and carrying “bright guns,” though they acted more like hooligans than soldiers. Some believed the Devil was loose in Cape Ann. Whoever the phantoms were, they grew more emboldened every day.
“They threw stones, beat upon barns with clubs, and otherwise acted more in the spirit of diabolical revelry than as actuated by any deadlier purpose,” wrote 17th century historian and witch hunter Cotton Mather. “They moved about the swamps without leaving any tracks like ordinary beings. It was evident that such beings as these were must be fought with other weapons besides matchlocks and broadswords; consequently, a strange fear fell on the Cape.”
The residents of Cape Ann called upon the nearby town of Ipswich for help, and Ipswich sent 60 men to do battle with the “Powers of Darkness.” The demonic hooligans were not impressed and treated the mortal combatants with open contempt. Once it was settled that the “insults” proceeded from specters and not human beings, the incidents ended as suddenly as they began.
Eno offers the theory that the Cape Ann demon invasion had much to do with stirring people up about the paranormal and contributed to the witch hysteria in Salem and Danvers that would begin in earnest that same year.
THE MONSTROUS CANNIBAL ROLLING HEADS
The monstrous Rolling Heads of Native American lore are almost too horrifying for the movies, though it would be just the sort of thing current CGI technology could do a good job with. There are several different versions of this story, but they all center on man-eating monsters who appear as an undead, disembodied head with long, tangled hair. The heads roll along the ground chasing humans to kill and devour.
Rolling Heads are created when victims of particularly violent murders rise from the dead to seek revenge. In most stories, this takes the form of an angry man who murders his unfaithful wife, although in some versions the victim is killed for witchcraft or violating some taboo. The story is sometimes made more gruesome by the addition of forced cannibalism, such as feeding the flesh of the mother to her unsuspecting children or feeding the wife part of her own meat as she lays dying.
Eventually the series of evil acts leads the Rolling Head to rise from the victim’s grave and take revenge on the killer. It then proceeds to terrorize its own children and/or the neighboring people until someone manages to destroy it. Some say that Rolling Heads can only be killed by drowning, while others say this is accomplished with magical powers or by causing the heads to fall off cliffs or into pits.
GHOSTLY SLEEPY HOLLOW AND HAUNTED JEROME, ARIZONA
Never being one to take the easy path, intrepid adventurer, writer and publisher Timothy Green Beckley shares his accounts of visiting Sleepy Hollow, New York, the home of the Headless Horseman, and Jerome, Arizona, a sleepy former mining town made alive by the continual presence of spectral prospectors and tragically wronged ladies of the evening.
As Beckley pondered the fact that Sleepy Hollow had been overflown by UFOs repeatedly in the famous Hudson Valley flap of the 1980s, his traveling companion, a woman named simply Circe, cracked open their copy of Washington Irving’s famous story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and read: “A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land and to pervade the very atmosphere. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvelous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights and hear voices and music in the air. Stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country.”
That last sentence, about the frequency of stars shooting and meteors glaring, seems to offer a clue that Sleepy Hollow was a UFO hotspot even centuries ago when Irving first wrote about the bewitched New York hamlet. It serves as an excellent example of the paranormal continuum that connects ghosts and UFOs and other mysterious phenomena.
Meanwhile, in the aforementioned Wild West tourist locale, Jerome, Arizona, prostitution was never formally legal but it was tolerated by city lawmakers and essentially flourished. Jerome even had its own Red Light District known as Husband’s Alley.
According to tour guide Ron Roope, “The women of the night often underwent cruel hardships at the hands of their clients. There were beatings, stabbings and strangulation. There was also the specter of alcoholism and opium addiction, to say nothing of disease. Sammie Dean is probably the most famous case of a lady of the night who was murdered under horrendous circumstances.”
The story goes that Sammie was murdered in 1931 by the son of the mayor of Jerome when she refused his offer of marriage as he wined and dined her at an upscale restaurant. The next morning she was found brutally strangled to death. No charges were ever pressed, but the mayor’s son left town shortly after the incident. The spirits of Sammie and other lesser-known “sporting gals” can be seen and heard wandering the streets by the town’s community center, which has been tagged “Spook Hall.”
BECKLEY WEIGHS IN
Publisher, researcher and co-host of the “Unraveling The Secrets” podcast Tim Beckley has long been pushing the connection between the paranormal and UFOs.
“I have discovered that there are many similarities,” Beckley said, “between what happens in a séance room and what happens at a UFO landing site. Objects move, people levitate, mysterious orbs appear to dance around, and sometimes the primary observer will start to channel the occupants of the craft they have seen. There is a certain ‘dark side’ of UFOlogy which encompasses what I call the ‘fear factor.’ Many UFO percipients tend to keep silent about what transpires in the aftermath of their encounter. They feel that seeing a UFO is strange enough, so why add to the ‘believability’ and trauma of the episode in question? Even physical trace investigator Ted Phillips, who was a close associate of the late Dr. J. Allen Hynek, started out believing in the ET Hypothesis for the origin of UFOs but now concedes – mainly because of his research into the ongoing phenomena surrounding Marley Woods – that there is a paranormal aspect to UFOs that serious ‘nuts-and-bolts’ researchers have long overlooked.”
With the foregoing (and many other) bizarre narratives on offer, the profusely illustrated “The Bell Witch Project” is essential reading for those interested in supernatural Americana. From 19th century poltergeist hauntings to New England vampires to man-eating Rolling Heads, stories abound that will surprise and terrify and which most likely have escaped your notice until now. When we think of the hardy pioneers who settled this country, we should also consider the frightening paranormal encounters that came with the territory. Our forebears not only fought Indians and British and French armies but also strange interlopers from the unknown who sometimes came to vent the rage of hell itself on hapless farmers and ordinary folks of all stripes.
THE BELL WITCH PROJECT: POLTERGEISTS, GHOSTS, EXORCISMS AND THE SUPERNATURAL IN EARLY AMERICAN HISTORY
AMERICA'S STRANGE AND SUPERNATURAL HISTORY: INCLUDING PROPHECY OF THE PRESIDENTS
LEVITATION AND INVISIBILITY
Article Copyright© Sean Casteel - reproduced with permission.