Fear in Writing: The Haunting of My Childhood

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Haunting of My Childhood

For this Halloween weekend, I will share with you a tale of scare that haunted my childhood.  It's a story that dates back to the early 1800s and involves a young family and the future President Andrew Jackson.

As a child in Nashville, Tennessee, I was told that if you stood in front of a mirror at midnight and said "I hate the Bell witch!" three times, she would appear.  And she would scratch your face with her mean claws, marking you forever as her victim.  We got to two a lot, but never three incantations.

Today I know a bit more about the story, but it is no less spooky.  Read on, brave ones...

Early in the 19th century, John Bell moved his family from North Carolina to the Red River community in Robertson County, Tennessee.  The Bells own hundreds of acres and had lived on the property for at least 11 years before the first encounter.

It happened one day in 1817...Bell was inspecting his corn field when he spotted a strange animal between the rows.  Bell was shocked--for the animal had the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit!  He shot at it several times, but the unnatural creature vanished.  It was that night that the sounds began.

The Bells were inside their log cabin when they began hearing someone or something beating on the walls.  Each night, the sounds got worse, and then the encounters turned physical.  "the Bell children began waking up frightened, complaining that rats were gnawing at their bedposts. Not long after that, the children began complaining of having having their bed covers pulled from them and their pillows tossed onto the floor by a seemingly invisible entity."

Endless whispering was the soundtrack to their lives.  And soon, the youngest daughter, Betsy, became the spirit's favorite victim. "It would pull her hair and slap her relentlessly, often leaving welts and hand prints on her face and body."  Soon, it became too much to keep quiet.  The Bells had to share their grief.

James Johnston and his wife came to stay one night.  They, too, experienced the horror--bed clothes pulled from them during the night, slaps to their bodies while they were sleeping.  Johnston calmed the spirit only with this cry: "'In the name of the Lord, who are you and what do you want!'"

Soon, a man with a bright future came to show interest in the haunting.  Major General Andrew Jackson visited the Bell family in 1819.  He traveled with several men, horses, and a wagon.  Upon entering the property, the wagon suddenly stopped!  It couldn't be moved, by my or by beast.  After several minutes of trying to move the immovable, a "disembodied female voice told Jackson that they could proceed and that she would see them again later that evening.."

One man in Jackson's enterouge claimed to be a witch tamer.  In fact, he showed off his silver bullet-shooting pistol with the claim it could kill any evil spirit. "Immediately, the man screamed and began jerking his body in different directions, complaining that he was being stuck with pins and beaten severely."  A strong kick sent the man out the front door.

The Jackson group settled in for the night...but was seen heading toward Nashville in the early hours of the morning.

What is true?  What is fiction?  What is rumor?  Do you dare test it yourself...In front of the mirror at midnight...Would you risk your face for a glimpse of the Bell Witch?

*All quoted lines and the majority of the story information came from the Bell Witch site, run by writer Pat Fitzhugh.  Fellow blogger and YA writer Steph in the City also thought this was a worthy topic last year.


  1. Michele - Oh, what a great story!! There are a lot of stories of hauntings and un-natural occurrences, and it is interesting to try to figure out which ones are real and which ones...aren't. C-r-e-e-p-y.

  2. Cool story. I'll check it out tonight; three times I hate the Bell witch in front of the mirror. Will tell you tomorrow how it worked >:)

    When my little boy was really a little boy (like 4-5 yo), he complained about strange sound in his bedroom at night (many kids hear strange sound in the dark I think). I used to tell him that he heard the monster that was living under his bed. We talked with the monster and found it was a nice and friendly monster, so he quickly became immune to the weird sounds >:)))

    Cold As Heaven

  3. Margot- Creepy is fun, isn't it? As mystery writers we don't necessarily write ghost stories, but we do put some creep in our tales.

    Cold- I hope you're hear to tell us the results tomorrow! I love your response to your child's monster. Instead of telling him he was wrong, you gave him the power and control--we do something similar with my son.

  4. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? I have my divine protection - I'd say it!

  5. I see no reason to test a witch, so I won't be talking to mirrors anytime soon. ;) Unless it's in a story I'm writing and then I'll go anywhere. bwa-ha-ha

  6. Thanks for the creepy tale. It's an interesting spooky legend. The name 'bell witch' has a eerie ring to it (no pun intended).

  7. Michele--very special. I am curious as my blog is about my writing Southern stories. Was the John Bell the same who ran for president in 1860 as one of four candidates?

  8. Very creepy tale. I'd like to try but don't have the courage of Cold. :)

  9. Very intriguing story. Definitely makes you want to try, but then again. Happy Halloween.

    Thoughts in Progress

  10. Ooohhhh, Happy Halloween!!!! And there's no way in the world I'll try it. I'm afraid of my own reflection! I don't need to see a witch.

  11. The Bell Witch...I can still remember talking about the legend on my elementary school playground!

    (And I didn't try it last night either!)