Yes, I still love Timothy Demonbreun, but he can be my late 1700s-early 1800s history boyfriend and Hamlin Garland can be my late 1800s-early 1900s boyfriend. He’s a Midwesterner. He won a Pulitzer. He loved occult things.
I’m trying to distill all of my thoughts on Ben and Sue Allen’s entity–The Thing–down to 1,000 words. It’s tough. What tickles my mind about it is why the Bell Witch is still a legend and The Thing has ceased to be. Is it just because the Bell Witch had a body count? Albeit a body count of 1, still, it was a body count. But there’s no evidence that anyone in 1817 knew anything about the Bell Witch. All that jazz about Andrew Jackson’s involvement, her return in however many years, all of it is suspect. The first published account of the Bell Witch didn’t even appear until the 1880s.
Pat Fitzhugh has pretty much the best research on the Bell Witch and he says, “Keep in mind that the legend happened only 125 years or so after the Salem ‘Witch Trials,’ and that widespread paranoia about unexplainable things and behavior ran rampant.” Yeah, but that feels like it’s not quite getting at the heart of why this legend endures. And yes, America loves a good ghost story. But once you discover that the woman who gets blamed for being the Bell Witch–Kate Batts–was the cousin of the Bell kids, including Richard, whose infamous and now nonexistent diary forms the bases of much Witch lore, at least according to An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch of Tennessee by Martin Van Buren Ingram (1894) (Just as a side note: I’m going to have to do some digging, but Richard’s son James Allen Bell is supposed to have been a state representative, but I’m having a hard time tracking him down.), doesn’t it make you feel like this is just a family fight gone ugly?
I’m just going to say it. The Bell Witch is my least favorite haunting.
But this raises the question. What are my favorite hauntings? I’m going to exclude Ben and Sue Allen’s entity if only because it seems to be gone now. Poor The Thing. It should have had a rabbit’s head and killed someone like the Bell Witch and then we’d still walk up and down 8th Avenue hoping to run into it.
The woman whose home became what is now Belmont University is said to haunt the university and her crypt out at Mt. Olivet. My favorite thing about her haunting is that the ways the stories of why Acklen is hanging around change tell you a lot about the speakers and the times we live in and our anxieties about, of course, death, but also wealthy, powerful women. I’ve heard she haunts Belmont because she loves it so much (even though she had a number of homes), because she was cursed after making a deal with the Devil for immense wealth (but she came from immense wealth, so that must have been a strange deal), that she still mourns the loss of her young children (understandable), that she was remarkably evil, so she can’t go to Heaven, that she was remarkably good, so she stays to watch over young women who may need her help, and so on. The one thing everyone can agree on is that she haunts… um… some place, both places. But why and what it means? That’s more about us than her, but in really, really fascinating ways.
The Astors’ Beechwood in Newport, Rhode Island
I wrote about this a long time ago, but basically, the only place I’ve been where weird, completely inexplicable stuff happened to me. Someone said my name repeatedly; I heard breathing as plain as day; and a clock chimed two in a house with no working grandfather clock. Apparently the house is privately owned now. If you’d seen the ballroom, you’d know why someone would want it all for themselves. I’ve been to a lot of supposedly haunted places. This is the only one I can say, without a doubt, something weird happened to me that I cannot explain.
The Stones River Battlefield down in Murfreesboro
I haven’t been there in years, because the place gives me the heebie jeebies, but when I first moved down here, if you walked the boundary trail, you could see into the back yards of the people who live near the battlefield and a bunch of them used to have those religious statues you often see in people’s yards lined up along the fence they shared with the battle field facing away from their houses into the woods. Like a line of spiritual warriors designed to make the spirit warriors stay inside the park.
The Witch Tree between Arcola and Arthur, Illinois
The story I heard was that a young Amish girl had been accused of witchcraft and then, mysteriously, turned up naked and dead in a corn field. Her body was buried in the cemetery, but enclosed in its own little fence (so as to make a little donut hole of unsacred ground to stick her in). On top of that grave, they planted a tree so the roots would fix her body in the ground. Supposedly, it only kind of works and people pretty regularly see a young, naked woman walking 133 at night. Though I do have to admit, I wonder if this is a variation of the ghostly hitchhiker in some way that works for Amish people and I just haven’t heard the whole story. Seems like it might be.
And that’s it. I’m leaving room in my top five for The Thing. I just can’t yet give up on it. I have to believe that somewhere, out there, is a sock-stealing entity who used to have a good gig as a table-shaking sheet-remover, who’s just waiting to scare the crap out of Nashvillians again.
I am on the record as holding one of the wishy-washy-est opinions on the new convention center. I think it is a terrible idea AND I think that now that it’s a terrible idea 18 months from opening, we should all pray to our various gods that it works.
Believe me, I hope that, in five years, I’m hanging out at the convention center because my friends are in town for some huge something or other, and I’m saying, “Yeah, I was wrong.”
But this story in today’s Tennessean does not make me feel better. I mean, when someone actually uses the phrase “vision goggles” like the problem is that we’re just not all quite drunk… or I guess if we’re having visions… peyote’d up enough to see what they see? Someone else snipping “It’s not rocket science?”
We’re just an “impactful” and a “synergy” away from me being sure that fucker is going to sit empty.