Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Bell Witch and the Death of John Bell

188 years ago on this day, the family of John Bell awoke to find the family patriarch had passed away in the night. The previous evening, on December 19, Bell had reportedly drunk from a vial that supposedly contained medication that had been prescribed by a local doctor. According to some accounts, the family grew suspicious that the medicine no longer looked the same as when the doctor had given it to him and decided to give a small sample to their cat. It promptly died.

For over three years, John and daughter, Elizabeth (Betsy) had been tormented by an unseen entity that they knew as "Kate," though is more commonly known today as the Bell Witch. In addition to the taunts and sometimes-physical abuse it unleashed on the family, it reportedly made constant threats that it would continue until John Bell was dead. Those that attended Bell's funeral even reported hearing the Bell Witch sing and laugh throughout the service in celebration. Because of the length and public notoriety, John Bell's death is considered among many to be the only documented case of someone dying by the unseen hands of a supernatural entity.

Bell was buried on his family plot, which is private property today and closed off from the public. In 1957, Bell-descendant Leslie Covington designed and built the Bellwood Cemetery in the Bell's hometown of Adams, Tennessee. While some descendants of John Bell were exhumed and re-interred in the new cemetery (including Charles Bailey Bell who documented his family's travails in the 1934 book, The Bell Witch: A Mysterious Spirit), the body of John Bell, his wife, and son were left in the original family plot. Betsy Bell was buried in Water Valley, Mississippi where she had moved later in life. However, the Bellwood Cemetery includes an obelisk honoring the Bell family and their contributions to the early history of Adams, Tennessee.

As with many things indirectly or directly associated with the Bell Witch, the Bellwood Cemetery is also home to various reports of paranormal activity that some believe is associated with the entity. Strange lights have been reported at night, guests sense the presence of being watched, and anomalies have shown up on photographs taken on the grounds. It is hardly alone in the strange phenomena - activity has been reported at the nearby popular landmark, The Bell Witch Cave, and some have attributed the tragic death of the curator of the Adams Museum at the Old Bell School to the entity.

Visit the Bellwood Cemetery in Adams, Tennessee - Home of the Bell Witch.

-Casey H.

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