Brief History: In 1817, a Tennessee family started to report poltergeist activity on their farm. The idea of the disturbances being witchcraft came from the father’s initial theory that their neighbor, Kate Batts, was the cause. The Batts and the Bells were in the midst of a land dispute when the strange occurrences began and when asked, the ghost said its name was “Kate”. Besides the usual poltergeist activity (no television wasn’t invented yet, Carol Ann), ghostly dogs and hares were seen on the property. However, the worst part of the tale is how the “witch” treated the Bell’s teenage daughter, Betsy. She would be beaten in her sleep, pinched and thrown across the room. The entity forbade Betsy from marrying her boyfriend, Joshua Gardner, for unknown reasons. The “witch” was kind to Mrs. Bell, but hated John Bell so much that upon the night he died, she laughed and sang jauntily. The claim by the community was that the ghost herself poisoned John Bell and some officials agreed. After that, the ghost supposedly returned seven years later, but Betsy was married (to her school teacher - gross) and, as the ghost had no stomach for tutoring the rest of the family, didn’t stay long.
Analysis: It is certain that the Bell family existed. No one denies that. However, the existence and reasoning behind the witch is debated. Setting aside the idea that the whole tale is simply homespun folklore, the reasoning behind the haunting range from John Bell’s original Kate Batts cursed them theory to the whole thing was a fake phenomena set up by the local school teacher (you know, the one who later married Betsy - cause gross). Other books wondering if Betsy was the cause, through trickery of a young woman seeking attention or through an attraction of a supernatural entity for a young woman. Either way, it’s become one of the most popular ghost stories in the U.S. (besides any story that begins with teenagers making out in the vicinity of hook-handed killer). There’s even a heavy metal song about the Bell Witch.
Blame it on the Victorians: The Bell Witch stories were mostly word-of-mouth local legend until the mid-to late 1800s when America craved “true” ghost stories. We wanted to live up to the tales we’d left behind in the old world. Therefore, books and newspapers started to dredge up the tale of Betsy, John and the witch. The remains of their farm became a tourist attraction which you can still visit to this day.
Blame it on Andrew Jackson: He actually has no blame in this story. I just hate President Andrew Jackson. Supposedly he once was messed with by the Bell Witch. Good job, Bell Witch! Couldn’t she have stopped him from passing the Indian Removal Act?
Final Thoughts: Don’t watch an American Haunting. It’s a gross theory that I really hope is nowhere near the truth.