Infamous poltergeist case in Tennessee in 1818-1820. It is said to be the only haunting in which a ghost directly caused the death of a person. The haunting took place at the home of John Bell in the area of Red River (now known as Adams).

The poltergeist was called "the Bell Witch" because it was widely believed that it was a spirit or demon summoned by a witch to plague the Bell household. The spirit was said to produce a wide variety of animal noises, as well as speech. It struck several people, none more savagely than Elizabeth Bell, a daughter in the household. From the time it first began to speak, it swore that its purpose was to kill John Bell. It was said that it had the ability to tell the future, to read minds, and to travel anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye.

The Witch would often hold court somewhere in the Bell home, talking to anyone who visited, often in a civil and friendly manner, though it also loved to tell lies. Almost everyone in the surrounding community witnessed some of the invisible spook's mischief, with the most prominent witness being General Andrew Jackson, who paid a visit to the Bell home because he had heard of the famous spirit -- the Witch appeared to genuinely like Old Hickory. The Witch also delighted in making fools of various dowsers and witchfinders who visited the house to try to put down the spirit.

The Witch was sometimes helpful, predicting the weather, singing hymns, pulling a sled for some children, nursing the family matriarch through an illness, and rescuing a child from a cave-in. But when John Bell finally died, after a protracted illness partly brought on by the ghost's constant threats and accusations, a bottle of deadly nightshade was found nearby, and the Witch claimed responsibility for poisoning him.

The Witch finally disappeared for good a few months later. No one ever found out what its grudge against John Bell was...

The Bell Witch was always a favorite legend growing up here in Tennessee. (Adams, TN, where all the fun took place, is about 70 miles from my childhood home.) Elementary school teachers tended to assign her as a report topic, and naturally Kate (the name the witch allegedly claimed) came up at camp fires and such. However, until happening across the Bloody Mary node (trying to figure out what I was drinking Thursday night) and reading a similar urban legend, I'd completely forgotten about our version, endlessly repeated on playgrounds. With some small variation, the instructions for summoning the Bell Witch went like this:

1. Go into a room with no windows and a mirror. (usually a bathroom)
2. Turn out the lights. (or fail to turn them on, as appropriate)
3. Whirl in a circle three times, repeating, "Bell Witch" each time.
4. Turn on the lights... check out the three new scratches that would supposedly appear on your face.
5. Think up a good story to tell your parents about the origins of the scratches.

While I knew several girls who claimed this worked (usually, incidentally, cat owners), it certainly never did so for me! (Admittedly, not being a big fan of getting scratched, I never tried much.) In playground popular opinion, this was due to faulty instructions and/or some failure to follow them properly.

Also vaguely related to the Bell Witch - near the former Bell family farm, there's a Bell Witch Cave. Some people claim the poltergeist went to it when she left the Bells. A few eerie incidents are still reported from time to time... but whether or not it's really haunted, it's open to tourists. Directions for getting there can be found at

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