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Haunted House Fiction: An American Haunting: the Bell Witch

October 19, 2017

Greetings!  I’m always up for a good scare or haunting, and when this book came sliding through my hands, I set it aside out of a sense of duty because I am the Yankee who has lived here for twenty-five years and still doesn’t know enough about the Bell Witch to sound respectable around a cracker barrel.  

Locals who have grown up with the tradition know to look in the mirror at midnight and say “Bell Witch” three times and then check the back of the mirror to see what happens. I’m not sure I’m ready to do that after having read this book (I live alone in the “boonies” and don’t stare into the woods at night). But, I feel now that I have some familiarity with a strong local tradition that still calls to mind fascinating stories from local “people who know.”

The readability of this book required a little extra work from me. I had to read the introductory material several times to get on track. Also, there are no chapters. The book runs to 192 pages without a break, until it skids into eight pages of notes. Since I read before I sleep at night, I had to “get with my place” every time I wanted to continue my reading, but any extra effort was worth the trouble. The book claims to be an edited memoir of a man, a local school teacher, who married the daughter of the man whom the Bell witch wanted dead. His perspective on the events that transpired in the early 1820s is both that of an outsider and an insider. As the outsider, he retells the events that the local populace sees, hears, and talks about.

The witch is a most interesting character, with four specific and distinct voices and not a few quirks and eccentricities. He tells this part of the story with a great deal of color and the lingering sense of dread that a continual haunting presents. Later, in the last thirty pages, we reach the climax of the story in the death of John Bell, whom the witch has been tormenting long-term. This is followed by one of the most interesting denouements I can recall—somewhat lengthy but from the perspective of an insider’s point of view and answering nearly all of the questions connected with the hauntings—like a great mystery book, all of the strings are pulled together perfectly in the end. One finishes the book with a fair and even sense of all that the haunting involved and represented, with an almost–respectable Southern sense of it, if it just weren’t for my Yankee thing still lingering in the background.

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