The story of the Bell Witch poltergeist has been around for nearly two hundred years, and there have been a handful of books written on the haunting, even one based on a manuscript written by Richard Powell, an eyewitness of the Bell Witch haunting. For those of you unfamiliar with the legend, it is the basis of the films An American Haunting (2006) and The Bell Witch Haunting (2004).
According to the legend, the first manifestation of “Old Kate” occurred in 1817, shortly after John Bell moved his family from North Carolina to the Red River community in Robertson County, Tennessee, when Bell encountered a strange animal in a cornfield on his large farm. Strange beating and gnawing noises outside, along with raining rocks on the roof, quickly followed this first contact. The alleged “haunting” eventually manifested inside the Bell home in the form of something invisible gnawing nightly on bedposts, ripping covers off beds, and repeatedly accosting their youngest daughter Betsy and pulling her across the floor by her hair.
These actions of the repeated haunting was reportedly witnessed by many members of the community, a local schoolteacher (Richard Powell), the clergy, and according to Richard William Bell’s diary (son of John Bell), even witnessed by General Andrew Jackson. The haunting did not stop until 1821, after the death of John Bell. It is said that the witch stricken him with palsy, tics, and neuralgia and is the only documented case in U.S. history when a spirit actually caused a man’s death.
In author John F.D. Taff’s novel The Bell Witch, Taff does not merely retell what is already documented by simply putting fact to a narrative, instead he has fictionalized the events in a truly distinctive story that only he could envision. Here Taft gives the entity a voice, emotion, personality, and depth of character. This sometimes makes you forget that main antagonist is not of flesh and bone but a malevolent spirit.
The Bell Witch is a unique and fascinating piece of fiction in where a poltergeist is brought to “life” by giving it a sense of realism and a reason to her motives for haunting the Bell family. If you enjoy reading well-crafted horror/fiction and are in need of something different and interesting when it comes to the supernatural, then you’ll want to read this book.