Book review: ‘The Bell Witch: An American Haunting’

Commentary by
Jimena Pacheli

Between the years of 1817 and 1820, the Bell family from Adams, Tennessee was haunted by the supernatural entity known as “Old Kate.” This is the only documented case in the United States in which a spirit has caused the death of a man. Richard Powell, who witnessed these events, wrote a manuscript for his daughter. Over a century later, Brent Monahan found this manuscript, edited and published it as “The Bell Witch: An American Haunting.”

The family’s haunting began with strange occurrences such as rapping on the ceiling and the loud noises of the animals of their farm. However, this soon evolved into physical attacks to the members of the family. Betsy, John Bell’s daughter, experienced constant seizures that would leave her confined to her bed for weeks.

“Old Kate” or “The Bell Witch” constantly spoke to the members of the family and seemed smart enough to predict future happenings that could go from the weather to the future of some of the family’s businesses; all its predictions turned out to be true. After long months of the haunting, the entity revealed that its purpose was to kill the head of the family, John Bell. After it did, in 1820, “Old Kate” never appeared again.

Years later, while hypnotized, Betsy Bell said that the entity had been an invention of her mind to defend herself from her father, who had tried to abuse her.

“The Bell Witch: An American Haunting” is an excellent piece that transports the reader into the wild America of the 1820s. The book´s narrative is plausible, and while the language may be complicated to follow, it’s easy to get immersed within the story.

While I allowed myself to read the book as a true story, I could not help the skepticism that took over as soon as I had finished. Is the mind so powerful to cause a haunting situation like that to torment a family?

Where is the line that divides reality from fiction? Although the story follows a plausible line, my skepticism prevents me from placing this book on the non-fiction shelf.

I think the book lies in the shady area between what is real and what is not and that is a great material for horror lovers who are looking a good book that accompanies them through the spooky month of October.

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