Bell Witch: An American Haunting

Overview

Known throughout Tennessee as "Old Kate," the Bell Witch took up residence with John Bell's family in 1818. It was a cruel and noisy spirit, given to rapping and gnawing sounds before it found its voices.

With these voices and its supernatural acts, the Bell Witch tormented the Bell family. This extraordinary book recounts the only documented case in U.S. history when a spirit actually caused a man's death.

The local schoolteacher, Richard ...

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Overview

Known throughout Tennessee as "Old Kate," the Bell Witch took up residence with John Bell's family in 1818. It was a cruel and noisy spirit, given to rapping and gnawing sounds before it found its voices.

With these voices and its supernatural acts, the Bell Witch tormented the Bell family. This extraordinary book recounts the only documented case in U.S. history when a spirit actually caused a man's death.

The local schoolteacher, Richard Powell, witnessed the strange events and recorded them for his daughter. His astonishing manuscript fell into the hands of novelist Brent Monahan, who has prepared the book for publication. Members of the Bell family have previously provided information on this fascinating case, but this book recounts the tale with novelistic vigor and verve. It is truly chilling.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"America's greatest ghost story." -Dennis William Hauck, Haunted Places

"Too compelling to put down." -Fangoria

A Guran
The "Bell Witch" is a bonafide "rural legend." The story of a haunting (and perhaps a feud between two families,) it has long held a place in American folklore.

With his The Bell Witch, author Brent Monahan claims to merely be coveying the words of a historical manuscript that seems to explain that legend. It was supposedly written in 1841 by Richard Powell, a teacher and later politician who married the Bell daughter around whom the haunting centers. Monahan even dutifully provides a semi-scholarly introduction (complete with verifiable footnotes) is so convincing that he has evidently confused librarians who have filed the novel under "non-fiction."

The story is simple, but like all good yarns, mystifying. What (to our modern paranormal-aware minds) seems to be a poltergeist begins pestering the Bell family in 1817. The abuse escalates as the "witch" vows to kill the family patriarch, John Bell, and torments Betsy, the teenage daughter, while simultaneously protecting her -- it interferes with Betsy's engagement to one young man and encourages the narrator, a mature, educated man, in his suit. Theories abound --the haunt is a demon; the "witch" has an unknown bond to young Betsy; the haunting is a curse called down by a neighbor -- but nothing is proven and no exorcism succeeds.

Despite the entity's threats and mounting viciousness toward John Bell, it seems more mischievous than evil to others. By 1820 the witch is comfortable ranging over a large geographical area, speaking to various members of the community (and discussing theology with them,) playing tricks, providing predictions and advice, even intervening to save lives. The story spreads, attracting a variety of visitors (including General Andrew Jackson, not yet elected to the presidency) to witness the phenomenon.

Monahan's historical detail to makes the early 19th century milieu credible. And his use of a "classically educated" narrator avoids the need for recreating difficult period or regional language while still taking care to use appropriate language for the era. The reader is drawn easily into the story and to these characters and situations from the past. The actual cause and resolution of the supernatural disturbances seems quite contemporary, but historically acceptable. Like any good "history" it reminds us that human frailty and evil have always been with us. Moreover it is a satisfyingly plausible resolution that, in retrospect, seems to have been there just waiting for the clever Mr. Monahan to connect the clues and show it to us.

The physical book is small, well designed and illustrated with what one assumes to be "period" drawings, since no illustrator is credited. But then Brent Monahan denies credit for The Bell Witch's narrative, claiming only to be its "editor," one hopes he and his genuine editor, Gordon Van Gelder, will accept the accolades this small treasure of a book engenders. It quietly shows, once again, that story is still the essence of fiction.
darkecho.com

Kirkus Reviews
Ever-intelligent horror novelist Monahan (The Blood of the Covenant, 1995, etc.) retells a true story—true as far as the participants knew—about a poltergeist.

The book purports to be a recently discovered manuscript written by Richard Powell, an eyewitness of the Bell Witch haunting in Robertson County, Tennessee, 181721. Monahan says that his first skeptical reading of the manuscript led him to six books confirming the authenticity of the events. Indeed, Richard Powell, the long-dead narrator, is himself a skeptic who seems to know all the devices of poltergeists, and in particular how poltergeist activity within a home reflects a family's psychic torment. Poltergeists (racket-makers) do not attack from without but rather are a spiritual pustule erupting from within a deeply troubled household. The poltergeist in this case seemed set on doing away with John Bell, the head of the family, while at the same time gradually evolving a rather homey tie with the other family members that lasted for three years and was witnessed by many. The spirit first showed up as something invisible gnawing nightly on bedposts, raining rocks on the roof, ripping covers off beds, and repeatedly slapping 12-year-old Betsy Bell and pulling her across the floor by her hair. At times the spirit allowed itself to be touched; it gathered news from afar for the family; lectured on theology; sang sweetly in four different voices; and rescued children in trouble. For three years, the spirit joked, lectured, ran off frauds and charlatans, and even nursed Bell's sick wife, producing nuts and berries for the invalid out of thin air. Even so, it afflicted the father with palsy, tics, and neuralgia, and at last watched him die. What produced the poltergeist? It's unfair to reveal here Monahan's reasonable yet supernatural answer.

More artful, if less exciting, than Monahan's brainy bloodsucker operas—but all immensely satisfying.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312262921
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 390,817
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Powell was a Tennessee schoolteacher when he first encountered the Bell Witch. He died in 1848.

Brent Monahan is the author of half a dozen novels, the most recent of which is The Jekyl Island Club. He lives in Pennyslvania.

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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Great book

    I used to live in Tennessee and this tale has been around for a long time and has always been americas most famous haunting but from the real legends i can tell that the book does not tell about what realy happened, which happened over a huge period of years and not in a few months like the book. either way though it is still a good book and a good movie.

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  • Posted June 26, 2009

    Hello, people?? This is Fiction!

    I am amazed at some of the readers' reviews! This book is rather well-written and very readable. The legend is fascinating, but this book (along with the alleged Powell journal & letter upon which it is based) is a work of fiction. Among the glaring errors that can be easily checked is the fact that Powell and Betsy Bell had at least 7 children and 4 lived to adulthood. Monahan's book strongly implies that the daughter addressed in the fictional letter is an only child. Also, according to public records in Tennessee, Powell was married to his first wife during the period of the haunting. Ergo, interesting book not history.

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  • Posted March 30, 2009

    Far better than the movie!

    I am always hooked by factual, historical accounts - even more so when the paranormal is involved! This is an excellent retelling of a documented event. I read it cover to cover in about 2 hours. I intend to keep it as part of my library so I wish it had been available in hardcover.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2008

    not sure

    The book was well written, but I had a hard time believing that this story was true. I just don't think a spirit could be that intellegent and have full on conversations with people.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2007

    Amazing read.

    If you believe in the paranormal then this should be a great read for you. I read it in one night--could NOT put it down. I found it so interesting and startling. It is my favorite book, I think. At least in the top 5. I saw the movie and could not believe they did not stay more true to the actual events--the real story was far more scary. If this sort of thing appeals to you, you should definitely read this book. I cannot say enough good things about it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2006

    A chilling and true haunting...

    I purposed this book after watching the recent movie trailer. Learning it was a true haunting, I wanted to learn more. This book was so captivating and chilling, I felt my stomach turn. There are no chapter breaks, but it makes you want to keep going until the end. Brent Monahan makes it clear in the Editors Preface that he published this to make a believer out of the readers and I am now a true believer. If you are interested in supernatural stories (either fact or fiction) I highly recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2006

    Shocking

    Brent Monahan's The Bell Witch is a highly enjoyable true tale of the hauntings surrounding the Bell family in the early 1800s. A VERY shocking conclusion. Truly scary.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2004

    Enjoyable!

    The way in which the book was written stopped me from giving it five stars (no chapter breaks), but other than that this was amazingly entertaining. Being jaded enough to have guessed the 'reason' behind the haunting, I was so very entertained by all the new information and the update to what turned out to be a correct guess on my part. Truly entertaining.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2004

    Looking for the TRUTH? or even a logical explanation?

    This book, in my opinion is what the truth is all about. I read the book from start to finish within 2 days. Its very compelling in the way that it is written. I had no idea what the truth was behind this great mystery, but it was something I intended to find out. In the end, the truth is very explosive. I did not know the history, the rumors or the legend behind this 'Bell Witch,' if it were not for the internet. I happened to come across the story of The Bell Witch, while cruising online for 'ghost stories.' If you're very interested in finding the truth behind this story once and for all, this GREAT book goes into intricate details of the Bell Witch... and it involves a family secret! :P

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2001

    I was looking for books with info. for my Bell Genealogy....

    When I stumbled across this book. Amazing and chilling at the same time. A good source of info. for my Bell lines. An excelent read. I couldn't put it down.

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