The Bell Witch

Note: A movie based on this haunting is called
"An American Haunting"
It follows the well documented ledgend untill the movie's conclusion, which takes lisence with the known facts.   

In 1804 a prosperous farmer, John Bell, bought land and moved his family to the lovely area that is now known as Adams, Tennessee.  He became popular, being well off and a substantial land owner.  In 1817 he incountered problems with a neighbor, Kate Batts, over the purchase of some slaves which resulted in bad feelings.

While hunting one day in one of his cornfields, he spied an  animal the like of which he had never seen.  It had the body of a dog, but the head had characteristics of a hare.  He took aim and shot, but the animal escaped.  When he returned home for supper, curious things started to happen.

The family heard odd noises on the outside walls of their home.  Thinking it a mischevious neighbor or a small animal, they rushed out to find . . . nothing.  As they retired each night, the dark of the children's  room was filled with the sound of rats gnawing their bedposts; the covers were snatched away, the pillows tossed from the bed. When the elder Bells rushed in with candles, there were no rats, only terrified children.

Days passed.  Now the sound of faint whispers filled the rooms, at first too quiet to understand.  Sometimes the voice sounded like an old woman mumbling, crying and singing humns.  At other times, other voices seemed to fill the room.

Some family members were ignored.  John's favorite daughter, Betsy, was treated to the worst of the tormenting.  Her hair was pulled, she was pinched, and slapped, leaving bright handprints on her face and body that lasted for days.

Becoming desperate, John Bell decided to confide in a friend and neighbor, James Johnston.  The Johnstons spent the night and experienced the same ghostly happenings.  What or who was this who tormented the family?  It was decided that it might be Kate Batts, who had died harboring ill will towards John Bell.

Eventually the voice settled into one recognizable voice that carried on conversations, sang hymns, quoted scripture, and even seemed to develope friendly feelings towards Mrs. Bell.  But the "witch" was never seen, only heard.

General Andrew Jackson, who had fought with John Jr. and Jesse Bell in the Battle of New Orleans, learned of the Bell haunting in 1819, gathered up a group of friends, and traveled from Nashville, Tennessee, in a large covered wagon to see what the witch was all about.  As the wagon neared the Bell property, suddenly, on a smooth, good road, the wheels refused to turn.  The group pushed and pulled, took off all the wheels to check them, but it refused to budge.  Finally General Jackson proclaimed "It must be the work of the witch!".  At that moment, a disembodied female voice was herd by all to tell Jackson that he and his men could now proceed and "she" would see them later.  The wheels now turned and they continued to the Bell Farm.  Among Jackson's group was one self-proclaimed "witch tamer".  Waving his pistol, he bragged he would kill the witch.  He suddenly began shrieking, his body contorting, screaming he was being beaten and stuck with pins.  He was released, running from the room as the ghostly voice proclaimed him to be a fraud, and another fraud would be revealed the nextday.  The frightened men begged General Jackson to leave, but he refused, wanting to know who the other fraud was.

That night General Jackson and his men made camp in the field next to the house.  Their tents were disrupted throughout the night by the men's covers being snatched off, they were slapped by unseen hands and tormented .  At daylight they packed up and left, General Jackson saying "I'd rather fignt the British in New Orleans than to have to fight the Bell Witch."

Betsy Bell fell in love with young Joshua Gardener, a young man from a nearby farm.  With John and Lucy's blessing, they became engaged.  Betsy and Joshua could not go to the river, or to the cave or the field without the spirit following them, taunting.  Finally Joshua's patience was worn thin and he broke off the engagment.

After the broken engagement the tormenting abated some although the spirit continued to threaten to kill 'Ol Jack Bell" and continued to torment him, taking his shoes from his feet, and slapping his face.

John Bell suffered a disorder of the nervous system, and experienced seasures.  In the winter of 1820, while walking to his pig sty, John Bell was struck down by an illness, possibly a stroke.  He lay in bed for several weeks experiencing difficulty speaking and swallowing, until December 19, 1820.  When John Bell failed to wake at the usual time, the doctor was summoned.  He lay lifeless, a strange odor on his breath.  John Jr. went to the medicine cupbord to retreve John's medicine.  There he found not John's prescribed medicine, but a strange vial of liquid.  Frightened at what might be in the vial, a drop of the liquid was put on the tongue of the family cat which promptly died.  The voice of the spectre was jubilent, claming "I gave ol John a big dose of that last night and that fixed him."  John Jr. threw the vial in the fireplace where it flashed a large blue flame up the chimney.   At John Bell's graveside, the witch began singing joyously a cheerful song about a bottle of brandy until friends and family were forced to leave the service.

After the death of her old enemy, the witch left in 1821, saying she would return in seven years.  True to her word she returned to visit John Jr. where she discussed the origon of life, Christianity and the need for spiritual reawakening.  She regaled him with prophesies of the Civil War, as well as World Wars I and II, and the great Depression.  John Jr. dutifully wrote down the prophesies.  When she left, she promised to return in 107 years.  According to the decendents, she did not make her appearance in 1935.  Or, did she . . .

There is a cave on the Bell property.  For many years it has been the site of much paranormal phenomenon.  Ghostly lights can be seen, unexplained sounds come from deep within the cave.  Strange apparitions are sometimes seen.  The current owners have lights strung inside the cave and offer tours for a mere $5. a person.  It is a popular attraction in Tennessee near Clarksville.  But sometimes the lights in the cave do not light although they may be new bulbs.  Don't expect your cameras, flashes or camcorders to work.  Many times they don't.  And if you do get them to work, look for extra things in your pictures. Usually it's people, or sometimes animals.  I've personally seen pictures a friend took of his daughter sitting on a picnic table outside of the cave.  Behind her was a black cat , in some pictures walking on the table and in some posing for the camera.  Of course, there was definitely not a cat on the table when the picture was taken.
At least . . . not one of this world.
Real Victorian Era Hauntings
man named Christophe Glapion.  It is doubtful that they were actually married, but Marie bore an incredible fifteen children.  One daughter, also named Marie, was  in later years, an incredible lookalike that was often mistaken for her mother.  This is probably the reason that Marie's magic was believed to be so great that she could appear in two places at once.

In her youth she helped the American wounded at the Battle of New Orleans. As an mark of how high in society she would climb, Marie was one of the few African-Americans invited to attend the funeral of General Jean Humbert, a hero of the Battle of New Orleans.  In her later years Marie visited the convicts on death row in the city's jail, bringing them comfort and food. Usually she brought them gumbo -- a traditional New Orleans seafood stew of African origins; it has been suggested she sometimes laced the gumbo with natural medicinal herbs that soothed the convicts' physical and mental pain. Some speculated that at least once, Marie actually drugged the gumbo with a substance which caused the premature death of a prisoner who had a date with the hangman, sparing the victim the trauma of execution.

Marie's main source of fame was sorcery, Black Magic and the paranormal. Prominent politicians would seek her help, sometimes asking her to predict their futures. For a fee, Marie could cast and remove spells. She was reputedly good with love potions and curses, too. But one thing she was particularly skilled at was obtaining secret information about prominent locals.

She obtained her information through an elaborate spy network of servants and slaves in New Orleans who feared the Voodoo Queen.  Marie had many clever methods for recruiting new spies. One trick was to secretly place a Voodoo doll near the front door of her victims, usually the house-servants of distinguished New Orleans homes. The victims, upon discovering the Voodoo doll, would be convinced they were being hexed (by some witch other than Marie), and would run to the Voodoo Queen for help. Marie, also referred to by many locals as the "Bosswoman," would offer to dispel the doll's power if in return the victims would agree to spy for her.  Marie had once been a hairdresser and knew how the gentry foolishly liked to talk, even about confidential matters. Society women would chat away with Marie the hairdresser as though she were irrelevant, a mere servant. In reality, the aristocrats were feeding Marie vital information which she would use later to her advantage. Men, too, readily succumbed to the beguiling Marie. It is believed by some that Marie Laveau once operated a house of prostitution from her house, Maison Blanche, on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, as a rather prosperous side-business. As she became more powerful, she had her spies listening closely in almost ever prestigious home in the city.

In the later years of her life, Marie Laveau gradually moved away from pure Voodooism. Some of her critics claimed she was in league with the Devil, yet she had once been a devout Catholic, and over time she began to incorporate Roman Catholic elements into her Voodooism. Statues of the Saints, the belief in the Virgin Mary, and Holy Water were now mixed in with the snake, the Zombies, and the gris-gris. Eventually, Marie Laveau would give up on Voodoo altogether and return completely to the Roman Catholic religion.

In 1869, past the age of 70, Marie Laveau was replaced as Voodoo Queen.  Her followers had determined Marie had grown too old to be in charge. Marie spent the rest of her life as a devout Roman Catholic and dedicated much time and effort visiting the prisoners in the local jail as an act of charity; she even helped build prayer altars for them in their jail cells, it was said.  In 1881, at 87, Marie Leveau died, and was believed to be buried in St. Louis Cemetery Number 1, beside her common law husband, down on Basin Street.  Whether this is her grave, or her daughter Marie's is a mystery. 

Her grave is visited by the faithful and the curious year-round. Many come to her tomb and place small offerings there, like beans, food or various Voodoo items. Many believers tap three times on the top of the tomb, or make three chalk X's on the face of her stone tomb and ask for a favor.  Some believe that Marie Laveau's spirit rises on St. John's Eve, June 23, and holds court over a spectacular Voodoo ritual.
Marie Laveau
New Orlean's Voodoo Queen

Born in 1794 in Vieux Carre. her father, Charles Laveau, is said to have been a wealthy white planter and her mother, Darcantel Marguerite, a mulatto with a strain of Indian blood. Marie herself is described as being mulatto, quadroon, and sometimes just as "yellow". She was a tall statuesque woman, with "curling black hair, 'good' features, dark skin that had a distinct reddish cast, and fierce black eyes."

A lovely twenty-five year old Marie was married to a freeman of color, Jacques Paris.  The couple was married by the chaplain of the St. Louis Cathedral.

Marie and Jacques had both been raised Roman Catholic and she still practiced it devoutly, attending a daily worship at St. Louis Cathedral. 

Following Jacque's death (actually, he was presumed dead after a lengthy disappearance), the Widow Paris, as Marie was then called, lived with another
The Ghost of Drury Lane

The most historic and oldest of all theatres in London, the Theatre Royal stands on the oldest site in the world to have been continually used as a playhouse.  The first theatre built in 1663 and burnt in 1672 was the venue for Nell Gwynn;s stage debut.  King Charles II took Nell as his mistress after falling in love with her at first sight during a performance in 1665.  A new theatre holding 2000 patrons opened in 1674.  Through a lack of finance this building quickly showed serious signs of neglect and in 1794 was replaced by a third theatre with a capacity of 3,611, but it too succumbed to fire in 1809.  The theatre that stands on the site today was opened in 1812 with money raised in part by Lord Byron and Whitbread and since then has witnessed many notable performances and events.   "The Man in Grey", the theatre's famous ghost appears during the day, but never at night, in the auditorium of the theatre. He is dressed in elaborate costume, including a tricorn hat, powdered wig and cloak, and carries a sword.  To see him during rehearsal is considered to be good luck.  Sometimes appearing during a performance, he's apt to shush patrons rather than scare them, he comes to watch the play from the balcony where he slowly walks from one end to the other only to disappear into the wall.   Some believe that this ghost is  a man that was murdered in the theatre some 200 years ago, whose skeleton was found in a sealed room backstage with a dagger still wedged in the ribcage.dressed in long riding cloak, boots and three-cornered hat.  He is said to haunt the Upper Circle, particularly during matinees.
Harry Houdini

The performer known world wide as Harry Houdini was born on March 24, 1874 in Budapest. Although Houdini often claimed to be born in Appleton, Wisconsin, Houdini actually came to the United States when he was four years old.  Houdini's parents were Rabbi Mayer Samuel Weiss and Cecilia Steiner Weiss.  His parents spoke only Yiddish, Hungarian, and German.The family was quite poor so most of the children began to work at an early age. From the age of eight young Ehrich Weiss sold newspapers and worked as a shoe shine boy.
Young Ehrich left home at thirteen and traveled the country for about a year, always sending money home when he could. He joined up with his father in New York City, but his father would die about five years later on October 5, 1892, While in New York he was introduced to the world of big time magic.  He was very athletic and won awards in swimming and track. He would use this athletic and swimming talents to great use in his future as an escape artist.
Houdini began performing magic as a teenager first calling himself Eric the Great.  He read "Revelations of a Spirit Meduim" by A. Medium, which exposed the tricks of phony psychics. A second book was "The Memoirs of Robert-Houdin," the autobiography of one of the greatest magicians of the day. Influenced by what he read and learned about the internationally known magician Robert Houdin, Ehrich changed his name to Houdini.
In 1894, Houdini met Wilhelmina Beatrice (Bess) Rahner, who was singing and dancing as part of the Floral Sisters at Coney Island.  After knowing each other only two weeks they were married in the month of July. Bess worked and traveled with Houdini and helped by singing, dancing, and performing the Metamorphosis exchange which Houdini invented.  His fame as an escape artist was worldwide.  He invented many illusions and escapes still used today.

Throughout his career Houdini exposed cheats and frauds in the areas of gambling, spiritualism, and psychic frauds. Houdini never believed in spiritualism, but would often pretend to in order to gain entry to seances, etc. Early on he attempted to do a spiritualist act when he was down and out, but found it so distasteful that he stopped and would forever expose those who made such claims.

In the summer of 1926, a few months before he died, Houdini heard about a magician who had sealed himself inside a box and had been lowered into water, where he allegedly stayed for over an hour, submerged, before coming up out of the water and the box, triumphant. Houdini purchased a bronze coffin and had himself locked into it and submerged in a hotel swimming pool for an hour and a half before the coffin was pulled out of the water and opened to reveal a smiling, healthy Houdini. Houdini took the coffin on tour with him in the fall, displaying it in the lobbies of the theaters he played. He jokingly instructed his wife to use the coffin "should anything happen" to him while on tour. It was in that very coffin that Houdini's body was returned to New York for burial.

During a U.S. tour in the fall of 1926, Houdini began to experience severe stomach pain. He refused medical treatment, because that would have meant missing some shows.  Houdini was possibly suffering from the onset of appendicitis, and his own stubborn refusal to see a doctor may have spelled his doom. Houdini was tired, and unusually accident-prone. In Albany, NY, a few weeks before his death, his ankle broke as he was being lifted into the Water Torture Cell onstage. In pain, he continued to perform. A few days later, in Canada, he allegedly was punched in the stomach by a university student who was testing Houdini's well-known ability to withstand blows to the body. That punch may or may not have been the cause of Houdini's ruptured appendix; regardless, Houdini collapsed onstage a few days later in Detroit, and was admitted to Grace Hospital, suffering from peritonitis.  On Halloween, 1926, with his brother Hardeen at his side, Houdini passed away.

Could Houdini send a message from the "other side?"  Houdini and his wife Bess devised a secret message that was to be used to test the validity of any so-called spirit message coming from either of them, should one or the other die.

The message was based on an old vaudeville mindreading routine. The message was, "Rosabelle- answer- tell- pray, answer- look- tell- answer, answer- tell". Bess' wedding band bore the inscription "Rosabelle", the name of the song she sang in her act when they first met. The other words correspond to a secret spelling code used to pass information between a magician and his assistant during a mentalism act. Each word or word pair equals a letter. The word "answer" stood for the letter "B", for example. "Answer, answer" stood for the letter "V". Thus, the Houdinis' secret phrase spelled out the word "BELIEVE".

Bess began the tradition of holding a séance to see whether Houdini could communicate. These séances, of course, provided rich publicity, and Bess was dedicated to promoting the Houdini name. In early 1929, a very ill Bess was approached by "Rev." Arthur Ford.  Within weeks, Ford announced that he had successfully delivered the correct message to Houdini's widow. It did not take long for the press to discover that Ford's claim was a hoax, and that Bess had inadvertently revealed the message to several reporters a full year before Ford's claim.  The 1936 séance was the last one that Bess conducted.