Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Bell Witch Story - a poltergeist at work?

It was in Adams, Tennessee in the year 1817 when one of the most well-known hauntings in history of the United States occurred. Was it the work of a poltergeist or was it witchcraft? Let's look into the case.

This case, known as The Bell Witch case, was very strange and very violent and put fear in the hearts of everyone who lived in the small community of Adams and in the surrounding towns. Not only as it was happening, but it continues to cause fear and remains unexplained nearly 200 years later!

What we know:

Some of the happenings in this case were taken down by Albert Virgil Goodpasture in 1886 in his book, History of Tennessee where he wrote

"A remarkable occurrence, which attracted wide-spread interest, was connected with the family of John Bell, who settled near what is now Adams Station about 1804. So great was the excitement that people came from hundreds of miles around to witness the manifestations of what was popularly known as the 'Bell Witch.' This witch was supposed to be some spiritual being having the voice and attributes of a woman. It was invisible to the eye, yet it would hold conversation and even shake hands with certain individuals. The freaks it performed were wonderful and seemingly designed to annoy the family. It would take the sugar from the bowls, spill the milk, take the quilts from the beds, slap and pinch the children, and then laugh at the discomfiture of its victims.
At first it was supposed to be a good spirit, but its subsequent acts, together with the curses with which it supplemented its remarks, proved the contrary. A volume might be written concerning the performance of this wonderful being, as they are now described by contemporaries and their descendants. That all this actually occurred will not be disputed, nor will a rational explanation be attempted."

As with most stories that inspire fear, they tend to be embellished upon with each telling....perhaps to instill more fear with each telling, or perhaps unconsciously to try to protect the next hearer from the fear. Whatever the reason, details in these stories do tend to vary but what we can tell from reading more than one account is that the "witch" was thought to be the spirit of Kate Batts, a kind of crusty old neighbor lady of John Bell who believed she was cheated by him in a land deal. No matter how the local courts saw the story, and no matter what Mr. Bell did to try to explain the matter to her, she cursed him still, even on her deathbed, swearing that she would haunt not only John Bell but also his descendants.
The story became so widespread it was even printed in a Guidebook for Tennessee, which was published in 1933. Primarily targeted were John Bell and his daughter Betsy. If household items weren't nailed down, they were hurled roughly across the room at their heads, with the intent to harm them. She also pulled their hair, stuck pins into them, ripped the covers off their beds and other nasty things. To Mrs. Bell and the other children, the witch seemed pleasant enough, or at least not too interested.
Visitors to the Bell home never reported seeing the witch but had made reports of hearing her voice which could change as she desired, between terrible tones akin to nails scratching down a chalk board to low and melodious.
News of the haunting spread quickly and when it spread from Adams to Nashville, it caught the ear of General Andrew Jackson who decided he wanted to learn more for himself. The Generals group came from Nashville with their wagon loaded with supplies, ready to investigate and share a good time. The men were following along behind the wagon, discussing what they would do with the witch when (notice - not 'if') they found her. All of a sudden, as they got closer to the Bell home, the wagon stopped dead in the road and the horses pulling it couldn't move it one inch more. The men driving the wagon team cracked their whip and tried the best they could but they couldn't budge that wagon. The even tried to move it by shear manpower, all trying to push it along, but it was stuck fast - to nothing - a smooth road. At this point, after having had the men remove all the wheels and inspecting them, it is said that the General threw up his hands exclaiming to his men that the only explanation is that it must be the work of the witch, at which point all the men vowed they heard a cackling laugh and a voice advising the wagon could now move forth, which it did as though it was as light as a feather.
The Witch left the John Bell household in 1821, saying that she would return in seven years. She did, "appearing" at the home of John Bell, Jr. where she left him with many prophecies of the future including the Civil War. The witch said it would return again in 107 years later – which would be in 1935 – but no one in Adams came forward to advise if that even occurred or not.
Some people in the area claim that the Bell witch still haunts the area. On the property once owned by the John Bell is a small cave, now known as The Bell Witch Cave. It's pretty much a place of local legends and a tourist spot now, but people dom report having seen strange apparitions at the cave and at surrounding spots on the Bell property.

So, was this a real haunting, the activity of a poltergeist....or a hoax?

Some people who have studied up on the case believe the haunting was a hoax perpetrated by Richard Powell, the schoolteacher of Betsy Bell and Joshua Gardner the young boy she was in love with. It seems Powell too was in love with Betsy and would do anything to destroy her relationship with Gardner. Through a variety of pranks, tricks, and with the help of several accomplices, some say that Powell created all of the "effects" of the ghost to scare Joshua Gardner away.

It is true that Mr. Gardner was the target of some of the witch's violent behavior, and that he did leave both Betsy and the area, no one could really explain how Mr. Powell could have done all the extraordinary effects that would have been necessary to fake this whole haunting.....including the the events which involved Andrew Jackson’s wagon. Interestingly though, he did marry Betsy Bell.

The jury is really still out on this one. I don't personally think that Mr. Powell thought this one up and orchestrated it along with a few friends just to break up Betsy and her young beau. I also don't believe the stories of Sexual abuse (although admittedly, I could be wrong) committed by John Belle against young Betsy which was the "in" for the poltergeist to start harrassing everyone involved. This theory has been popularized by hollywood because it sells movie tickets and books but their is nothing in the historical record that leads us to that conclusion. Mr. Bell was well into his 70's at the time and young Betsy was approx age 12. That's my oppionion, but again I could be wrong. If anyone has any info on this, please share.

So, where does that lead us....was this a curse? Did a future President of the United States and all of his men lie about hearing the Witch and coming into contact with her on their excursion to the Bell farm? What are your thoughts on this topic?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Is your house haunted? Some important questions to ask.

No matter how much we love our homes and backyards and gardens, when you sit down and think about it most people have wondered from time to time if their house is haunted. Sometimes you're sitting at home at night, alone in your living room watching television and for no reason you get this creepy feeling and you don't want to stay alone anymore. Or, it's time to take the laundry out of the washer and put it in the dryer but for someone reason, you don't want to go into the basement again. There's no reason for these feelings, but they're real and you are really scared. Are you alone? Is your house haunted? Let's talk about some other symptoms of a haunted house.
Do you have animals? Cats and dogs are especially sensitive to intruders, human or otherwise. If your animals are hesitant to enter a room and you know you are the only person in the house, that is one piece of evidence for you, but let me caution you. You need much more than one piece. You will need to answer "Yes" to at least 7 or 8 of these questions before you can start thinking you might have a haunting going on. At that time, you might want to seek the help of a professional Psychic investigator, clergyman, historian or all three.
Do electrical items, like appliances or lights turn themselves off an on by themselves? Remember this could just be an electrical problem and not something paranormal.
Have you ever heard footsteps in the house when you were sure you were alone, or may someone calling your name?
How about the "feel" of your house. Does the atmosphere change suddenly or do your family members go from being happy and carefree to grumpy and mean spirited for no apparent reason? Now, that could mean nothing but you have a hard-working partner or spouse and some hormonal teenagers in your house, but it's worth noting.
OK, how about the history of your home? Has anyone ever died there? Has any violent situations taken place there? Was or is there a cemetery nearby? Any other tragedies in the area worth noting such as a factory fire? Someone might have worked there but lived in your home. The history of your property and home is always worth looking into.
Now,you'll also want to pay special attention to your family and their habits. Is anyone using a Ouija board or tarot cards or any other means to communicate with the other side? Sometimes thy leave a doorway open that should never be open.
How about your doors? Do they open and close by themselves? Do children in your home have imaginary friends? Do you lose things when you are absolutely sure you knew where you left them, only to have them turn up the next day or a few hours later.
Do you ever hear noises coming from within the walls of your home or up in the attic like scratching? Could be mice. Could mean something else. Take note.
Next time you get that creepy feeling, honestly assess your situation and ask yourself these questions. You might even be able to help a friend if they feel they are having problems. As stated before, If you are getting a lot of positive answers to these questions, don't panic, seek out someone with the proper knowledge to assess your situation and help you find out what you need to know. It prove to be something simple and easy to take care of. Keep in touch and if you've run into anything like this, please let the readers know how you've handled it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mokele-Mbembe - "One who stops the flow of rivers"

Deep in the thick jungles of the Congo in Africa have come reports from the native peoples of a very large animal they have named "Mokele-Mbembe" which means "One who stops the flow of rivers". The animal is described as being between 15 to 30 feet in length, having a long flexible neck and smooth greyish-brown skin similar to an elephant. The local people report that the animal lives in swamps and the clay caves located along the bends of the rivers.
Interestingly, there have been other sightings than those of the native people. The first European sighting was reported way back in 1776 by French missionarries who recorded it in their writings as a "monstrous animal".
In 1980, 2 cryptozoologists (Roy Mackal and James Powell) led an expedition into the swamps of the Congo looking for what they thought was a sauropod dinosaur that had somehow escaped extinction. They met with many native peoples who did identify the creature from picture books they showed them as a dinosaur.
In 2001, another expedition was launched although it did not result in any sightings, the team did notice that their was a distinct shortage of hippopotami and crocodiles in the area, indicative of a large animal in the area that would have chosen them as a food source or one that just didn't like that kind of animal in the area.
Here are some interesting books you might want to check out:

A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-mbembe by Dr. Roy P. Mackal
Drums Along the Congo: On the Trial of Mokele-mbembe, the Last Living Dinosaur by Rory Nugent.
Results of the First Congolese Mokele-Mbembe Expedition by Agnagna, Marcellin
On the Track of Unknown Animals by Dr.Bernard Heuvelmans
Les Derniers Dragons d'Afrique (The Last Dragons of Africa) by Dr.Bernard Heuvelmans
In Search of Prehistoric Survivors: Do Giant 'Extinct' Creatures Still Exist by Dr. Karl Shuker

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Supernatural, the television show

As we know, most TV shows about things paranormal tend to be a little bit "hokey", but this one, I have found to be based on some actual folklore and really is worth watching. The show,Supernatural, is about two brothers (played by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padelecki) who are "hunters", travelling about the country in their really cool black 1967 chevy impala righting what is wrong in the normal world due to interference of demonic and other supernatural beings. The relationship between the brothers is extremely strong, even more so since the self-sacrificial death of their father.
So, check out the link HERE shows official site and do a little checking on your own. Check out this weeks episode and find out when it airs in your area. It is worth your time. The shows are well acted, well researched, poignant and funny and the brothers aren't hard on the eyes either!

Monday, March 2, 2009

A short Cryptozoology lesson

The term Cryptozoology literally means "the study of hidden animals". The word is made up from the Greek words "kryptos" and "logos" which mean "living beings" and "study" respectively.

The sole mission of the cryptozoologist is to establish the existence of new species of animals. I often think how great it would be to actually try and find one of the amazing creatures people claim to see, like Bigfoot, Chupacabra, Nessie, and the Thunderbirds.

Who knows. Maybe one day during a hike, I'll come across something exciting. Along that line, if you ever get an urge to hunt for a cryptid, there are a few basic things you'd want to take along with you. First, a partner would be a good idea. It's never a good idea to go stalking around in the woods alone. Plus, you might want someone to take notes, film for you or just carry your equipment for you.

Next, a digital camera, or even your phone if it has a camera. A video camera would be a great tool if you have one and also a tape recorder would be helpful. Just in case you come across any footprints, you might want to bring some quick-set plaster to take a cast of the print. Additionally, some zip-lock bags are a good idea in case you find odd droppings, feathers or other specimens to collect.

So, if you decide to go hunting this Spring, let us know what you find and I'll do the same. Good luck!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Werewolves! Real or not?

Our belief in werewolves has been around for a long time! Many historians have thought about where the origins of our beliefs in werewolves came from, and that was probably our early European ancestors. Another name for werewolves was Lycanthropes which is not an animal as such but the human ability to change into not only wolves but big cats and other animals of prey.
Of all of these transformations though, man turning into a wolf is the best known. This is largely due to the Old World traditions of wolves being feared by humans. There are many historical accounts of wolves having to prey on humans during hard winters, and although they cannot be verified, there are enough of them to have incited fear. Modern naturalists and wildlife experts would all agree that the wolf has gained an unfair reputation over the years.
Perhaps this fear became part of our genetic make-up, who knows? What we do know is that Lycanthropy is recognized as a serious mental illness and people diagnosed with it take (or took it) very seriously! Their delusions were frighteningly real. Many people who had believed they were werewolves made testimony under torture of murdering people and animals while in their transformed state.
There are plenty of centuries old cases you can look up if you want to dig up some old case files on werewolf sightings. They are interesting, but people were a lot more superstitious then and we really can't be sure what they were seeing. The more recent stories are far more interesting to me. Today's mores famous werewolf stories come from Wisconsin at a place known as Bray Rd.
The first public sighting of the werewolf happened on October 31, 1999 when an 18 year old girl by the name of Doristine Gipson was driving along Bray Road. As she came near the intersection of Hospital Road she felt something under her right front tire for a moment, like she hit something. She stopped the car momentarily and looked out the window to see a big dark hairy thing racing towards her. Horrified, she tried to drive away, but the beast jumped onto her trunk but it was too wet for the it to hang on and it fell off onto the road. Doristine returned to the site later that night with a little girl that she was taking out trick-or-treating and again saw a large form on the side of the road.
She talked about what had happened to her the next day and as word spread, more local people began to step forward with their own stories with the beast, dating back to 1989.
One night in the fall of 1989, Lorianne Endrizzi was coming around a curve on Bray Road and saw what she thought was a person hunched over on the side of the road. When she slowed down, she took a closer look at the figure on the passenger side of the car. She was no more than six feet away from it at the time. Although she only saw the beast for a short time, she stated that she clearly saw a beast with grayish, brown hair, fangs and pointed ears. “His face was … long and snouty, like a wolf with glowing yellow eyes".
Around the same time period, a dairy farmer named Scott Bray reported seeing a “strange looking dog” in his pasture near Bray Road. He said that the beast was larger and taller than a German Shepherd and had pointed ears, a hair tail and long gray and black hair. He added that it was built very heavy in the front, as if it had a strong chest. He followed the “dog” to a large pile of rocks but the creature had vanished. He did find that it had left behind huge footprints though, which disappeared into the grass of the pasture.
This whole story intrigues me and I would love to take a trip to Wisconsin to check this out for myself. Anyone ever been? Would love to hear if anyone has any info.
The information on the sightings for this post was taken from the book "The Beast of Bray Road, Tailing Wisconsin's Werewolf" by Linda S. Godfrey. It's a very interesting read, and you can pick it up on Amazon.

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