Cursed – The Bell Witch

imageA&E recently aired Cursed: The Bell Witch, a five part series where John Ceallach and Chad Higginbotham arrive in Adams, Tennessee to investigate the legend of the Bell Witch. Certainly not a new thing, what makes this so special? Well, it turns out, John is a direct descendant of John Bell and this curse affects his son. So, he’s out to try and learn about this curse and bring it to an end.

Things start off quite amusingly at the local diner, where the regulars seem to give John a hard time and are affronted by his intrusion. He’s politely given a warning and told to be careful.

Along the way he hears lots of stories about the legend and a lot of variations. That’s expected since the story takes place in the early 1800s and everyone associated with the tale is long gone. Clearly what we have now are interpretations and guesses. But the truth might be out there and John is going to make an effort to find it.

The legend seems pretty ingrained this area as John sets up camp on a small plot of farm land and finds little wooden stick dolls strung up in the trees reminiscent of Blair Witch. These are obviously new and were put there to hype up the legend.

During another late night trip, John has his truck vandalized, clearly by earthly forces, but yet another play on the legend to try and scare them. You have to keep in mind, people make money off the Bell Witch legend so it’s paramount to keep the story going.

Along the way, John meets with some historians and even a few relations from the other side of the family. All of them seem quite taken with the Bell Witch story and fear the consequences of it. John also visits the Bell Witch caves where he hears strange animal noises and visits with a Native American Shaman who thinks some of the curse may have come from the land.

It seems a Native American burial site may have been disturbed and the remain were treated improperly. There is some mention a skull was brought back and a tooth may have been left behind. It may simply have been the act of disturbing the grave. This may also just be a guess since there’s no real evidence to support the story.

John visits where John Bell is buried and to be honest, his site is completely overrun with growth. It doesn’t look like anyone has visited or taken care of that plot in ages.

There is also a visit to the family of Kate Batts who was accused of being the witch that harassed John. The Batts family feels their lineage has been wrongly accused and says most of the facts about the haunting are incorrect. One example, Kate lived for many years after John, so it wasn’t her "haunting" him.

As John and Chad continue, they discover a lot of the details about the legend are incorrect and try their hand at a few theories. They have some theories about abuse, bad land deals, jilted lover and even revenge. All of which sound a lot more plausible than the current story.

John is able to get the Bell family bible and has John Zaffis come have a look. Just as it comes out, a corkboard falls from the wall. Taking it as a bad sign, they simply put the book away. Of course, John feeds into this story with the usual rhetoric that items and the land can be cursed. But why put the bible away? What’s the problem?

They do some scientific inquiry, such as what would have been in the mysterious vial that was found near John Bell. The contents were supposedly fed to the cat, which died almost immediately and when thrown in the fire, it created a blue flame. Way to go in destroying evidence everyone. Even an idiot alchemist of the time could have you told you if it was poison. But no no, let’s throw it into the fire so no one can know what really happened.

Turns out the chemical could have been arsenic, which was readily available during that time and John may have been victim of a regular poisoning. And it sounds like the person throwing the vial in the fire may have been the guilty party.

Another thing they discover is that John Bell was a right bastard with a right bad temper. So much so, he killed a man. John apparently shot a man in the stomach. They also go with an angle that might have made John and Kate jilted lovers. Interesting angle, but it doesn’t really pan out. There is talk of perhaps improper relations with Betsy, the daughter plagued with all the visions and harassment. Not sure if that pans out either. We also get that John was excommunicated from the local church because of some bad land deals. Seems he found himself afoul his fellow parishioners.

At any rate, John Bell is not some poor, hapless victim. It looks like he pissed off a lot of people, treated them poorly and even killed a man. That lends a whole lot more to the idea that a creature of this earth was responsible for his death. It seems we have plenty of suspects, plenty of motives and considering the time, opportunity wouldn’t be an issue.

It’s time for another visit to a cemetery and this time they bring along a medium. The local investigator whips out her K2 meter and goes with the trick of unscrewing the back of the flashlight as a way to communicate. Haven’t seen that gag since Jason and Grant on Ghost Hunters.

Without making too much headway, John decides to circle back to the Native American angle. He makes an offering to the spirits and to the land with his own Burning Man in the middle of the field. Lots of townspeople show up, because hey, there’s a fire, why not come on down and have a look.

When that doesn’t seem to work, it’s time to try an exorcism. John gets his Pastor to come out and perform a blessing/cleansing/exorcism on him to rid him of the curse.

And seemingly, that might have done the trick. If there was anything to exorcise.

The Conclusion:

The Bell Witch story is pretty damn fascinating, there’s no disputing that. It makes for a great ghost story with lots of characters and lots of blame to go around. However, if you look past the hearsay, conjecture and rumor and look at the source material itself, you find there are a lot of problems with this story and you begin to question everything. After a few minutes it’s hard to feel that the Bell Witch legend is anything more than just a legend.

Most of what people know about the story comes from John Bell’s son and his diary entries. The diary of John Bell’s son was written 30 years after the event and he is writing about what occurred when he was 6.

The second source, The Goodspeed documentation, was published 60 years after the event and the definitive source, the book by Martin Van Buren Ingram were written down 75 years after the events and obviously based on materials already 60 years old.

So nothing was written at the time the events really happened. No one has a single reliable source of information and clearly nothing from anyone who was actually there. This is what the legend is based on, those three items. Further, the diary of John Bell has never been seen.

Like all tall tales, all sorts of pieces have been woven in, including Andrew Jackson, who never went to visit the Bell home. He was never in the area, at least not during the time he was claimed to be there. So clearly he never slept at the home and clearly he never saw this supposed witch.

While it may be written that John Bell died from supernatural causes, it’s obvious that’s not the case. If you look at the symptoms described, he had a neurological disorder that caused hallucinations and delusions. There was a chance he was poisoned because he was an ass to his family and community so they slipped him a little something. Either way, no curse from a witch.

This has all the same hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials and the same rationale. Put it this way, if your crops died, it was the work of evil. If your child got sick, it was the work of evil. If you got some sort of skin irritation or lesion, it was the work of evil. People of the time believed if you didn’t pray to God, every second of every day, that no matter how small the sin, evil would be visited upon you and it would take a physical form.

Contrast that with, if you were successful you were in league with the devil. If you failed, you were a sinner and punished by God. You can’t win. No matter how it played out, were a sinner or in league with the devil. That leads to rumors and hysteria.

Further, since medical knowledge was basic at best, doctors didn’t know how to treat an ailment other than through blood letting. Any disease they didn’t understand, which was just about all of them, was the work of evil. And that evil could be anyone or anything. If you didn’t dress correctly, you were a witch. If you didn’t spend every minute in church, you were a witch. If animals followed you around, you were a witch. If you kept to yourself, you were a witch. If you didn’t go along with the mob mentality, you were a witch.

This meant there was a witch around every corner and superstitions ran rampant. And that’s how you get a story like this. There is no Bell Witch and no Bell Witch curse. It’s just a superstitious story that keeps getting passed down. Now, there is just a lot of tourism trying to cash in on the fun and a couple of half-way decent movies here and there.

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Deadly Possessions – Conjure Chest and St. Valentine’s Day Massacre – S01E02

imageAs the Demonic Antiques Roadshow continues, Zak, sitting as though he is the Mafia Don this time, gets two new relics to look over. The first is known as the Conjure Chest and those who store their clothes inside will most assuredly die. It might take 50 years for the curse to take full effect, but in the end, it’ll get ya. The other involves some mob on mob violence – St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

The Conjure Chest is reported to have taken the lives of 17 people in its long history. The story goes a little something like this. It was built by a slave, Hosea. Unfortunately, his owner, Jacob Cooley, didn’t appreciate the effort and beat the poor man to death. However, instead of destroying the chest like you would expect, he kept it and put it in their child’s room after all.

But to seek revenge this act of violence, the slaves put a curse on the chest. They didn’t put a curse on him or his family, but instead chose furniture. From there, multiple deaths are attributed to the chest. Not to the diseases and piss poor medical treatment of the time, but to a chest of drawers that will supposedly taint your clothes to the point they can kill.

However, many believed in the curse and at one time a Conjure Woman took it upon herself to take the curse away. Shortly after she did so, she died. Now, it appears the curse may be lifted, but Zak isn’t taking chances. He refrains from even opening the drawers. He’ll get the museum curator to do it, but he’s too damn scared. He will, however, take full spectrum photos around it.

Low and behold, a blob appears which they feel is an owl – a part of the curse lifting ceremony that was performed.

For the next segment we have a B-grade movie actor show up in mobster garb to offer Zak a deal he can’t refuse. After insulting Zak a couple of times and doing his best to sound like a thug, the stranger shows a picture of the actual St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, believed to have been orchestrated by Al Capone. The mobster clown then disappears and Zak is off to the Mob Museum to check out their display.

It is all shockingly, shockingly, cheesy. Why not just ask Zak to come and look at the exhibit? Who doesn’t want to check out mob history?

They Mob Museum has pieces of the very wall the gangsters where shot against and one of the guns believed to have been used. Zak is able to very lightly touch the gun and then gets down to capturing EVPs.

Billy and Zak believe they capture some voices that are residual energy from the wall.

To be honest, I found this episode to be rather silly. None of it really makes any sense. A curse on a clothes chest? If they were really able to conjure up some serious mojo, why curse a chest? Why not kill the landowner? Why not give him a series of crippling and debilitating heart attacks? Why not make him bleed out his eyes and other orifices? That would have certainly made him suffer. Certainly more along the lines of what he deserved, not some curse on a piece of wood that will affect random people. Nothing about that story makes sense. It doesn’t seem tangible. It doesn’t sound logical. Obviously, I wasn’t there and have no idea what happened. But then again, neither was anyone else telling this story.

The piece about the mob is just laughable. The guy bringing in the picture looks like a reject from a pizza commercial. Anyone remember a Godfather’s Pizza? It’s just silly. And what are we supposed to gain from this little exercise? There was some sort of injustice? There is some hidden message? We get to see a Tommy gun and pieces of a brick wall. They are kind of neat and a tricky bit of business from the mobsters of the day, but are we saying this wall and gun are cursed items? Is the gun going to go off if we don’t ask permission before taking it’s picture? Is the wall going to collapse if we say the blood stains make it ugly? Where exactly are we going with this?

Again, these are not pieces meant to stay in Zak’s collection, but are offerings from others who have come into odd curios and want to share their stories. These are interesting stories, but it’s really hard to put any stock into the legends surrounding them.

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Deadly Possessions – Dibbuk Box and Robert the Doll – S01E01

imageSince we’re in a slight lull from Ghost Adventures, let’s have a look at the other project Zak has been working on. As you may have seen from newspaper articles, Zak has been collecting odd trinkets from the world of the paranormal, much like Ed and Lorraine Warren and their nephew John Zaffis. He’s been able to procure a cauldron supposedly used by Ed Gein and the VW Bus used by Dr. Kevorkian. After amassing a collection of oddities, he’s opened his museum of the bizarre to the public.

Along with the items he’s personally collected, he’s open to others bringing in their treasures, much like a demonic Antiques Roadshow. To that end, the first item up for inspection is the Dibbuk Box. This box was actually featured on Haunted History back in 2013, or at least that’s when I saw it. This is the same Dibbuk box that was purchased by Kevin and subsequently sold on eBay. Jason now owns the box, but he’s had problems with it. Problems he solved by locking it in another vessel and burying it in the ground.

Until now. Jason and Kevin have unearthed the relic and brought it to Zak. He decides to put the box in his "isolation chamber" and has Kevin hang out with it. What does Kevin do? Why open it of course. He then starts mumbling what sounds like a Poe poem (although I have no idea what it is). Zak thinks he’s speaking in tongues, or is possessed, or something equally bad. We can’t really see too much because there is an old style lamp right in the way of Kevin’s face the entire time. However, he does say there is something lurking down there with him.

They take it to a Rabbi, who surprisingly doesn’t seem all that concerned about it, but, Kevin breaks into a coughing fit and sweats like he’s been doing some serious manual labor. Remember, he opened the Dibbuk Box, so clearly he must exhibit some sort of side effect.

What happened to the Dibbuk Box? What did they ultimately do with it?

The other part of the show involves Robert the Doll, perhaps the inspiration for Chucky. It’s a very old toy, owned by a boy named Robert who identified with the doll to the point of calling it Robert and he went by his middle name, Eugene.

Eugene had the doll for decades and continued to both play with and speak to the doll his entire life. Or so the legend goes. It’s now in the possession of East Martello Museum and his caretaker, Cori Convertito.

There is an odd past for Robert, to the point that he is so dangerous and so mischievous and so prone to causing terror that the only recourse is put him on display. You just have to be respectful. Ask permission before you take his picture and don’t make any disparaging comments or lest the curse take hold.

Such is the plight of Bonnie Randolph who comes to beg Robert for forgiveness because she took his picture without permission. Also, while looking at the exhibit, someone else made a derogatory comment about Robert, but she somehow took the brunt of his anger. I’m not sure why she takes responsibility or why evil got dumped in her lap, but there it is.

But wait, before we get to that. As the doll is displayed for Zak, his man-troll Theodore comes in and exclaims in surprise at the visage of Robert. Clearly there is nothing staged about this scene and Zak springs into action. He tells Theodore he needs to apologize to Robert or else they’ll probably find him dead on the steps. (I added that last bit, it’s not in the show)

Bonnie Randolph who believes in the power of the evil eye from Robert, offers her apologies like begging for forgiveness from a Mafia Don. She is brought to tears while explaining Robert is responsible for her terrible driving that involved her in 3 accidents and that she’s not clumsy, it was Robert that pushed her down the stairs causing all sorts of medical problems. All because she took his photograph without asking, even though he was out on display for all to see, and someone else made smartass comments about him.

Let’s be realistic here. If this doll is so capable of evil, and quite frankly, Cori believes it to be true by the way she talks and handles Robert, why isn’t Robert locked in a vault, hidden deep within the earth where he can’t see anyone and no one can make the terrible mistake of taking his picture without his permission. If he’s so bloody dangerous, why is he just sitting there like a spectacle? I’m sorry, but the whole thing is just shockingly foolish.

But if a doll really could control traffic, could I have a go with it please? I could use it to move the other cars out of the way and cut my work commute time in half.

Also, does anyone else note the contradiction in Zak asking to take a picture with the doll after they’ve already been filming it?

I don’t believe either of these items are meant to be part of Zak’s collection, I believe they just wanted to brave unleashing pure evil and truck it across the country for a spot on his show. Nothing harmful in that right?

Quick update. The “chanting”, “mumbling” or “speaking in tongues” you hear from Kevin in this episode is him reciting lines from a poem called “Shadowman” he wrote back in 2012. It has nothing to do with him somehow being possessed by the contents of the box. Taken at face value, it’s a little bit of theater, a flair for the dramatic and perhaps just a hint of being staged. If you listen to the link, you’ll notice Kevin’s voice sounds the same in the recording as it does in the show, so clearly he’s “not out of it”, or “not himself”. It’s a pretty decent reading actually, but it’s obviously bogus evidence.

Kevin Mannis – The Shadowman

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Paranormal Lockdown – Kreischer Mansion – S01E06

image From their previous episode, Nick and Katrina visit another house in New York, the Kreischer Mansion, built around 1885. There have been a couple of tragic events, such as the shooting death of Edward Kreischer as well as mafia related murder where a man was strangled, stabbed, drowned and then incinerated in the furnace. There are actually news stories related to the mafia hit, so details of that story might be true. That happened in 2006 so these two events are decades and decades apart.

However, people claim the house has a darker past than that. As was the common practice of the time, seances were held in the house in an attempt to contact the departed spirit of Edward. Some believe this portal to the other side is still open, letting in evil spirits.

Some of the activity experienced includes a stabbing sensation, the figure of a dark woman and the feeling of being touched. It is said, the figure of the women seems to be handing out a warning, but about what remains unknown.

As they start the investigation, Nick and Katrina feel cold spots and a static charge like electricity. Katrina says she feels a pain in her back and feels something touch her elbow. Nick feels he smells sulphur coming from the house and gets the words, "I’m Edward Kreischer", "Hi Katrina", "I’m dead" and "murder" from the Geobox. As the culmination of all this, Nick gets a stabbing pain in the leg. They’ve also had a couple batteries die which they feel are feeding this entity.

The next day, they start off in the basement by taking some pictures and show just how easy it is to cast a mysterious shadow on the wall. They supposedly hear the cots being moved as well as more batteries mysteriously drain. While in one of the rooms, Katrina says something was thrown and she hears loud knocks.

For the final day, Nick and Katrina will conduct their own seance with the help of Colleen Costello. During the event, Nick grows ice cold and feels a pain along his back. On their devices, they feel they get the words, "I’m sorry" and "I’m coming downstairs".

Their goal is to close they portal they feel has been letting spirits in. And it seems all you have to do is ask the spirits to go the light and they will leave. No gusts of wind, no resisting voices, no candles getting blown out. Just tell the spirits to follow the light and everything will be fine.

While the house looks impressive and if restored, would be amazing, I fail to see how this place is haunted. I have no confidence in that Geobox as Nick is the only one that hears anything from it. An old house, that’s been abandoned for a few years has loud and odd knocks in it? Well, who knew that sort of thing would happen? The dreams that Katrina has about figures giving her a warning – come on, what else are you going to dream about after hearing all those stories?

To be honest, the history and legacy of this house doesn’t exactly fit with the "rampant paranormal activity" claims. We have two grim events to be sure, but this house doesn’t seem all that active really. Yes, they both make comments about aches and pains, but those sorts of personal experiences are subjective. Everyone has had phantom pains and the like. That’s not evidence that defies all normal explanation.

But there it is, the final episode of the very short first season of Paranormal Lockdown. They picked a few interesting places to visit and while I don’t think it helped their credibility to have Grant Wilson show up on the scene, it’s good to see Nick and Kristina back on the paranormal circuit.

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