Friday, November 13, 2015


I want to tell you a story. 

Back in 1976, a woman took her two kids on the trip of a lifetime. Although it was the Bicentennial year, she took her 9-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son to her native land. France. The girl, who already wanted to be a writer, kept a journal on that month-long visit. The journal and photographs help to clarify her  memories of France. Her uncle and aunt lived in a town called Meaux, on the border of the Champagne region, an hour or so from Paris on the fastest trains she'd ever even imagined. Uncle Jean-Jacques was a jewelry designer and manufacturer. Her aunt Lucienne was the epitome of an elegant French lady, keeping their 200 year-old house in immaculate order despite having three sons between 8 and 18. The house was the most beautiful place the girl had ever seen, with black and white tiled floors, ancient wooden beams, and a pond with a fountain in the back yard. 

Not many American kids get to spend a month in France. Everything about France was enchanting. For one thing, the store came to the family, not the other way around. Each day was a different truck--dairy, meat, seafood, vegetables. That led to the kids trying foods they would have rejected back home--smoked eel, foie gras, deep fried chamomile flowers they picked themselves, grenadine, frogs' legs and escargot. Everything had HISTORY--so weighed down with ancient significance that the kids were rather intimidated. They saw great chateaux and backwoods farms, formal gardens and sprawling vineyards, convents and Notre Dame. There was so much to explore, and yet it was so easy to get from one important place to another! The town of Meaux had quaint cobblestoned streets and a huge medieval cathedral with crypts in the catacombs beneath it. Twice they went to the seashore, but children of the deep South weren't able to tolerate the frigid waters of the English Channel. One afternoon, they drove into the Champagne country, where in between the long green vines were planted poppies. The stripes went on as far as the eye could see--red, green, yellow, green, red. And although the boy was easily bored, the girl drank it all in--especially at Versailles and the Petit Trianon. Her French grew fluent enough that one day, after receiving permission from the Mother Superior at the school her cousins attended, she spent an entire day in a French classroom. She answered some questions in halting French, tripped while jumping rope and skinned her knee, and let the teacher read her journal when asked. When the teacher saw the line, "School in France is HARD!!!" she laughed for about five minutes.  

Twice a week, they went into Paris on the trains. They loved the train, especially when the train went underground on the outskirts of the city. There were posters on the subway walls with a can-can line--not all women, but workmen and kids too. They thought the pictures were funny. While they could both understand French well and spoke a little, neither could read it. So every time they saw one of those advertisements, the kids laughed and started to sing the can-can song. "Duh duh duhduhduhduh da da dadadada--" 

I'm sure the other people on the train thought those kids were crazy. 

Every trip to Paris was a new adventure. They rode the somewhat scary elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower, where they could look in any direction and all they could see was the city. They posed together before the Arch de Triomphe, next to the eternal flame of an unknown soldier. They spent days in the Louvre, and while the girl wandered around and looked at the paintings and sculpture and history, the mother and little brother went to the King Tut exhibit, which was there at the time. There was even an exact replicate of the boy king's burial chamber, with hieroglyphs painted on the wall. It tells you something about the time--and the girl, who could speak fluently enough to get help if she needed it--that their mother felt comfortable enough to let her strike out on her own. 

They left the Louvre and went to the Tuileries, where the kids rode the carousel and tried to spear the brass ring just as their mother had thirty years before. And every day, they went to eat someplace different--including one special day when they went to the Palais Garnier, which was just across the Rue Auber from the restaurant their grandfather had owned. That was a memorable meal, especially since their grandfather was dead--shot by the retreating Nazis because they thought (accurately) he was helping endangered people to escape Paris. 

There were only two things that could top all of this. 

First, the patisseries. In Paris, desserts look like art. The shops were long, narrow, lined on one side by long cases with glass fronts stocked full of any baked good you could possibly imagine, and with small tables on the other. How long it took to decide on a pastry, and how much better it tasted than the humdrum cake and cookies back home. 

For the girl, at least, only the doll shops could compare with the bakeries. There was one certain shop that sold nothing but dolls--and what dolls! There weren't any Barbies on those shelves. Instead there were only costume dolls--dolls dressed in the native costumes of the regions and cities of France. Those dolls are still prized possessions, occupying a case all their own to this day. 

In fact, I can see them now. A few have passed on already, to my girls and their girls, but those first three dolls were the beginning of a sizable collection. 

This is the France I remember. A lot more happened on that trip--it would take me months to tell the whole story. I actually pulled the photographs out from our trip today, as the book I'm currently working on is set in pre-Revolution France--during the reign of Louis XV. So when the news broke about the terrorist attacks in Paris, I guess it was proportionately harder for me to fathom. The same neighborhood I'd once walked with my mother were under siege, and scores of people were felled by gunfire and explosions. 

There's no way to adequately describe Paris, no way to give someone who's never been there a real sense of the city. Paris is alive, electric and defiant and elegant, I've lived in New York, and while that city is the busiest I have ever seen, it was so apparent to me even at the time that NYC's a thoroughly modern city. Paris is just as modern, but the history of thousands of years compels Parisians to insinuate that modernity into the classical beauty that is its more enduring landmark. 

Today, I was reminiscing fondly over the pictures of our trip there in June of 1976, but tonight I saw in front of the television and I could no longer see those photos in my mind. Instead of monuments and cathedrals and vineyards, all I could see of Paris tonight was blood and tragedy. 

I try not to get too political on this blog. I try to keep those kinds of opinions to myself. But as I write this, there are two thoughts jostling each other for top billing. 

First off, people need to keep in mind that not ALL Muslims are terrorists, the same way not all white people belong to the KKK. You cannot lump an entire social group together with the evil-minded people who are a minority within it. Blame those who are truly responsible for this savagery--the terrorists, not the people who bore them. Not all Muslins are terrorists, just like not all Caucasian people are skinheads. 

And second, enough is enough. We can no longer afford to sacrifice our citizens' safety. The 'war on terror' has dragged on for 13 years. There were supposed to be fewer terrorists, not more. The time for euphemisms and psychological victories is past. The time has come for our governments to protect us--and each other. Tonight in Paris, hundreds lost their lives and hundreds more were injured. Some were maimed for life. The US took out Jihadi John this week for our psychological victory. ISIS took out innocents in at least seven different locations for their psychological victory. 

Which one, do you think, was the most successful?

We need a solution--one that differentiates between the refugee families fleeing out of the Middle East and the terrorists who are insinuating themselves into that flood of humanity. We need to obliterate the terrorist bases and training camps. We need to seize their funds. We need to drive them out of their dens, and then hold them responsible for every single innocent death. 

Does this mean war? I'm not sure. I have a strong suspicion that we are dangerously close to WWIII.(no, I'm not a doomsday prepper) It may come to that. With Putin declaring that Russia is ready to work with Washington to shut ISIS down, perhaps we should consider it. Perhaps it's worth fighting in order to rid the world of this scourge upon humanity. With a son-in-law who's already done two tours of duty in the Middle East, that's not an easy thing to say. 

But nothing about any of this is easy, is it?

Paris, the City of Lights, is dark tonight. Very dark. And our world has dimmed as a result. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cursed the Bell Witch: Episode Three--Keystone Cops Meet Google Maps

Anyone else getting the feeling that there's not one single person involved with this show that has a single clue regarding the history of the Bell Witch, paranormal research, ghost hunting, or what the woods sound like at night? Boy, I am sure am. And even though we left off last week with a modicum of hope that this ongoing weekly shipwreck was finally getting out of the iceberg field, tonight's episode ripped a big gash into that theory before the first ten minutes passed. I was so angry that I only wrote half this post during the show and had to rewatch it today to see what happened in the second half of the show.

Gentle readers, only for you would I torture myself that way.

First off--how about the shortest ghost hunt in history? You know, experienced--and even amateurs who watch paranormal shows--investigators spend the entire night, usually, searching for evidence, using as much technology as they can carry. These two fellows don't seem to have even watched a ghost show before. They were in and out of that cemetery in minutes, not hours. What makes that even more bizarre is the trek through the woods to get there, totally ignoring the perfectly easy to navigate trail in the woods that goes from the old Edens' property and site of the cave to the private graveyard of John Bell and some of his family or, for that matter, the dirt road to access the site from the opposite side. So we get to watch them going through those woods--cause, you know, woods are scary and stuff--instead of driving the whole two minutes on the trail.

And once the real investigator's camera goes kaput--fairly standard around the old Bell homestead--these two police officers resort to the next best investigative tool. 

Pendulum divining.

Since the investigator told them that using something intensely personal would be best to use as the pendulum, they choose--

An amulet that the strip mall witch Tish had given them the day before. 

Dude, that's Really?

So the first question he asked over the grave of John Bell Sr, was "Is this the grave of a Bell family member?" Apparently the amulet knows how to read, as it was in perfect agreement with the easily read block letters that read JOHN BELL SR not even six inches behind it. Then they asked if John Bell shot John Black, to which the amulet also agreed. Then they asked if a member of the Bell family had caused the curse, to which the amulet also agreed...none of which, I'm sure, had anything to do with the air current rustling through all those scary wood trees. 

A very agreeable amulet. And then the car alarm goes off, and our brave policemen rush off to deal with a broken out tail light and END THE INVESTIGATION.

Do what?

Let me also toss this out there regarding the 'bash and run' of the car. "Somebody's messing with us!" John declares, like Adams is sooo heavily populated. Well, let me show you how possible it was to "mess" with these guys in the middle of nowhere. 

Exhibit A: The satellite view of the area of Adams around the cemeteries.

The big public cemetery, Bellwood, is in the bottom left hand corner. The site of John Bell's burial is in the top right hand corner. You'll note there's not even a house in sight, and the tiny road that leads to both the private Bell graveyards dead ends before it reaches the main road. Oh, and want to take a look at the bustling metropolis of Adams as a whole?

Exhibit B.

The red x's mark Bellwood Cemetery and the John Bell burial site. You'll note the absolute lack of people in the area who could potentially be running around in the middle of nowhere breaking out the tail lights of a random truck in the woods. And let's be very specific here--I have a difficult time believing the good people of Adams are going to break out the tail light of a guy's car. What reason would they have to do that? Whereas someone involved in the production, say, might have every reason to up the tension of the episode. And all you have to do is take a look at the map, and you'll realize that if someone had broken that tail light and ran, all they would have needed to find the perp was flashlights. There's nothing in any direction to provide any realistic kind of cover, no buildings to hide in, nowhere to run without being seen. And the fact that they didn't even bother to look? That, to me at least, negates the possibility of this being a random act of violence from the evil, voodoo-practicing, inbred natives of Adams this show is trying to make you believe in.

Feel free to go check out Adams and the surrounding area on Google Maps yourself. It's definitely going to help you understand the community, its size, and the absolutely ludicrous suggestions A&E seem to expect you to buy into.

That being said...

Regarding the 'investigation' at the John Bell cemetery evidence--Chad, you tell us that it's a light on a tree. You're there in the middle of nowhere with flashlights and a FILM PRODUCTION CREW. Of course there's a damn light on the tree. 

"Is this curse caused by a member of the Bell family?" -- and they hear a female voice say "Betsy" on the EVP. Okay...well, let's try on this for size. 



Apparently, our pair of intrepid tree-fearers did manage one bit of Bell Witch research, however. They watched the truly abysmal 2005 movie An American Haunting, starring Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek, which was so accurate and factual that they even filmed the darn thing in Czechoslovakia. Somehow, they're going to attempt to demonstrate that a girl who was 12 or 13 years old when the haunting started, did so because she wanted revenge on her sexually abusive father--and managed to create ALL the inexplicable events that took place in multiple places (some of which she wasn't even present at the time) in front of literally hundreds of witnesses without ever ONCE GETTING CAUGHT. Does anyone else see any problems with this theory?

Look, let's discard for a moment our relative beliefs in whether the paranormal is real or some elaborate, mysterious psychological kind of self-deception that some people can generate without even being aware of it. Let's just examine the logic of this claim. In order for Betsy Bell to devise and implement this plot at the age of twelve means that she was an absolute psychopath. And a damn genius for that matter. I'm pretty clever and I write books with some pretty spectacular murders in them. I research those fictional crimes from every single angle I can think of, looking for not only ways to pull off such an act but also for the single clue that will/must eventually trip up the murderer. To commit and get away with murder, the act needs to be as swift and as simple as possible because that reduces the odds of actually leaving any evidence behind. And to somehow arrive at the conclusion that a child in 1817 was capable of creating such an elaborate hoax, terminating in a murder four years later, without getting caught is beyond ridiculous. It's flat out stupid. 

Especially considering the show's entire premise is based upon the viewer's belief in the supernatural actions of an entity with the power to 'curse' an entire family. So question--if Betsy Bell was responsible for the murder of her father, using poison which is a completely realistic premise for law enforcement--doesn't that NEGATE the existence of any sort of supernatural curse? 

John Calleach demands that we, the audience, buy into his belief that all the alleged misfortunes of his family are the result of a supernatural agent--a curse, attributed to a supernatural entity. He demands that anyone who watches this show must suspend their disbelief on this point, because that one element is the premise for the entire show. Okay, fine. We do that, right?

So he CANNOT subsequently discard the supernatural element at will without compromising the veracity of the show and its claims.

If the curse is real, then so too must be the haunting, the entity, the entity's power, the witch family--you'll hear all about them only too soon--the continuing paranormal activity in Adams AND most importantly for this particular element the return of the entity to the Bells remaining on the original homestead in 1828, when Betsy Bell Powell was no longer there. All this tedious 'research' regarding the potential murderer is nothing but a red herring, because in order for us to believe in the curse, the show has to establish without the shadow of a doubt that the supernatural activity in Adams--and therefore the curse--are real. 

But instead, after Cate Batts and the Jack Black murder turn into--as I predicted--dead ends, these two men who are tasked with solving crimes in the real world have now arbitrarily decided that "The old man was doing something he wasn't supposed to" with his youngest daughter, and she killed him for it. 

See, here's the thing guys--and I can't believe NO ONE at A&E brought this up--you cannot investigate the Bell haunting as if it were a modern crime scene. It's not. And it's long been established that John Bell Sr. was poisoned. That was the contemporary conclusion as well. But there's more than just arsenic that turns flames blue. Just for a partial list: ethanol, methanol, alcohol, cooper chloride, lead compounds, and butane in addition to arsenic. So naturally, arsenic becomes the weapon of choice, even though John Bell's symptoms as described do not line up with the abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, vertigo, dark urine, and delirium. Long term arsenic poisoning would lead to darkening or discoloration of skin, wart-like protrusions, redness, swelling, and Mees' lines (white lines) in the fingernails. Then, too, during the 19th century, arsenic was used in all sorts of things from rat poison to an oral treatment for clear skin. So just because the fire turned blue and arsenic can do that doesn't make the symptoms line up for John Bell being poisoned by arsenic. And all respects to the chemist from my alma mater, but her comment about mixing the arsenic with ethanol betrays the fact that she, at least, mentioned other possibilities for the blue flames that were probably edited out. 

Just saying...

And let's just rein that 'easy availability' of arsenic in frontier Tennessee. Nothing was easily available on the frontier. Such supplies would either come in on the flatboat's return from New Orleans after selling their crops, or from a trip to a town--like Nashville, which was still tiny and beyond the reach of a 12 year old girl. Port Royal was the nearest 'town' and was little more than a couple of buildings, while Clarksville, my hometown, was a long day's ride in a wagon. We're not talking about Britain, where the average person could go to a 'chemist' and buy arsenic. We're talking the western edge of the American frontier.

Could she have run into arsenic in the barn? Of course, if there was some. But frontier folk had no reason to stockpile tons of arsenic. They had cats for the mouse problem. And according to several articles I took a look at today, arsenic as a poison wasn't really in use at that time. A method for detecting arsenic wasn't even created until the 1830's, and I'm reasonably certain the Bells didn't eat seafood or have Paris Green wallpaper. 

As for Bob Bell's call about his psychic secretary seeing 'a girl with black hair' following them into the funeral home? One thing the contemporary sources are ALL agreed upon is the fact that Betsy Bell had blonde hair--especially evidenced in Charles Bailey Bell's book The Bell Witch of Tennessee and verified by both Richard Williams Bell and John Bell Jr, Betsy's brothers.  There IS however a tradition of the girl with black hair, and a post in my blog series soon will be about the 'witch family' of which the black-haired girl is one. So this was sort of a hit, but a huge miss in saying it was Betsy Bell, the arsenic patricide. 

And finally, after John nearly makes the 'curse' a self-fulfilling prophecy by driving like an idiot, we reach Mississippi and Betsy Bell Powell's gravesite.  Can I just say here that anyone who does twenty investigations at one poor woman's grave--especially one like Betsy Bell--is more than likely disturbing a soul that kind of deserves to sleep in peace now? Especially since during her lifetime, Betsy never could sleep alone in a dark room again, and had to sleep on the inside of the bed facing the wall? That particular story is, by the way, something I've heard before. 

Chad--you're in Mississippi. Things buzzing in your ears are more than likely the mosquitoes the size of dinner plates you guys grow down there. And that's probably what your poor dog is nervous of too. I've seen those skeeters down there--they sound like buzz saws.

And so now we're going to take a medium to really torture poor Betsy's soul and wake her up? Lovely. And oh, so nice. Perhaps the 'curse' originates from torturing your forebears, John-whose-last-name-is-coincidentally-Gaelic-for-witch.So now they're setting up for what promises to be another fifteen minute investigation, especially if they're attacked by more of that scary wood. 

"I don't carry sophisticated equipment"--and then she whips out a K2 meter. Good lord, woman. 

This medium has the absolute worst grammar knowledge I've ever seen on any TV show except, perhaps, Mountain Monsters.

And then we find out that--according to a flashlight (and she's never had that much action on her K2? Why bother carrying it?) Betsy knows there is a curse and it's still going on. The medium smells perfume--even thought they're in a CEMETERY where there are, you know, FLOWERS. And then the dog leads them to scary woods and they run away and begin to hear things...

And that's, thankfully, the end of the episode. And I see in the preview that NEXT week, they appear to be going into the Bell Witch Cave--which makes me happy. Why, you ask?

Kate has a longstanding history, one spanning two centuries, of being incapable of tolerating either stupidity or someone badmouthing the Bells. These two have been guilty of both things. The most concentrated activity in Adams is in that cave, and I'd be willing to bet that--whether they show it or not--the bumbling crusaders will not enjoy their weekly fifteen minute investigation in that cave.

Because it's surrounded, by more mean scary woods--where Kate, the Bell Witch haunts and is just waiting for them to dare the cave. Finally, I can't wait for next week's episode, because I bet good money that it'll be outright hilarious. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Part Eight: Kate Meets The Neighbors

Back to the legend we go, before tomorrow's next travesty...erm...episode of Cursed: The Bell Witch.

Some of the best stories in the Bell haunting involve Kate's interactions with the community around the Bell farm. Families back then were, obviously, much larger and therefore the Bells intermarried within the area so the extended family was fairly large. As the oldest Bell children were just starting out when the haunting was going on--oldest son Jesse was born in 1790 making him twenty-seven the haunting commenced. John Bell Jr. was born in 1793, Drewry in 1796, Esther in 1800, Zadok in 1803,Betsy in 1806, Richard in 1811, and Joel was the baby, born in 1813. Only Jesse and Esther were married and therefore out of the house. Jesse had married Martha Gunn, daughter of their neighbor Rev. Gunn, while Esther was the very young (in our eyes) wife of Alex Porter. 

The neighborhood was a fairly large pioneer community of the early nineteenth century, and the Bell family met both support and suspicion from their neighbors. As Richard Williams Bell remembered:

Many of our neighbors were frightened away, fearing they would become involved in a tragical termination. Others, however, drew nearer, and never forsook us in the most trying ordeal. James Johnson and his two sons, John and Calvin, the Gunn families, the Forts, Gooch, William Porter, Frank Miles, Jerry Batts, Major Bartlett, Squire Byrns, and Major Pickering were faithful and unremitting in their sympathy, and attentions, and consolations, making many sacrifices for our comfort, and not a night passed that four or more were not present to engage the witch in conversation, and relieve father of the necessary attention to strangers, giving him much rest. {Bell, Richard Williams Our Family Trouble}

Any of you guys learn how to diagram sentences in middle school? I did and that last sentence is a bear. Darn Victorian writing styles.

At any rate, these families along with Joshua Gardner, Betsy's lovelorn boyfriend, and her two best friends Theny Thorn and Rebecca Porter, were the mainstays of the Bells' existence during those trying four years. Note if you will that one of the people Richard Bell listed is Jerry Batts, who is one of Cate Batts' children. Makes that hypothesis that there was bad blood between the Bells and the Batts kind of a wash, doesn't it?

One of the more famous incidents involved the Johnson sons, John and Calvin, who one night wanted to 'shake the witch's hand'. According to Richard Bell, these two young men interacted with the entity more than anyone outside the family. The entity evidently liked to get into long conversations, and the Johnsons obliged. John was a smart young man, and he used these talks to try and get the witch to slip up and reveal some kind of clue to her existence, while his brother, Calvin, was a more straightforward type of person. 

One night, the conversation turned to the nightly abuse Kate heaped upon the Bell children. Everyone agreed that the sound was like an open hand against the cheek, so Calvin decided to ask the witch to shake hands with him. Richard Bell continued:

After much persuasion, Kate agreed to comply with the request on one condition, that Calvin would first promise not to try and grasp or hold the hand that would be laid in his. This he agreed to, and then holding out his hand, in an instant he felt the pressure of the invisible. Mr. Johnson testified that he felt it very sensibly, and that the touch was soft and delicate like the hand of a lady, and no one ever doubted his statement.  John Johnson begged Kate to shake hands with him, persisting that he was as good a friend as his brother, but the witch refused, saying, "No, you only want a chance to catch me." John vowed that he would not attempt anything of the kind. Kate still refused, replying, "I  know you, Jack Johnson; you are a grand rascal, trying to find me out, and I won't trust you."

This is a great story for a couple of reasons. First off, the entity complied with a request for someone to have a tactile experience, and did so in such a manner that the subject was able to describe vividly what her 'hand' felt like. And second off, that uncanny prescience the witch had shown on numerous occasions proved that she, at least, knew what John Johnson's real intentions were. 

But perhaps my favorite story is also one of the most famous--the night the Bell Witch got into bed with William Porter. William Porter was a frequent guest, and claimed to enjoy talking with Kate. As a result, the entity said she liked him too, and so they got along very well--which can only have been a good thing for the Bells. If talking with Porter distracted her from tormenting the family, then he was probably one of their favorite people. Porter was unmarried, living alone in a log house that Richard Bell describes as follows:

The building was a large hewn log house, with a partition dividing it into two rooms. There was one chimney having a very large fireplace, and the other end was used for a bedroom--entered by a door in the partition....Said he: "It was a cold night and I made a big log fire before retiring to keep the house warm. As soon as I got into bed I heard scratching and thumping about the bed, just like Kate's tricks, as I thought, but was not long in doubt as to the fact. Presently I felt the cover drawing to the back side, and immediately the witch spoke when I recognized the unmistakable voice of Kate. 'Billy, I have come to sleep with you and keep you warm.' I replied, 'Well, Kate, if you are going to sleep with me, you must behave yourself.' 
Are you kidding me? This man had some serious stones, telling the devil to behave herself! Richard Bell continues, as William Porter had told the story to him:

"I clung to the cover, feeling that it was drawing from me, as it appeared to be raised from the bed on the other side, and something snake-like crawling under. I was never afraid of the witch, or apprehended that it would do me any harm, but somehow this produced a kind of chilly sensation, a freak of all overishness that was simply awful.

Pause. How many times have you heard an investigator talk about this exact same feeling, and showed the hairs standing up on end on his arm? 'A freak of all overishness' is probably the best description I've ever heard for that sensation, which I experienced myself on several occasions in the Bell Witch Cave. It really is simply awful. Back to the text--

"The cover continued to slip in spite of my tenacious grasp, and was twisted into a roll on the back side of the bed, just like a boy would roll himself in a quilt, and not a strip was left on me. I jumped out of bed in a second, and observing that Kate had tolled up in the cover the thought struck me, 'I have got you now, you rascal, and will burn you up.'

Pause. Here's a moment where the differences in our society come full force to smack us in the face. If this happened today, our first reflex would be to what? Right--grab the cell phone and hit record. We are a social media driven culture, and our first instinct wouldn't be to destroy the entity, but to document it. But William Porter was a pioneer in 19th century backwoods Tennessee. His first instinct was to try to rid his friends and neighbors of this entity that was torturing them. To resume:

"In an instant, I grabbed the roll of cover in my arms and started to the fire, intending to throw the cover, witch and all, in the blaze. I discovered that it was very weighty and smelt awful. I had not gone halfway across the room before the luggage got so heavy and became so offensive that I was compelled to drop it on the floor and rush out of doors for a breath of fresh air. The odor emitted from the roll was the most offensive stench I ever smelt. It was absolutely stifling and I could not have endured it another second. After being refreshed I returned to the room, and gathered up the roll of bed clothing,shook them out (sic) but Kate had departed and there was no unusual weight or offensive odor remaining, and this is just how near I came catching the witch." (Bell/Ingram)

I find this story fascinating for a few reasons. First off, it's damn funny. If you're burdened with an imagination like mine, it's easy to visualize a big guy in his long johns, fighting to throw a struggling force wrapped up in quilts into his fire and instead having to bolt out into the cold because of the smell. Second off, this seems to be one of the rare instances where Kate was taken off guard. That's interesting to me because it strikes a blow at that strange knowledge the entity had displayed so often and that we've already discussed. In the earlier story, the entity knew better than to trust John Johnson to shake her hand. "No, you only want a chance to catch me."

And yet, it never seemed to occur to the entity that wrapping herself up in William Porter's blankets like a burrito might not be a good idea. It's a very human mistake--she and William Porter were 'friends' and enjoying talking to each other. So Kate never imagined her 'friend' was hiding ulterior motives, and all their conversations together might have blinded her to the real thoughts Porter had. It's possible to enjoy talking with someone even though you know they're just a terrible person. I don't know if William Porter was deliberately buttering Kate up with an eye to finding a way to rid the Bells of their terrifying tormentor; I suspect he wasn't. I think that we can take his relation of events pretty much as they were told to Richard Bell and later committed to paper in his journal. But to survive on the frontier, even in the midst of a small community like the one in Robertson County, a man would have had to be both opportunistic and bold--traits that would have carried him through dangerous situations both in the forest and when an entity stole his blankets.

So to me, both these stories set up the dichotomy in Kate's character--the supernatural, powerful side as well as the more human, fallible side. There are loads more stories of Kate and the neighbors--I'll probably do another post with more accounts soon. But these two stories I specifically wanted to get out there now--because Kate does have that more human side to her nature, and I think it's important to understand that facet of the haunting. So after tomorrow's post about the the next episode of Cursed: The Bell Witch, we'll explore the relationship between Kate and Lucy Williams Bell, John Bell's wife.

Why? Because believe it or not, there is no doubt that the entity that killed John Bell, Sr., was otherwise nothing but kind and considerate to his wife. 

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Timeout For Some More Paranormal Theories

Never fear--another Bell Witch post is coming for tomorrow. It takes me a while to write those posts, because I'm being very careful to cross refer through all the available source material in an effort to present the best possible relation of events as, if not fact (for two hundred years later it's hard to discern fact from legend) then at least the salient points of the original sources. In particular, I want the Bell family memories to be accurately related because, in my opinion, those stories hold the most weight and are the most likely sources to be accurate in regards to what really happened. So I'm going to hold a story from Richard Williams Bell's journal as more probable than any of Harriet Parks Miller or MV Ingram's Victorian flights of fancy. 

Now then...let's take a look at something I have been pondering this week. In my post on paranormal video viewing, I mentioned that Most Haunted's investigation of 30 East Drive's 'most violent poltergeist in the world' as one that closely mirrors the Bell haunting. You could have blown me over when I discovered that the MH guys ALSO did their live Halloween investigation there last week. I watched it last night--and you can too, on YouTube. The show is broken down into three parts, but should play back to back without you having to search for the next installment. 

Now, can I say for certain that MH's whole show isn't faked? No. Do I buy into everything that happened? No, of course not. Anytime you evaluate a paranormal show, you have to include a healthy dose of skepticism even if you do believe in the supernatural. I'd be 100% skeptical if I hadn't experienced paranormal events personally. Heck, I'm still waiting for proof on Bigfoot and UFOs and psychics and all that fun stuff. However, that's for me--my own personal belief system is based on what I experienced, and it's not my place to destroy someone else's personal experiences just because I wasn't there. So whenever paranormal activity occurs in front of a camera and a live audience, I take it at face value. 

And it's no secret that I've laughed a lot at Most Haunted in the past. Still do, to be honest, especially when some cadaverous-looking dude starts bellowing incantations to Satan in poorly pronounced Latin.

But I discovered something last night, after watching the show, that set my wheels to turning. 

In the past few years, 30 East Drive has been investigated  by numerous groups. Throw in Most Haunted's two regular episodes, and then add in the live Halloween investigation. Not only did you have the team in the house, but the incredible energy of multiple film crews and, for the live show, a horde of spectators outside on the street. Then figure in the millions of people who watched the event live internationally, thanks to their live stream on YouTube. That's an immense amount of energy, if theories regarding what fuels a haunting are accurate. But with this particular location, there's also something else that is both fascinating and disturbing. 

30 East Drive, in Pontefract, Yorkshire is now a B&B.

You think I'm kidding? Take a look for yourself.  250 pounds per night. Yowsa! At today's exchange rate, that's $376.24 per person, per night. I'd better get a luxury suite for that price, not a semi-detached house furnished in 1970's style furniture that's been beat up by a poltergeist. 

But then, it hit me. 

This poltergeist is not only getting fueled by all these investigations, but now there are casual tourists booking that house every. Single. Night. 

And they wonder why the house is haunted, and the intensity of the haunting has increased. If you take a look at the waiver all guests have to sign, you can pick up some interesting tidbits as well. Keep in mind that this is the entity that allegedly has been flinging knives around. The owner of the property is anxious to exploit the notoriety of the haunting, but is not anxious to take responsibility if some total idiot gets hurt in the course of the night. They also don't want anyone exorcising the entity because their cash cow would dry up. Additional digging on the site reveals that the owner of 30 East Drive is the producer of When The Lights Went Out--a fairly atrocious movie about the haunting from 2012. 

So this house is getting constant and increasing attention, bringing more people within the sphere of the entity and resulting in more and stronger paranormal events. 

Sound familiar?

What's going on around 30 East Drive is the twenty-first century equivalent of what happened on the Bell farm. Remember this from Richard Williams Bell?

This new development (i.e.--the entity beginning to speak) added to the sensation already created. The news spread, and people came in larger numbers, and the great anxiety concerning the mystery prompted many questions in the effort to induce the witch to disclose its own identity and purpose...The excitement in the country increased as the phenomena developed. The fame of the witch had become widely spread, and people came from all quarters to hear the strange and unaccountable voice...the house was open to everyone that came; father and mother gave them the best they had, their horses were fed and no one allowed to go away hungry; many offered pay and urged father to receive it--

There you go, Cursed: The Bell Witch idiots. Proof positive that John Bell was a horrible person that brought the curse upon himself and his family because of his lack of generosity and greed.

--insisting that he could not keep up entertaining so many without pay, but he persistently declined remuneration and not one of the family ever received a cent for entertaining.

We've already theorized that the growing number of spectators gave the entity the power and strength to continuously increase its ability to interact with witnesses. Right now, in Yorkshire, the exact same thing is happening with the same result--and the added advantages of money obviously outweigh any potential risk to visitors with the owner, whose motivation appears to be basic simple greed. So I have to wonder--what comes first?   An entity's stronger displays of power? Or people, instruments, technology, gizmos, and gadgets? 

I'm starting to see a strong case for people. Because IF the Bell Witch could talk from the beginning, why didn't she from the get go? And IF the Black Monk of Pontefract could apport knives out of boxes and throw them at people from the beginning, why didn't he chuck some butcher block innards at the Pritchard family back in the day instead of using marbles? 

I'm thinking that within the anatomy, for lack of a better word, of a haunting, there is a finite point beyond which an entity cannot go UNLESS the energy it feeds upon is substantially increased. So in our curiosity to know more about the other side, we are inadvertently empowering that which we inherently fear. 

So I started looking a little further. On my Scariest Paranormal Investigations playlist, (Note--there's a permanent link to the playlist now at the top of the left sidebar. Check back often; I'm always adding to it!) I've also listed two separate investigations by the Fourman Brothers' Living Dead group at the haunted Monroe house in Hartford City, Illinois. They were brought to the Monroe house as the result of an investigation conducted by DIGGS Paranormal that has more than FORTY videos of multiple investigations at that location. (I've since added one of their truly interesting and scary videos to my playlist) And just doing a swift check of the other groups and videos regarding that location, there is a substantial increase over the past six years from one video in 2009 to well over 50 in 2014-15 and at least ten different paranormal groups. In fact, in one of the Fourman videos, the owner of the house states that he's afraid opening up the house to paranormal research has increased the severity of the haunting--a haunting that most people consider to be demonic in nature. 

It would be interesting to conduct a serious study of haunted locations to see if investigations or tourism actually increase paranormal activity, either in frequency or intensity. In fact, I'm kind of seriously considering doing just that once the Bell Witch haunting series is completed. I was planning to consult a few paranormal experts in regards to this project, but I may give that a whirl earlier than expected. There are a lot of folks out there that contact paranormal groups when something in their house is scaring them. 

It would probably be important to them to find out that what they think is the cure is actually making their paranormal problems worse--and capable of much, much more dangerous things.