The Blair Witch Project, and the new genre of “found footage” horror that it inspired, terrified a generation of cinema goers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But the truth behind the movie fiction is far scarier.
Because, you see, the movie which portrayed itself as real was in fact based on a genuine legend, that of the Bell Witch. The Bell Witch Haunting is sometimes called the greatest horror story in American history.
What happened 200 years ago to inspire the story? Who was the Bell Witch, and what did she do?
A Rabbit, a Dog, or the Bell Witch?
The Bell Witch story is so famous that the spot of the eerie incidents, the Bell Witch’s cave, is still visited by many tourists who like to brush shoulders with the paranormal. The story of the Bell Witch starts in the Summer of 1817 when John Bell, a farmer living in Tennessee, was doing rounds of his huge farmland.
While crossing one of his cornfields he and saw a strange looking animal which he described as a rabbit-headed dog in the middle of the field. Not thinking much of the weird creature, he shot it and went back into his house for dinner.
That night, Bell and his family reportedly heard strange, disturbing noises. The family reported the noise as strange knocking sounds coming from the door and walls. There were also sounds of rattling chains that disturbed the family at night. The nine children were terrified, woken up by the sound of rats gnawing wood and a strange voice singing hymns to them.
At first, the family kept these happenings secret because they thought their friends would only be shocked and find it unbelievable. However, as the Bell Witch Haunting continued, things worsened.
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The family’s youngest daughter woke up with red welts and handprints on her face. After this, the Bell Family confided in James Johnston, the closest friend of John Bell. Johnston decided to spend time in the Bell Family home to know more about the eerie happenings. Their friend confirmed the experiences of the Bell family: whatever was happening it was not a fiction.
Who was the Bell Witch?
At that time, the word about the Bell family and their ordeal spread, and many people came to the spot to investigate for what paranormal force could have caused it. However, not many could reach the place as they would encounter many issues and difficulties in reaching the farm.
Meanwhile, things at the Bell Farmhouse only got worse. A mysterious spirit would pull the covers off the bed randomly. It would also yank the hair of the children and torment them. The people who visited the house reported that the spirit was so strong that it could shapeshift and move across spaces with great speed.
The evil work of the spirit continued and evolved. The children were tormented by terrible sounds at night, and felt that they were besieged by malevolent forces. The farmer John Bell also experienced a paralysis of the mouth and was unable to speak.
The spirit also manifested and was spotted by many in and around the house, identifying itself as “Old Kate Batts’ witch”. The witch’s attention focused more on John Bell and his youngest daughter Betsy Bell. In particular, the spirit would try to dominate Betsy by slapping her and sticking her with pins.
Their family friend tried to talk to the spirit hoping to calm it. When asked who she was and what did she want, the Bell Witch responded that she was a spirit and she had been disturbed. She was once happy and calm. The conversations with the Bell Witch revealed that she emerged from the grounds because a Native American burial ground near the house was disturbed by the Bells’ son Drew during a treasure hunt.
The Bell Witch was such a strong and present entity that she would repeat biblical texts and have religious arguments with people who talked to her. The spirit would also gossip about other households in the area and often visit other houses for a brief time as entertainment.
In many incidents, it was reported that the witch could be at two places at one time, and often these two places were a great distance apart. Although at first, the Bell Witch was only tormenting the household, she became acquainted with the individuals and eventually showed kindness to many. For example, she was particularly benevolent towards the farmer’s wife, Lucy Bell.
The Departure and Return of the Bell Witch
The Bell Witch wanted to harm John Bell Sr. and would often curse him to die. It seems that after three years the spirit got her wish: the hauntings started in 1817, and John Bell died in 1820 as he slipped into a coma after apparently being poisoned by the witch herself.
The witch announced to the family that she forced John Bell to drink the poison. She continued to haunt the family however and in particular to be possessive of Betsy Bell, forcing her to break off her engagement a few months after the death of her father.
However, for a time that was the last of the Bell Witch. After completing the task of killing John Bell Sr., the spirit left the house in 1821. She, however, declared that she would return in seven years and stay at the house.
Her spirit duly returned in 1828, and she interacted with John Bell Jr, towards whom she seemed to be affectionate. But in her new form she acted as a prophet, and it is believed that the spirit spoke of many incidents in the past and future. The most incredible predictions of the Bell Witch were about the American Civil War.
The Bell family and their neighbors believed that the Bell Witch never left the Bell property. The spirit continued to manifest, although less and less frequently. Many say that the Bell Witch took residence in a cave just behind the Bells’ farm and, to this day, stays inside it.
While even today, paranormal experts visit the Bell Witch cave to investigate the spirit, the Bell witch cave and the place where the farmhouse was have become famous tourist spots in the United States.
Top Image: Some say the Bell Witch still haunts the Bell property to this day. Source: Leo Lintang / Adobe Stock.
By Bipin Dimri
Fabbricatore, D, 2017. This Famous Bell Witch Story Is Darker than Any Horror Movie. Available at: https://medium.com/omgfacts/this-famous-bell-witch-story-is-darker-than-any-horror-movie-45505a2609f8
Obadiah, P, 2022. The Bell Witch True Story Explored in Bloody Disgusting’s Podcast “Insidious Inspirations”. Available at: https://bloody-disgusting.com/podcasts/3713482/bell-witch-true-story-explored-in-bloody-disgustings-podcast-insidious-inspirations/
Saunders, R, 2020. Historical Fact and Legend in The Mark of the Bell Witch. Available at: https://horrorobsessive.com/2020/12/15/historical-fact-and-legend-in-the-mark-of-the-bell-witch/