Bell WitchThe 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 1817–1935 when the witch was said to return. John Bell Jr. also wrote a book on the hauntings that took place around him.
According to the legend, the first manifestation of the haunting occurred in 1817 when John Bell, Sr. encountered a strange animal in a cornfield on his large farm in Robertson County, on the Red River, near Adams, Tennessee. The animal, described as having had the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit, vanished when Bell shot at it. This incident was quickly followed by a series of strange beating and gnawing noises manifesting around the outside, and eventually inside, the Bell residence. Betsy Bell, the family's younger daughter and the only daughter still living at home (Bell's oldest daughter Esther married Alexander Bennett Porter July 24, 1817 when she was 17), claimed to be assaulted by an invisible force.
John Bell Sr., later in life, suffered frequent facial seizures, often rendering him speechless. While the Bell family blamed John's affliction on the witch, modern analysis of his symptoms indicates that he may have have possibly suffered from Bell's Palsy, a paralysis of the facial muscles. (The name "Bell's Palsy" comes from Charles Bell, the anatomist that discovered the condition. Charles Bell is no relation to the Bells of Adams, Tennessee. The name is a coincidence, and Bell's Palsy was not identified until 1821, the year after John Bell's death.)
John Bell, Sr. died on December 20, 1820. A small vial containing an unidentified liquid he had apparently been given or ingested thinking it was medicine was found near the body. When some of the contents were force-fed to the family cat, the animal died immediately; the bottle was then thrown into the fireplace.
Pat Fitzhugh's retelling of the Bell Witch legend concludes with a statement to the effect that many people believe that the spirit returned in 1935, took up residence on the former Bell property, and remains there to the present day. He notes "the faint sounds of people talking and children playing can sometimes be heard in the area" and asserts that it is "very difficult to take a good picture there."
The earliest written account is in the Goodspeed History of Tennessee published in 1887 by Goodspeed Publishing. No author is given. Page 833 reads:
|“||A remarkable occurrence, which attracted widespread interest, was connected with the family of Garry Bell, (Note: There was, of course, no "Garry Bell" in the family, there was, however according to some research, among the others who emigrated with John Bell to Robertson County a Jerry Batts, who may have been related to the "Kate Batts" who figured prominently in the legend) who settled near what is now Adams Station about 1804. So great was the excitement that people came from hundreds of miles around to witness the manifestations of what was popularly known as the ‘Bell Witch.’ This witch was supposed to be some spiritual being having the voice and attributes of a woman. It was invisible to the eye, yet it would hold conversation and even shake hands with certain individuals. The feats it performed were wonderful and seemingly designed to annoy the family. It would take the sugar from the bowls, spill the milk, take the quilts from the beds, slap and pinch the children, and then laugh at the discomfiture of its victims. At first it was supposed to be a good spirit, but its subsequent acts, together with the curses with which it supplemented its remarks, proved the contrary. A volume might be written concerning the performance of this wonderful being, as they are now described by contemporaries and their descendants. That all this actually occurred will not be disputed, nor will a rational explanation be attempted. It is merely introduced as an example of superstition, weak in the minds of all but a few in those times, and yet not wholly extinct.||”|
The most famous account is recorded in what has come to be called the Red Book, the 1894 An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch of Tennessee by Martin Van Buren Ingram, which cites the earlier Richard William Bell's Diary: Our Family Trouble. Richard Williams Bell lists several witnesses, including General (later President) Andrew Jackson. No mention of the Bell Witch was ever made by Jackson in any of his letters, journals or papers, however. 
The Black Book was written much later, and published in 1934 by Dr. Charles Bailey Bell, great-grandson of John Bell.
Thirteen Tennessee Ghosts and Jeffrey by Kathryn Tucker Windham includes the story of the Bell Witch.
The Guidebook for Tennessee, published by the Works Project Administration in 1939, also contains an account that differs from Ingram's on pages 392–393.
"Other Worlds," a book published under the name of Barbara Michaels (A pen name of Barbara Mertz) in 1999, includes a very detailed version of the Bell Witch events. The scenario in this book is that of a group of psychic researchers -- the narrator of the tale is Harry Houdini, and various "solutions" (such as trickery by Betsy Bell, one or more of her brothers, or her mother Lucy Bell, or actual paranormal activity) are proposed by the narrator as well as various other characters (Frank Podmore, Nandor Fodor, Arthur Conan Doyle and so on). The Bell Witch account and discussion take up half the book. The other half is used to discuss a "haunting" in Stratford, Connecticut, at the Phelps Mansion, in a similar manner.
- Bell Witch: The Movie starring Betsy Palmer (who played Mrs. Voorhees in Friday the 13th). First film about the Bell Witch Shot in 2002 in Tennessee but Released to video in September 2007.
- The Bell Witch Haunting is a 2004 film made by Willing Hearts Productions. Filmed near the original location, the director claims to have encountered production difficulties such as fires and thinks the Bell Witch was responsible.
- On May 5, 2006 a film based on the events of the Bell Witch legend, titled An American Haunting, was released. An American Haunting is a thriller written and directed by Courtney Solomon. It stars Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, Rachel Hurd-Wood and James D'Arcy. It is closely based on the narrative presented by author Brent Monahan in his novel, The Bell Witch: An American Haunting. This movie's explanation of the phenomena, derived from the novel, was that John Bell sexually assaulted his daughter, and her repressed memories of the event were transferred to the "hauntings of the witch." Despite being based on a work of fiction, the film was marketed as a true story. 
- The heavy metal band Mercyful Fate's 1993 album In the Shadows contains a song called "The Bell Witch" depicting the Bell Witch's attack. The song refers to John and Betsy Bell by name and ends with the poisoning of John Bell.
- The folk/pop band The Shakers from Hendersonville, TN released a four-song EP in 1988 (Carlyle Records--CR-44881) titled Living in the Shadow of a Spirit which was inspired by the Bell Witch Legend.
- In October 2003, the Nashville Ballet and Nashville Chamber Orchestra premiered The Bell Witch, a one-act story ballet with an original score by Conni Ellisor, choreography by Ann Marie De Angelo, and 3-D effects by renowned artist Gerald Marks. It is believed to be the first ballet ever to include 3-D effects.