The Bell Witch and Spiritualism

I’ve been actually thinking, reading about the Watseka Wonder and Spiritualism in general, that this may be a kind of missing piece to the “WTF happened with that Bell Witch stuff?” I found this skeptic’s page and, while I have some major quibbles with his approach, I think he’s right about a couple of things and the main one is this: Almost all we really know about the Bell Witch–not the people involved, but the actual incident–comes from Ingram. I think skeptic dude is wrong to say all we know comes from Ingram. The history of Robertson county was published before Ingram’s account, but all that tells us is that there was, indeed, a fairly well-known tale. The details, though? I think a clear case can be made that all the details we know come from Ingram. And that’s a problem.

The interesting thing is the timing, though. The Robertson County history came out in 1886, almost seventy years after the events. So, all that tells us is that seventy years later, it had become a story. Nothing, nothing at all tells us that it was a story in 1820.

And it’s quite possible that Ingram took this folk tale and wrote a book based on it and passed it off as true in 1896.  When did the Lurancy Vennum event take place? 1877.

I bring this up because all of the almost-first-hand accounts (assuming the 1849 Saturday Evening Post coverage is true and not made up by Ingram) were being given at the height of the Spiritualist movement, when there was literally nothing peculiar about a young teenage girl being the focus of ghostly interest (maybe “nothing peculiar” is not quite accurate, maybe not “nothing peculiar” but it wouldn’t have been inexplicable. Folks had a framework with which to make sense of these stories).

Just as Mary Roff’s family seemed to be rewriting her problems not as problems but as evidence of her mediumship that they did not recognize (with great aid from Vennum, once she was possessed), I can’t help but wonder if the Bell Witch might be a way to rewrite some family problems as supernatural in origin, especially in an effort to reimagine John Bell as a victim of wrongful spiritual persecution as opposed to the recipient of seemingly deserved religious persecution, when he was tossed out of his church.

The thing that really gets me, though, as I poke through these books is that these incidents–the Bell Witch, the Watseka Wonder, etc.–only seem uniquely strange if you don’t know about the other incidents. Once you start to learn about the other incidents, they start to seem like the same kind of thing.


I called my dad this morning to tell him I might need to go to Watseka and he paused so long I almost thought we’d been disconnected and then he asked, “Watseka, Illinois?” as if there might be some other one.

“Yes, by you.”

“Well, they do have a nice Walmart.”

And then I told him about the Watseka Wonder and he scoffed.

Well, it’ll have to wait until later anyway. The Roff home isn’t open this month or next.


You’d think a man who ran over my flower garden would be more supportive of my non-run-overable curiosities.

A Gal’s Changing Body

Seeing that Twitter thinks I should follow Southwest Air reminded me that I wanted to talk a little about fat. Ha, there you go, Southwest, you’ve now cemented yourselves as the airline people think of when they think of weird things having to do with fat. That must be a PR coup for you.

Anyway, I’m stealing myself for another round of “Go see all your doctors!” later this month. It’s fine. It’s just check-up and check-in time. It’s just that now I must be monitored. Monitored. It’s like being Minotaured, except that you don’t get stuck in a labyrinth and fed young people. Well, maybe that comes later. But it does feel a little like “now you have a monstrous body which we must all try to exert control over so that it does not get out of control! And kill us all!!!!!”

And they’ll ask me how I am and I’ll say fine except that I feel like I’m having trouble breathing in weird circumstances–not that I get out of breath, but that I can’t catch my breath. Like I’ll be in the garden weeding and I’ll have no problem bending down and picking up a pile and putting it in the compost pile and the next time I do the exact same thing, mere minutes later, I’m taking all these short breaths because it’s like I can’t get air into my lungs and then it will pass weirdly, like sometimes it will stop because I have stopped the activity and sometimes it just clears up while I’m in the middle of said activity.

So, that’s weird. Probably some kind of mild asthma, I’m thinking, which, considering all my lungs have been through, was bound to happen.

And I think sometimes I can feel where they did the biopsy in my chest. I feel a long pain there sometimes, like a toothpick sits right between my sternum and my right boob, but deep in there and, if I’m stressed or hunched too long, I can feel it in there. But I’m not really sure that’s a problem. Still, you mention the weird shit, right?

Oh, my lungs. I remember when you were the most fucked up part of me.

Here’s the part that’s really weird and I’m concerned they’re going to think I’m crazy. My fat is changing. I’m not becoming less fat, I don’t think. But its consistency is changing radically. I can feel it, too. Like on my belly, there are areas where it feels like something firmer is giving way to something softer. I can feel rivulets in the firm fat and then, after a while, months, there’s less and less of the firm fat and I’m left with the squishy fat.

I’ve been reading up on types of fat, but it’s all very “here it is, here’s what it does, here’s why it is a problem that must be dealt with!!!” and there’s not anything about just what it feels like of what might cause it to feel different.

So, I don’t know. It’s weird. I read an article on Web MD that described fat as an organ, but that doesn’t seem right. My liver doesn’t change consistency (I guess. Maybe it does. I now have my eye on you, liver).

Or maybe it’s just a part of getting older–parts that were firm become squishy. Still, that seems weird.

Ugh, ha, clearly, I have a lot of anxiety about going to the doctors. I wish you could make one appointment and they would all just come in and see you. That would be nice.