The Truth About America's Most Famous Witch

In an uncharacteristically action-free scene in Return of the Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi offered an interesting commentary on truth. Accused by Luke of lying, he defended himself with a shrug, and the lofty excuse that "many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." Now, one point of view about this statement is that old Kenobi was doing his best to squirm away from the observation that he was a big fat liar. But it's probably not a bad way to look at folklore ... especially ghost stories.

So here's the believer's assemblage of the facts as they pertain to America's most famous ghostly witch, Kate Batts. From 1817 to 1821, in a remote Tennessee town called Adams, a rural family, the Bells, were terrorized to the brink of mental collapse by a violent and malevolent spirit. The spirit identified herself as "Old Kate Batts," and she allegedly claimed she'd been a powerful witch while among the living. Kate's poltergeist-ing methods were, perhaps, a bit unoriginal. As recounted by historian Albert Virgil Goodpasture, the invisible spirit was known to "take the sugar from the bowls, spill the milk, take the quilts from the beds, slap and pinch the children, and then laugh at the discomfiture of its victims."

The Bell Witch haunting

The Bell Witch's presence became more violent, allegedly. Her screams pierced every corner of the house, and she'd inflict painful harm on the Bells, usually with pins. According to the Bell Witch Haunting website, the poltergeist channeled her greatest hatred toward the father, John Bell. She'd repeatedly warn the family in a reedy, shrill voice that she would kill him. And sure enough, the father fell ill of a seizure disorder and died in 1820, terrorized to his dying breath by his ectoplasmic tormentor. 

One weird postscript, courtesy of Charles Edwin Price's The Infamous Bell Witch Of Tennessee: The haunting was reportedly investigated in 1819 by a witch hunter of steel resolve, future US president Andrew Jackson, of Trail of Tears infamy. Jackson supposedly fled the farm the next morning, saying he'd "rather fight the entire British Army than to deal with the Bell Witch." Neato.

For the skeptics out there, what noodles of locally flavored historical truth (if any) can be slurped from this steaming bowl of creepypasta? The Skeptoid Blog points out that the most detailed account of the legend was written a full 75 years after it allegedly transpired. Oops. Said author was also known to happily falsify a few historical records for the sake of a good story. So, for those looking for the smoking gun that proves paranormal goings-on once and for all, this story probably ain't it. However, Kate Batts is one crazy good name for a witch.