Friday, November 13, 2015

Paris

I want to tell you a story. 

Back in 1976, a woman took her two kids on the trip of a lifetime. Although it was the Bicentennial year, she took her 9-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son to her native land. France. The girl, who already wanted to be a writer, kept a journal on that month-long visit. The journal and photographs help to clarify her  memories of France. Her uncle and aunt lived in a town called Meaux, on the border of the Champagne region, an hour or so from Paris on the fastest trains she'd ever even imagined. Uncle Jean-Jacques was a jewelry designer and manufacturer. Her aunt Lucienne was the epitome of an elegant French lady, keeping their 200 year-old house in immaculate order despite having three sons between 8 and 18. The house was the most beautiful place the girl had ever seen, with black and white tiled floors, ancient wooden beams, and a pond with a fountain in the back yard. 

Not many American kids get to spend a month in France. Everything about France was enchanting. For one thing, the store came to the family, not the other way around. Each day was a different truck--dairy, meat, seafood, vegetables. That led to the kids trying foods they would have rejected back home--smoked eel, foie gras, deep fried chamomile flowers they picked themselves, grenadine, frogs' legs and escargot. Everything had HISTORY--so weighed down with ancient significance that the kids were rather intimidated. They saw great chateaux and backwoods farms, formal gardens and sprawling vineyards, convents and Notre Dame. There was so much to explore, and yet it was so easy to get from one important place to another! The town of Meaux had quaint cobblestoned streets and a huge medieval cathedral with crypts in the catacombs beneath it. Twice they went to the seashore, but children of the deep South weren't able to tolerate the frigid waters of the English Channel. One afternoon, they drove into the Champagne country, where in between the long green vines were planted poppies. The stripes went on as far as the eye could see--red, green, yellow, green, red. And although the boy was easily bored, the girl drank it all in--especially at Versailles and the Petit Trianon. Her French grew fluent enough that one day, after receiving permission from the Mother Superior at the school her cousins attended, she spent an entire day in a French classroom. She answered some questions in halting French, tripped while jumping rope and skinned her knee, and let the teacher read her journal when asked. When the teacher saw the line, "School in France is HARD!!!" she laughed for about five minutes.  

Twice a week, they went into Paris on the trains. They loved the train, especially when the train went underground on the outskirts of the city. There were posters on the subway walls with a can-can line--not all women, but workmen and kids too. They thought the pictures were funny. While they could both understand French well and spoke a little, neither could read it. So every time they saw one of those advertisements, the kids laughed and started to sing the can-can song. "Duh duh duhduhduhduh da da dadadada--" 

I'm sure the other people on the train thought those kids were crazy. 

Every trip to Paris was a new adventure. They rode the somewhat scary elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower, where they could look in any direction and all they could see was the city. They posed together before the Arch de Triomphe, next to the eternal flame of an unknown soldier. They spent days in the Louvre, and while the girl wandered around and looked at the paintings and sculpture and history, the mother and little brother went to the King Tut exhibit, which was there at the time. There was even an exact replicate of the boy king's burial chamber, with hieroglyphs painted on the wall. It tells you something about the time--and the girl, who could speak fluently enough to get help if she needed it--that their mother felt comfortable enough to let her strike out on her own. 

They left the Louvre and went to the Tuileries, where the kids rode the carousel and tried to spear the brass ring just as their mother had thirty years before. And every day, they went to eat someplace different--including one special day when they went to the Palais Garnier, which was just across the Rue Auber from the restaurant their grandfather had owned. That was a memorable meal, especially since their grandfather was dead--shot by the retreating Nazis because they thought (accurately) he was helping endangered people to escape Paris. 

There were only two things that could top all of this. 

First, the patisseries. In Paris, desserts look like art. The shops were long, narrow, lined on one side by long cases with glass fronts stocked full of any baked good you could possibly imagine, and with small tables on the other. How long it took to decide on a pastry, and how much better it tasted than the humdrum cake and cookies back home. 

For the girl, at least, only the doll shops could compare with the bakeries. There was one certain shop that sold nothing but dolls--and what dolls! There weren't any Barbies on those shelves. Instead there were only costume dolls--dolls dressed in the native costumes of the regions and cities of France. Those dolls are still prized possessions, occupying a case all their own to this day. 

In fact, I can see them now. A few have passed on already, to my girls and their girls, but those first three dolls were the beginning of a sizable collection. 

This is the France I remember. A lot more happened on that trip--it would take me months to tell the whole story. I actually pulled the photographs out from our trip today, as the book I'm currently working on is set in pre-Revolution France--during the reign of Louis XV. So when the news broke about the terrorist attacks in Paris, I guess it was proportionately harder for me to fathom. The same neighborhood I'd once walked with my mother were under siege, and scores of people were felled by gunfire and explosions. 

There's no way to adequately describe Paris, no way to give someone who's never been there a real sense of the city. Paris is alive, electric and defiant and elegant, I've lived in New York, and while that city is the busiest I have ever seen, it was so apparent to me even at the time that NYC's a thoroughly modern city. Paris is just as modern, but the history of thousands of years compels Parisians to insinuate that modernity into the classical beauty that is its more enduring landmark. 

Today, I was reminiscing fondly over the pictures of our trip there in June of 1976, but tonight I saw in front of the television and I could no longer see those photos in my mind. Instead of monuments and cathedrals and vineyards, all I could see of Paris tonight was blood and tragedy. 

I try not to get too political on this blog. I try to keep those kinds of opinions to myself. But as I write this, there are two thoughts jostling each other for top billing. 

First off, people need to keep in mind that not ALL Muslims are terrorists, the same way not all white people belong to the KKK. You cannot lump an entire social group together with the evil-minded people who are a minority within it. Blame those who are truly responsible for this savagery--the terrorists, not the people who bore them. Not all Muslins are terrorists, just like not all Caucasian people are skinheads. 

And second, enough is enough. We can no longer afford to sacrifice our citizens' safety. The 'war on terror' has dragged on for 13 years. There were supposed to be fewer terrorists, not more. The time for euphemisms and psychological victories is past. The time has come for our governments to protect us--and each other. Tonight in Paris, hundreds lost their lives and hundreds more were injured. Some were maimed for life. The US took out Jihadi John this week for our psychological victory. ISIS took out innocents in at least seven different locations for their psychological victory. 

Which one, do you think, was the most successful?

We need a solution--one that differentiates between the refugee families fleeing out of the Middle East and the terrorists who are insinuating themselves into that flood of humanity. We need to obliterate the terrorist bases and training camps. We need to seize their funds. We need to drive them out of their dens, and then hold them responsible for every single innocent death. 

Does this mean war? I'm not sure. I have a strong suspicion that we are dangerously close to WWIII.(no, I'm not a doomsday prepper) It may come to that. With Putin declaring that Russia is ready to work with Washington to shut ISIS down, perhaps we should consider it. Perhaps it's worth fighting in order to rid the world of this scourge upon humanity. With a son-in-law who's already done two tours of duty in the Middle East, that's not an easy thing to say. 

But nothing about any of this is easy, is it?

Paris, the City of Lights, is dark tonight. Very dark. And our world has dimmed as a result. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cursed the Bell Witch: Episode Three--Keystone Cops Meet Google Maps

Anyone else getting the feeling that there's not one single person involved with this show that has a single clue regarding the history of the Bell Witch, paranormal research, ghost hunting, or what the woods sound like at night? Boy, I am sure am. And even though we left off last week with a modicum of hope that this ongoing weekly shipwreck was finally getting out of the iceberg field, tonight's episode ripped a big gash into that theory before the first ten minutes passed. I was so angry that I only wrote half this post during the show and had to rewatch it today to see what happened in the second half of the show.

Gentle readers, only for you would I torture myself that way.


First off--how about the shortest ghost hunt in history? You know, experienced--and even amateurs who watch paranormal shows--investigators spend the entire night, usually, searching for evidence, using as much technology as they can carry. These two fellows don't seem to have even watched a ghost show before. They were in and out of that cemetery in minutes, not hours. What makes that even more bizarre is the trek through the woods to get there, totally ignoring the perfectly easy to navigate trail in the woods that goes from the old Edens' property and site of the cave to the private graveyard of John Bell and some of his family or, for that matter, the dirt road to access the site from the opposite side. So we get to watch them going through those woods--cause, you know, woods are scary and stuff--instead of driving the whole two minutes on the trail.

And once the real investigator's camera goes kaput--fairly standard around the old Bell homestead--these two police officers resort to the next best investigative tool. 

Pendulum divining.

Since the investigator told them that using something intensely personal would be best to use as the pendulum, they choose--

An amulet that the strip mall witch Tish had given them the day before. 

Dude, that's just...wow. Really?

So the first question he asked over the grave of John Bell Sr, was "Is this the grave of a Bell family member?" Apparently the amulet knows how to read, as it was in perfect agreement with the easily read block letters that read JOHN BELL SR not even six inches behind it. Then they asked if John Bell shot John Black, to which the amulet also agreed. Then they asked if a member of the Bell family had caused the curse, to which the amulet also agreed...none of which, I'm sure, had anything to do with the air current rustling through all those scary wood trees. 

A very agreeable amulet. And then the car alarm goes off, and our brave policemen rush off to deal with a broken out tail light and END THE INVESTIGATION.

Do what?

Let me also toss this out there regarding the 'bash and run' of the car. "Somebody's messing with us!" John declares, like Adams is sooo heavily populated. Well, let me show you how possible it was to "mess" with these guys in the middle of nowhere. 

Exhibit A: The satellite view of the area of Adams around the cemeteries.



The big public cemetery, Bellwood, is in the bottom left hand corner. The site of John Bell's burial is in the top right hand corner. You'll note there's not even a house in sight, and the tiny road that leads to both the private Bell graveyards dead ends before it reaches the main road. Oh, and want to take a look at the bustling metropolis of Adams as a whole?

Exhibit B.


The red x's mark Bellwood Cemetery and the John Bell burial site. You'll note the absolute lack of people in the area who could potentially be running around in the middle of nowhere breaking out the tail lights of a random truck in the woods. And let's be very specific here--I have a difficult time believing the good people of Adams are going to break out the tail light of a guy's car. What reason would they have to do that? Whereas someone involved in the production, say, might have every reason to up the tension of the episode. And all you have to do is take a look at the map, and you'll realize that if someone had broken that tail light and ran, all they would have needed to find the perp was flashlights. There's nothing in any direction to provide any realistic kind of cover, no buildings to hide in, nowhere to run without being seen. And the fact that they didn't even bother to look? That, to me at least, negates the possibility of this being a random act of violence from the evil, voodoo-practicing, inbred natives of Adams this show is trying to make you believe in.

Feel free to go check out Adams and the surrounding area on Google Maps yourself. It's definitely going to help you understand the community, its size, and the absolutely ludicrous suggestions A&E seem to expect you to buy into.

That being said...

Regarding the 'investigation' at the John Bell cemetery evidence--Chad, you tell us that it's a light on a tree. You're there in the middle of nowhere with flashlights and a FILM PRODUCTION CREW. Of course there's a damn light on the tree. 

"Is this curse caused by a member of the Bell family?" -- and they hear a female voice say "Betsy" on the EVP. Okay...well, let's try on this for size. 

THE BELL WITCH, KATE, SPOKE IN A FEMALE VOICE.

Idiots. 

Apparently, our pair of intrepid tree-fearers did manage one bit of Bell Witch research, however. They watched the truly abysmal 2005 movie An American Haunting, starring Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek, which was so accurate and factual that they even filmed the darn thing in Czechoslovakia. Somehow, they're going to attempt to demonstrate that a girl who was 12 or 13 years old when the haunting started, did so because she wanted revenge on her sexually abusive father--and managed to create ALL the inexplicable events that took place in multiple places (some of which she wasn't even present at the time) in front of literally hundreds of witnesses without ever ONCE GETTING CAUGHT. Does anyone else see any problems with this theory?

Look, let's discard for a moment our relative beliefs in whether the paranormal is real or some elaborate, mysterious psychological kind of self-deception that some people can generate without even being aware of it. Let's just examine the logic of this claim. In order for Betsy Bell to devise and implement this plot at the age of twelve means that she was an absolute psychopath. And a damn genius for that matter. I'm pretty clever and I write books with some pretty spectacular murders in them. I research those fictional crimes from every single angle I can think of, looking for not only ways to pull off such an act but also for the single clue that will/must eventually trip up the murderer. To commit and get away with murder, the act needs to be as swift and as simple as possible because that reduces the odds of actually leaving any evidence behind. And to somehow arrive at the conclusion that a child in 1817 was capable of creating such an elaborate hoax, terminating in a murder four years later, without getting caught is beyond ridiculous. It's flat out stupid. 

Especially considering the show's entire premise is based upon the viewer's belief in the supernatural actions of an entity with the power to 'curse' an entire family. So question--if Betsy Bell was responsible for the murder of her father, using poison which is a completely realistic premise for law enforcement--doesn't that NEGATE the existence of any sort of supernatural curse? 

John Calleach demands that we, the audience, buy into his belief that all the alleged misfortunes of his family are the result of a supernatural agent--a curse, attributed to a supernatural entity. He demands that anyone who watches this show must suspend their disbelief on this point, because that one element is the premise for the entire show. Okay, fine. We do that, right?

So he CANNOT subsequently discard the supernatural element at will without compromising the veracity of the show and its claims.

If the curse is real, then so too must be the haunting, the entity, the entity's power, the witch family--you'll hear all about them only too soon--the continuing paranormal activity in Adams AND most importantly for this particular element the return of the entity to the Bells remaining on the original homestead in 1828, when Betsy Bell Powell was no longer there. All this tedious 'research' regarding the potential murderer is nothing but a red herring, because in order for us to believe in the curse, the show has to establish without the shadow of a doubt that the supernatural activity in Adams--and therefore the curse--are real. 

But instead, after Cate Batts and the Jack Black murder turn into--as I predicted--dead ends, these two men who are tasked with solving crimes in the real world have now arbitrarily decided that "The old man was doing something he wasn't supposed to" with his youngest daughter, and she killed him for it. 

See, here's the thing guys--and I can't believe NO ONE at A&E brought this up--you cannot investigate the Bell haunting as if it were a modern crime scene. It's not. And it's long been established that John Bell Sr. was poisoned. That was the contemporary conclusion as well. But there's more than just arsenic that turns flames blue. Just for a partial list: ethanol, methanol, alcohol, cooper chloride, lead compounds, and butane in addition to arsenic. So naturally, arsenic becomes the weapon of choice, even though John Bell's symptoms as described do not line up with the abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, vertigo, dark urine, and delirium. Long term arsenic poisoning would lead to darkening or discoloration of skin, wart-like protrusions, redness, swelling, and Mees' lines (white lines) in the fingernails. Then, too, during the 19th century, arsenic was used in all sorts of things from rat poison to an oral treatment for clear skin. So just because the fire turned blue and arsenic can do that doesn't make the symptoms line up for John Bell being poisoned by arsenic. And all respects to the chemist from my alma mater, but her comment about mixing the arsenic with ethanol betrays the fact that she, at least, mentioned other possibilities for the blue flames that were probably edited out. 

Just saying...

And let's just rein that 'easy availability' of arsenic in frontier Tennessee. Nothing was easily available on the frontier. Such supplies would either come in on the flatboat's return from New Orleans after selling their crops, or from a trip to a town--like Nashville, which was still tiny and beyond the reach of a 12 year old girl. Port Royal was the nearest 'town' and was little more than a couple of buildings, while Clarksville, my hometown, was a long day's ride in a wagon. We're not talking about Britain, where the average person could go to a 'chemist' and buy arsenic. We're talking the western edge of the American frontier.

Could she have run into arsenic in the barn? Of course, if there was some. But frontier folk had no reason to stockpile tons of arsenic. They had cats for the mouse problem. And according to several articles I took a look at today, arsenic as a poison wasn't really in use at that time. A method for detecting arsenic wasn't even created until the 1830's, and I'm reasonably certain the Bells didn't eat seafood or have Paris Green wallpaper. 

As for Bob Bell's call about his psychic secretary seeing 'a girl with black hair' following them into the funeral home? One thing the contemporary sources are ALL agreed upon is the fact that Betsy Bell had blonde hair--especially evidenced in Charles Bailey Bell's book The Bell Witch of Tennessee and verified by both Richard Williams Bell and John Bell Jr, Betsy's brothers.  There IS however a tradition of the girl with black hair, and a post in my blog series soon will be about the 'witch family' of which the black-haired girl is one. So this was sort of a hit, but a huge miss in saying it was Betsy Bell, the arsenic patricide. 

And finally, after John nearly makes the 'curse' a self-fulfilling prophecy by driving like an idiot, we reach Mississippi and Betsy Bell Powell's gravesite.  Can I just say here that anyone who does twenty investigations at one poor woman's grave--especially one like Betsy Bell--is more than likely disturbing a soul that kind of deserves to sleep in peace now? Especially since during her lifetime, Betsy never could sleep alone in a dark room again, and had to sleep on the inside of the bed facing the wall? That particular story is, by the way, something I've heard before. 

Chad--you're in Mississippi. Things buzzing in your ears are more than likely the mosquitoes the size of dinner plates you guys grow down there. And that's probably what your poor dog is nervous of too. I've seen those skeeters down there--they sound like buzz saws.

And so now we're going to take a medium to really torture poor Betsy's soul and wake her up? Lovely. And oh, so nice. Perhaps the 'curse' originates from torturing your forebears, John-whose-last-name-is-coincidentally-Gaelic-for-witch.So now they're setting up for what promises to be another fifteen minute investigation, especially if they're attacked by more of that scary wood. 

"I don't carry sophisticated equipment"--and then she whips out a K2 meter. Good lord, woman. 

This medium has the absolute worst grammar knowledge I've ever seen on any TV show except, perhaps, Mountain Monsters.

And then we find out that--according to a flashlight (and she's never had that much action on her K2? Why bother carrying it?) Betsy knows there is a curse and it's still going on. The medium smells perfume--even thought they're in a CEMETERY where there are, you know, FLOWERS. And then the dog leads them to scary woods and they run away and begin to hear things...

And that's, thankfully, the end of the episode. And I see in the preview that NEXT week, they appear to be going into the Bell Witch Cave--which makes me happy. Why, you ask?

Kate has a longstanding history, one spanning two centuries, of being incapable of tolerating either stupidity or someone badmouthing the Bells. These two have been guilty of both things. The most concentrated activity in Adams is in that cave, and I'd be willing to bet that--whether they show it or not--the bumbling crusaders will not enjoy their weekly fifteen minute investigation in that cave.

Because it's surrounded, by more mean scary woods--where Kate, the Bell Witch haunts and is just waiting for them to dare the cave. Finally, I can't wait for next week's episode, because I bet good money that it'll be outright hilarious. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Part Eight: Kate Meets The Neighbors

Back to the legend we go, before tomorrow's next travesty...erm...episode of Cursed: The Bell Witch.

Some of the best stories in the Bell haunting involve Kate's interactions with the community around the Bell farm. Families back then were, obviously, much larger and therefore the Bells intermarried within the area so the extended family was fairly large. As the oldest Bell children were just starting out when the haunting was going on--oldest son Jesse was born in 1790 making him twenty-seven the haunting commenced. John Bell Jr. was born in 1793, Drewry in 1796, Esther in 1800, Zadok in 1803,Betsy in 1806, Richard in 1811, and Joel was the baby, born in 1813. Only Jesse and Esther were married and therefore out of the house. Jesse had married Martha Gunn, daughter of their neighbor Rev. Gunn, while Esther was the very young (in our eyes) wife of Alex Porter. 

The neighborhood was a fairly large pioneer community of the early nineteenth century, and the Bell family met both support and suspicion from their neighbors. As Richard Williams Bell remembered:

Many of our neighbors were frightened away, fearing they would become involved in a tragical termination. Others, however, drew nearer, and never forsook us in the most trying ordeal. James Johnson and his two sons, John and Calvin, the Gunn families, the Forts, Gooch, William Porter, Frank Miles, Jerry Batts, Major Bartlett, Squire Byrns, and Major Pickering were faithful and unremitting in their sympathy, and attentions, and consolations, making many sacrifices for our comfort, and not a night passed that four or more were not present to engage the witch in conversation, and relieve father of the necessary attention to strangers, giving him much rest. {Bell, Richard Williams Our Family Trouble}

Any of you guys learn how to diagram sentences in middle school? I did and that last sentence is a bear. Darn Victorian writing styles.

At any rate, these families along with Joshua Gardner, Betsy's lovelorn boyfriend, and her two best friends Theny Thorn and Rebecca Porter, were the mainstays of the Bells' existence during those trying four years. Note if you will that one of the people Richard Bell listed is Jerry Batts, who is one of Cate Batts' children. Makes that hypothesis that there was bad blood between the Bells and the Batts kind of a wash, doesn't it?

One of the more famous incidents involved the Johnson sons, John and Calvin, who one night wanted to 'shake the witch's hand'. According to Richard Bell, these two young men interacted with the entity more than anyone outside the family. The entity evidently liked to get into long conversations, and the Johnsons obliged. John was a smart young man, and he used these talks to try and get the witch to slip up and reveal some kind of clue to her existence, while his brother, Calvin, was a more straightforward type of person. 

One night, the conversation turned to the nightly abuse Kate heaped upon the Bell children. Everyone agreed that the sound was like an open hand against the cheek, so Calvin decided to ask the witch to shake hands with him. Richard Bell continued:

After much persuasion, Kate agreed to comply with the request on one condition, that Calvin would first promise not to try and grasp or hold the hand that would be laid in his. This he agreed to, and then holding out his hand, in an instant he felt the pressure of the invisible. Mr. Johnson testified that he felt it very sensibly, and that the touch was soft and delicate like the hand of a lady, and no one ever doubted his statement.  John Johnson begged Kate to shake hands with him, persisting that he was as good a friend as his brother, but the witch refused, saying, "No, you only want a chance to catch me." John vowed that he would not attempt anything of the kind. Kate still refused, replying, "I  know you, Jack Johnson; you are a grand rascal, trying to find me out, and I won't trust you."

This is a great story for a couple of reasons. First off, the entity complied with a request for someone to have a tactile experience, and did so in such a manner that the subject was able to describe vividly what her 'hand' felt like. And second off, that uncanny prescience the witch had shown on numerous occasions proved that she, at least, knew what John Johnson's real intentions were. 

But perhaps my favorite story is also one of the most famous--the night the Bell Witch got into bed with William Porter. William Porter was a frequent guest, and claimed to enjoy talking with Kate. As a result, the entity said she liked him too, and so they got along very well--which can only have been a good thing for the Bells. If talking with Porter distracted her from tormenting the family, then he was probably one of their favorite people. Porter was unmarried, living alone in a log house that Richard Bell describes as follows:

The building was a large hewn log house, with a partition dividing it into two rooms. There was one chimney having a very large fireplace, and the other end was used for a bedroom--entered by a door in the partition....Said he: "It was a cold night and I made a big log fire before retiring to keep the house warm. As soon as I got into bed I heard scratching and thumping about the bed, just like Kate's tricks, as I thought, but was not long in doubt as to the fact. Presently I felt the cover drawing to the back side, and immediately the witch spoke when I recognized the unmistakable voice of Kate. 'Billy, I have come to sleep with you and keep you warm.' I replied, 'Well, Kate, if you are going to sleep with me, you must behave yourself.' 
Are you kidding me? This man had some serious stones, telling the devil to behave herself! Richard Bell continues, as William Porter had told the story to him:

"I clung to the cover, feeling that it was drawing from me, as it appeared to be raised from the bed on the other side, and something snake-like crawling under. I was never afraid of the witch, or apprehended that it would do me any harm, but somehow this produced a kind of chilly sensation, a freak of all overishness that was simply awful.

Pause. How many times have you heard an investigator talk about this exact same feeling, and showed the hairs standing up on end on his arm? 'A freak of all overishness' is probably the best description I've ever heard for that sensation, which I experienced myself on several occasions in the Bell Witch Cave. It really is simply awful. Back to the text--

"The cover continued to slip in spite of my tenacious grasp, and was twisted into a roll on the back side of the bed, just like a boy would roll himself in a quilt, and not a strip was left on me. I jumped out of bed in a second, and observing that Kate had tolled up in the cover the thought struck me, 'I have got you now, you rascal, and will burn you up.'

Pause. Here's a moment where the differences in our society come full force to smack us in the face. If this happened today, our first reflex would be to what? Right--grab the cell phone and hit record. We are a social media driven culture, and our first instinct wouldn't be to destroy the entity, but to document it. But William Porter was a pioneer in 19th century backwoods Tennessee. His first instinct was to try to rid his friends and neighbors of this entity that was torturing them. To resume:

"In an instant, I grabbed the roll of cover in my arms and started to the fire, intending to throw the cover, witch and all, in the blaze. I discovered that it was very weighty and smelt awful. I had not gone halfway across the room before the luggage got so heavy and became so offensive that I was compelled to drop it on the floor and rush out of doors for a breath of fresh air. The odor emitted from the roll was the most offensive stench I ever smelt. It was absolutely stifling and I could not have endured it another second. After being refreshed I returned to the room, and gathered up the roll of bed clothing,shook them out (sic) but Kate had departed and there was no unusual weight or offensive odor remaining, and this is just how near I came catching the witch." (Bell/Ingram)

I find this story fascinating for a few reasons. First off, it's damn funny. If you're burdened with an imagination like mine, it's easy to visualize a big guy in his long johns, fighting to throw a struggling force wrapped up in quilts into his fire and instead having to bolt out into the cold because of the smell. Second off, this seems to be one of the rare instances where Kate was taken off guard. That's interesting to me because it strikes a blow at that strange knowledge the entity had displayed so often and that we've already discussed. In the earlier story, the entity knew better than to trust John Johnson to shake her hand. "No, you only want a chance to catch me."

And yet, it never seemed to occur to the entity that wrapping herself up in William Porter's blankets like a burrito might not be a good idea. It's a very human mistake--she and William Porter were 'friends' and enjoying talking to each other. So Kate never imagined her 'friend' was hiding ulterior motives, and all their conversations together might have blinded her to the real thoughts Porter had. It's possible to enjoy talking with someone even though you know they're just a terrible person. I don't know if William Porter was deliberately buttering Kate up with an eye to finding a way to rid the Bells of their terrifying tormentor; I suspect he wasn't. I think that we can take his relation of events pretty much as they were told to Richard Bell and later committed to paper in his journal. But to survive on the frontier, even in the midst of a small community like the one in Robertson County, a man would have had to be both opportunistic and bold--traits that would have carried him through dangerous situations both in the forest and when an entity stole his blankets.

So to me, both these stories set up the dichotomy in Kate's character--the supernatural, powerful side as well as the more human, fallible side. There are loads more stories of Kate and the neighbors--I'll probably do another post with more accounts soon. But these two stories I specifically wanted to get out there now--because Kate does have that more human side to her nature, and I think it's important to understand that facet of the haunting. So after tomorrow's post about the the next episode of Cursed: The Bell Witch, we'll explore the relationship between Kate and Lucy Williams Bell, John Bell's wife.

Why? Because believe it or not, there is no doubt that the entity that killed John Bell, Sr., was otherwise nothing but kind and considerate to his wife. 




Saturday, November 07, 2015

Timeout For Some More Paranormal Theories

Never fear--another Bell Witch post is coming for tomorrow. It takes me a while to write those posts, because I'm being very careful to cross refer through all the available source material in an effort to present the best possible relation of events as, if not fact (for two hundred years later it's hard to discern fact from legend) then at least the salient points of the original sources. In particular, I want the Bell family memories to be accurately related because, in my opinion, those stories hold the most weight and are the most likely sources to be accurate in regards to what really happened. So I'm going to hold a story from Richard Williams Bell's journal as more probable than any of Harriet Parks Miller or MV Ingram's Victorian flights of fancy. 

Now then...let's take a look at something I have been pondering this week. In my post on paranormal video viewing, I mentioned that Most Haunted's investigation of 30 East Drive's 'most violent poltergeist in the world' as one that closely mirrors the Bell haunting. You could have blown me over when I discovered that the MH guys ALSO did their live Halloween investigation there last week. I watched it last night--and you can too, on YouTube. The show is broken down into three parts, but should play back to back without you having to search for the next installment. 

Now, can I say for certain that MH's whole show isn't faked? No. Do I buy into everything that happened? No, of course not. Anytime you evaluate a paranormal show, you have to include a healthy dose of skepticism even if you do believe in the supernatural. I'd be 100% skeptical if I hadn't experienced paranormal events personally. Heck, I'm still waiting for proof on Bigfoot and UFOs and psychics and all that fun stuff. However, that's for me--my own personal belief system is based on what I experienced, and it's not my place to destroy someone else's personal experiences just because I wasn't there. So whenever paranormal activity occurs in front of a camera and a live audience, I take it at face value. 

And it's no secret that I've laughed a lot at Most Haunted in the past. Still do, to be honest, especially when some cadaverous-looking dude starts bellowing incantations to Satan in poorly pronounced Latin.

But I discovered something last night, after watching the show, that set my wheels to turning. 

In the past few years, 30 East Drive has been investigated  by numerous groups. Throw in Most Haunted's two regular episodes, and then add in the live Halloween investigation. Not only did you have the team in the house, but the incredible energy of multiple film crews and, for the live show, a horde of spectators outside on the street. Then figure in the millions of people who watched the event live internationally, thanks to their live stream on YouTube. That's an immense amount of energy, if theories regarding what fuels a haunting are accurate. But with this particular location, there's also something else that is both fascinating and disturbing. 

30 East Drive, in Pontefract, Yorkshire is now a B&B.

You think I'm kidding? Take a look for yourself.  250 pounds per night. Yowsa! At today's exchange rate, that's $376.24 per person, per night. I'd better get a luxury suite for that price, not a semi-detached house furnished in 1970's style furniture that's been beat up by a poltergeist. 

But then, it hit me. 

This poltergeist is not only getting fueled by all these investigations, but now there are casual tourists booking that house every. Single. Night. 

And they wonder why the house is haunted, and the intensity of the haunting has increased. If you take a look at the waiver all guests have to sign, you can pick up some interesting tidbits as well. Keep in mind that this is the entity that allegedly has been flinging knives around. The owner of the property is anxious to exploit the notoriety of the haunting, but is not anxious to take responsibility if some total idiot gets hurt in the course of the night. They also don't want anyone exorcising the entity because their cash cow would dry up. Additional digging on the site reveals that the owner of 30 East Drive is the producer of When The Lights Went Out--a fairly atrocious movie about the haunting from 2012. 

So this house is getting constant and increasing attention, bringing more people within the sphere of the entity and resulting in more and stronger paranormal events. 

Sound familiar?

What's going on around 30 East Drive is the twenty-first century equivalent of what happened on the Bell farm. Remember this from Richard Williams Bell?

This new development (i.e.--the entity beginning to speak) added to the sensation already created. The news spread, and people came in larger numbers, and the great anxiety concerning the mystery prompted many questions in the effort to induce the witch to disclose its own identity and purpose...The excitement in the country increased as the phenomena developed. The fame of the witch had become widely spread, and people came from all quarters to hear the strange and unaccountable voice...the house was open to everyone that came; father and mother gave them the best they had, their horses were fed and no one allowed to go away hungry; many offered pay and urged father to receive it--

There you go, Cursed: The Bell Witch idiots. Proof positive that John Bell was a horrible person that brought the curse upon himself and his family because of his lack of generosity and greed.

--insisting that he could not keep up entertaining so many without pay, but he persistently declined remuneration and not one of the family ever received a cent for entertaining.

We've already theorized that the growing number of spectators gave the entity the power and strength to continuously increase its ability to interact with witnesses. Right now, in Yorkshire, the exact same thing is happening with the same result--and the added advantages of money obviously outweigh any potential risk to visitors with the owner, whose motivation appears to be basic simple greed. So I have to wonder--what comes first?   An entity's stronger displays of power? Or people, instruments, technology, gizmos, and gadgets? 

I'm starting to see a strong case for people. Because IF the Bell Witch could talk from the beginning, why didn't she from the get go? And IF the Black Monk of Pontefract could apport knives out of boxes and throw them at people from the beginning, why didn't he chuck some butcher block innards at the Pritchard family back in the day instead of using marbles? 

I'm thinking that within the anatomy, for lack of a better word, of a haunting, there is a finite point beyond which an entity cannot go UNLESS the energy it feeds upon is substantially increased. So in our curiosity to know more about the other side, we are inadvertently empowering that which we inherently fear. 

So I started looking a little further. On my Scariest Paranormal Investigations playlist, (Note--there's a permanent link to the playlist now at the top of the left sidebar. Check back often; I'm always adding to it!) I've also listed two separate investigations by the Fourman Brothers' Living Dead group at the haunted Monroe house in Hartford City, Illinois. They were brought to the Monroe house as the result of an investigation conducted by DIGGS Paranormal that has more than FORTY videos of multiple investigations at that location. (I've since added one of their truly interesting and scary videos to my playlist) And just doing a swift check of the other groups and videos regarding that location, there is a substantial increase over the past six years from one video in 2009 to well over 50 in 2014-15 and at least ten different paranormal groups. In fact, in one of the Fourman videos, the owner of the house states that he's afraid opening up the house to paranormal research has increased the severity of the haunting--a haunting that most people consider to be demonic in nature. 

It would be interesting to conduct a serious study of haunted locations to see if investigations or tourism actually increase paranormal activity, either in frequency or intensity. In fact, I'm kind of seriously considering doing just that once the Bell Witch haunting series is completed. I was planning to consult a few paranormal experts in regards to this project, but I may give that a whirl earlier than expected. There are a lot of folks out there that contact paranormal groups when something in their house is scaring them. 

It would probably be important to them to find out that what they think is the cure is actually making their paranormal problems worse--and capable of much, much more dangerous things.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Cursed: The Bell Witch--Travesty...I mean...Episode Two

Okay, folks. Anyone who follows me on Twitter witnessed some of my outrage last night at this latest attempt by A&E to Hollywood their show Cursed: The Bell Witch. So today, let's break down the episode and discuss something that may have actually redeemed this show just a little bit.

A very little. 

First off, let's establish a foundation at the beginning. If you're going to produce a show that purports to investigate actual, documented events, it behooves you to KNOW THE SOURCE MATERIAL. If at any time John Ceallach and the producers of the show could have read any of the published works based on the recollections of the Bell family who were actually victims of the haunting and eliminated all this bogus rumor-mongering that so far has been the basis of the show and could therefore avoid the heinous and borderline stupid mistakes they've made so far. This leads me to question the authenticity of the show from the get go, especially when you compare John's last name, Ceallach, to the Gaelic word cailleach. Why is that important, you ask?

Cailleach is the Gaelic word for WITCH.

Uh huh. Exactly. 

Anyone who had read the source material would be aware that John Bell died BEFORE Cate Batts, thereby nullifying any idea that he'd knocked her up and killed her. Anyone who had read the source material would be aware that John Bell's excommunication from the church was based on a spurious usury charge, but that everyone in the community was well aware that the notoriety of the haunting and the subsequent effects on the area had been responsible for the action--a community-based effort to protect themselves from the demon infesting the Bell farm. Anyone who read the source material would have known that Mrs. Batts' name was Cate, and the witch's Kate was spelled differently to differentiate between the two. Anyone who read the source material would have known that Cate Batts was an eccentric woman, looked upon with suspicion for succeeding in her disabled husband's role, but that she was respected, at the very least, by the people in the area. 

And, of course, anyone who read the source material would have read the statements of John Bell Jr., where the entity specifically says "I will not haunt or curse your descendants."

Poof. There goes the premise of the show. 

So, what did this week offer us? First off, two cops in the woods around Adams were more than a public nuisance--they were a positive danger, whipping out their handguns and panicking every time they heard a rabbit or possum in the woods. They're lucky some poor hunter didn't get blasted out of their absolute ignorance of what lives in the woods. Do they not have woods in Mississippi where there's wildlife? Cause if every little crackle of leaves around them makes them leap to the conclusion that the witch is around, then they're really, really, REALLY stupid. 

In fact, wood seems to offer a particular terror for these guys. First, there's the scary tree that's "as cold as a coca-cola right out of the ice chest". (How many nights did Chad sit up, plotting a way to use that line? He must have loved it since he's used variants of it twice.) Then there's the four by four that falls out of a barn when one of those scary noises in the woods causes our two intrepid officers of the law to whip out their handguns and charge after the witch. And then, the itty bitty little tree that falls gently onto the top of the house. 

If not the witch, the spirits of the forest definitely have it in for you dude. 

Then, of course, was the visit to Tish the Witch. Ah, Tish! After confirming that the (made out of wood) corn dolly is indeed a voodoo doll--because people in rural Tennessee are known to practice voodoo, right?--she proceeds to offer to burn said voodoo doll and that she's going to sage her shop as soon as they leave. 

Note to Tish--Febreze works better.

This brings up the Cate Batts-John Bell affair theory, which they then extrapolate to mean that she was carrying his illegitimate child and that he killed her and the baby to hide his shame. Of course, the fact that she was older, than the sources list her own children as already grown when the haunting commences, added to the fact that she not only fulfilled all her wifely duties, but ran the farm as well as a cottage industry of clothmaking with her slaves--without whom she was rarely if ever seen. Cate Batts was also a fervent member of the local church, and a really funny story about her at a revival is something I'll share in a later post. Any of these documented facts would have headed this bogus theory off at the pass, but our suspiciously named cop and his buddy apparently don't worry about things like that. 

This alarms me for the state of crime solving in the state of Mississippi. 

Then John and Chad head down to talk to the descendants of the Batts family, who would never have let this pair into the house if they knew how they'd been desecrating the memory of their ancestress for the past show and a half. But there, finally, the red herring they've been chasing for an interminable hour and a half comes to an end. Even Katie Bell, God love her, laughs in Chad's face when he tries to correct her knowledge of her own family and insists that Cate died before John Bell. 

And considering that--you know--the entire Bell family at the time of the haunting categorically denied the idea that Cate Batts was the source of or behind the witch, it seems like perhaps their woefully ignorant descendant has finally learned how off-base he was. So, strike her off the list. 

At this point, the audience--and the Wonder Twins--begin to be confronted with actual facts, so to cap that off, they then begin to--

Look at something else entirely unrelated. 

Are you kidding me? Seriously? So now, you're going to opine that John Bell cursed himself and his family and his own descendants? Well, if you're going to head down that road, let's bring on Pat Fitzhugh on and see what he has to say. 

But hold on a second here. The story goes that in North Carolina, before the Bells moved to Tennessee, John Bell shot his overseer John Black because of comments he made about how much he liked the oldest Bell daughter, Mary--according to Fitzhugh. And yet, on Fitzhugh's own website, on the genealogy page, the oldest Bell daughter is named Esther, not Mary, and was born in 1800. The Bells came to Robertson County, Tennessee in 1804-05. So there is no Mary Bell and if she had existed--say, for example, a child who died before the move to Tennessee, she wouldn't have been old enough for any overseer to talk smack about getting in her knickers.(And if he was talking about a child of that age, I don't blame John Bell for shooting the SOB in the gut, quite frankly, and I doubt anyone else would either) The oldest Bell child, son Jesse, was born in 1792. The oldest any mythical daughter named Mary could have been was 10-11 when the Bells left North Caroline for the frontier of Tennessee. 

By the way--Jesse is the oldest Bell son, and he lived a seemingly pleasant and prosperous life, happily married with nine children. He ultimately moved to Mississippi and passed away in 1843 in unremarkable circumstances.

Some curse. 

So yeah, after the first dose of reality in the whole damn show, they go to a Bell Witch expert who spins a completely bogus yarn about an imaginary daughter and incident that didn't even exist as far as I know--and as far as the expert's own website relates. That's just...wow. As for the Bells fleeing North Carolina because of the murder of their overseer, here again you only have to look at the source material--and Fitzhugh's website--to discover that two failed crops (1801 and 1804) were the impetus for the decision to go west. 

But here, the episode takes a turn that actually, for the first time, gives me the tiniest sliver of hope about the direction of the show. Getting a hold of the Bell family bible from Bob Bell, a bible that is contemporary with the haunting, from another Bell descendant is the first actual bit of evidence portrayed so far that I have never seen. This is so much more compelling than hanging fake voodoo dolls on a tree in the woods! Why in the HELL would anyone think that would somehow make this story more frightening or compelling? Ridiculous. But when the Bell family bible--which the actual family believes to be haunted, passes into John's hands, then finally the show starts to deliver the tiniest bit on its promise.

(But, oh Mr. Bell! You're really going to let these two keystone cops handle your two century old family heirloom bible, haunted or not? Oh geez...the antiquarian book collector in me is cringing.)

So then another Skype call home to John's son, and then--a nugget of activity that begins to give me hope. Of course, the idiots run out with their guns--because guns work soooooooooo well against the Bell Witch as we've already discussed in a previous post--and more noise in the woods has our guys acting like total idiots again. A teensy little tree is leaning against the house--conveniently against the bedroom where John sleeps. 

Maybe it's the famed Adams Bigfoot? Surely A&E can cook up a dude in a ghillie suit, right?

But then a little irregularly shaped mist floats into view on the cctv feed, and for the first time we are confronted with an anomaly that might actually be paranormal in nature. It makes sense, actually, since the history of the Bell bible is attached to bizarre supernatural events in the past and the bible is even now sitting in the cabin (in probably horrific conditions for the preservation of two century old paper and leather--someone send Mr. Bob Bell some acid-free tissue and a storage box pronto!). So now, for the first time, someone on the production staff has a GOOD idea. They call in John Zaffis, world-renowned demonologist, paranormal investigator, and haunted collector.  

Now, at last, someone with experience, relevant knowledge, and real insight is talking about the paranormal aspects of the case. No voodoo crap, no scary trees, and the deliberate mention not only of the Native American connotations of the case but also poltergeist AND demonic haunting potentials. And while the poster falling off the wall's timing if VERY convenient, I find it difficult to believe that John Zaffis would knowingly participate in any sort of hoax. I will point out, however, that the poster in question is secured with an alligator clip dangling off a nail--and it wouldn't be all that amazing for it to fall EXCEPT for the timing of that fall. So if it had happened without Zaffis there, I'd totally dismiss it. His presence, however, saves A&E from that particular scathing blog post--one that I'm sure I'll be able to use at some future conveniently timed occurrence though. 

And then we come to the stupidest question on the face of the earth. "Do you think this bible caused this curse on my family?"

What? WHAT? You REALLY think that a BIBLE can engineer a generational curse? Are you that stupid? Let's stop and think for a minute. If you believe in the concept of a curse, then you are automatically bound to assume will and intent--two specific energies that can only be propelled by a sentient being, whether human, animal, or paranormal. A BIBLE can't generate that kind of energy. It's a BOOK. It can have energy attached to it, but I'd be inclined to consider that kind of a paranormal residue, a miasma of energy siphoned off from the true paranormal event that lingers in and around the object. 

So now, the dynamic duo have added a real paranormal investigator to the hunt, and they're headed out--finally--to a site where paranormal activity is known to have occurred: the old Bell -cemetery, where John Bell, Senior is interred. And for the first time, an event that is frequent in paranormal investigations occurred and one that I have witnessed myself. The camera inexplicably stops working. There's a long history of this happening on the old Bell homestead, especially around the cave which is just a quarter of a mile away. In one particularly famous incident locally, the TV show Unsolved Mysteries came to the cave in the 1980's. They set up their camera equipment on top of the cliff and began to film as they descended the trail to the mouth of the cave. But once they got into the cave, none of the equipment worked. They went back up to the top of the trail and everything worked fine. They went down again--no film equipment. The UM crew tried unsuccessfully to film the cave for the better part of a couple of days, but finally gave up. They packed up and left and until the Ghost Adventures episode in the cave last year, no one had ever been able to record activity in the cave except for the occasional tourist or local. 

So I was so outraged last night that I didn't even bother to try to write this post. I waited until today, watched the episode again, and have written this post as the episode was running. I have to tell you--I'm in a quandry. Do I find the show entertaining? No, because all the BS and the apparent disregard of the legend and historical fact completely distracts me from viewing this show like any other paranormal based entertainment. I find myself completely incapable of buying into this man and his proclaimed concern about this curse--a curse I know for a fact was never placed in the first place, according to the Bells that lived at the time as well as the entity itself. The suspicious correlation of this man's last name and the Gaelic word for witch makes me feel STRONGLY that this is a clue that this man's entire story is BS, planned by the network so they could exploit the legend of the Bell Witch. But, in the second half of the show, there were some small moments of activity that could be paranormal, including an incident that I know for a fact many have also experienced in the same place with the camera difficulties in the old, private Bell cemetery. John Zaffis's addition to the episode counterbalances the absolutely bogus red herring of the North Carolina murder that Pat Fitzhugh related, and finally brings some authenticity to a show that, up to this point, has been, quite frankly, crap. And with the addition of a real paranormal investigator, perhaps John and Chad won't be so prone to whip out their guns. 

How they managed to shoot a whole season without one of those guys killing an innocent hunter in the woods is beyond me. I would not be surprised, however, if there were a couple of near misses--or that the guns were empty and are really props to help establish the identities of the two primary cast members. Anyone who knows even the slightest bit about the paranormal would know better than to think a gun would have any effect upon an entity or spirit. What are they going to shoot at? Mist? The wind? 

Just ridiculous. 

But I've made a decision. Halfway through the episode, I was about to chuck the whole mess and not watch anymore. But I'm going to keep watching--not because I think anything valuable will come from this fiasco, but because I'm having a hell of a good time fact-checking such a blatant fount of bullshit and letting you guys know what a veritable insult this whole production really is. And, of course, keep reading my blog series, The REAL Bell Witch Legend, for the FACTS regarding the Bells and the haunting that took place on their farm from 1817-1821 and still haunts Adams today. 

And most importantly, the cursed that was never placed on the Bells and their descendants--except for poor John Ceallach (remember--Gaelic for witch is cailleach),who's apparently colluded with A&E and invented this whole ridiculous mess for some kind of self-aggrandizement that becomes more evident with every single minute his face is on the television set. 

Stay tuned for episode three! Thank God there's football to pass the time before next Monday!

.






Monday, November 02, 2015

Let's Talk About Paranormal Shows and TV Exorcisms--From the Supreme to the Suck

Author's note: Thanks to everyone who contacted me about the glitch in this blog post. Took about an hour of redoing all the HTML code, but we're good to go now. Thanks and enjoy!

Nowhere was this title more apt than this past Halloween weekend. From the supreme to the suck, paranormal shows ran the gamut from great to horrendous. 

Thanks to Kate and the Bell Witch legend, along with another, intensely personal and terrifying demonic event I witnessed as a young adult, I have always been very interested in the paranormal. Once television began to create shows like SyFy's Ghost Hunters or Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures, I was pretty happy. I could watch similar experiences to my own happening safely to people I didn't know and hopefully learn as a result. The two shows I just mentioned are two, perhaps, of the best. While both shows have had episodes where I've sat back and thought, "Yeah, right. Your jacket got pulled ten minutes into a live show--because all the shows you've done before tell us how rare paranormal events are and how difficult to capture." both shows have also had episodes where the evidence seemed to be legitimate and inexplicable. So if there can be such a thing, I'd have to place TAPS and the GAC at the top of my list for paranormal television viewing. 

And then, of course, there's the internet. You know as well as I do that about 95% of the "real ghost caught on tape" YouTube videos are crap, and that the methodology and even the makeup of most "paranormal investigation teams" online is laughably similar to the two shows I've named above. But there are paranormal videos/evidence/investigators online who also can teach us things about the supernatural and who, I believe, after extensive vetting, are also legitimate sources of information. ?In fact, "I've created a playlist on my YouTube channel of investigations and documentaries I consider to be useful. LiveSciFi.tv, with its salty and irreverent host Tim, not only livestreams all its video feeds from ghost hunts, most notably at the Sallie house in Atchison KS and the Welles house in Pennsylvania, but also undertakes a lot of folklore rituals like Bloody Mary and the recent Charlie Charlie pencil game *{add in FRAUD here since it was a viral advertising campaign}. Tim also conducts multiple sessions each month, live streamed, where he works with a spirit board, ghost box and Ovilus, and real time EVP burst sessions that have captured ("in my opinion) viable entity communications. Fair warning--DO NOT try to emulate what he does. The internet is also littered with videos of "ouija gone bad" and that personal experience I referred to earlier originated with ouija board communications. Tim may also be battling demonic attention, as the names ZoZo, Beelzebub, Abacus, and Azrael pop up frequently. While you--like me--may be skeptical of spirit board communications, Tim has worked with legendary investigator and demonologist John Zaffis, the nephew of Ed and Lorraine Warren, and they actually have investigated together on LiveSciFi which ups his credibility significantly in my book. A second outstanding paranormal option is the Fourman brothers' Living Dead paranormal group, that produces incredibly professional and entertaining documentaries of its ghost hunts and has captured some extraordinary evidence. Their investigations of Pennhurst, the Monroe (IN) house, and the Glore Psychiatric Hospital are amazing--and terrifying. They seem like the real deal, and present their evidence in a straightforward, non-hyperbolic fashion that I really appreciate. 

Both these groups have channels, which I frequently confess to binge watching. If you want to see what investigators mean about how rare true evidence is, take a gander at one of LiveSciFi.tv's 15 hour DVR videos, that are presented, unedited, from their ghost hunts.

And finally, believe it or not, I have to add in a group/TV show that I used to really laugh at. The UK's Most Haunted show is probably the longest-running paranormal show in the world, and now that they seem to have chucked the mediums and are headed in a more evidentiary direction, they've just released what is most likely the closest video evidence to parallel the Bell haunting. More on that in a bit--and never fear. I'll provide links to websites and YouTube channels, as well as a link to my own playlist of particularly awesome online investigation videos. 

So after all that, let's talk for a minute about "Exorcism-Live!" that was produced by the Destination America channel last Friday night. 

I was very interested in Exorcism-Live last week. First off, it was being shot at the "Exorcist house"--the actual house in St. Louis where Roland Doe was possessed--the source material for both the book and the movie The Exorcist. This location was investigated last year by the GAC guys, and Nick Groff actually had something malicious follow him home. I don't know that's why he left Ghost Adventures, but the timing of the two events makes me a little suspicious. At any rate, this location has experienced documentary paranormal activity since 1949, so I was curious to see what would happen. The Tennessee Wraith Chasers paranormal group (Tennessee boys, which makes me fond of them, naturally) conducted an investigation of the property live--they are the Ghost Asylum show on DA. Chip Coffey, a spiritualist medium that anyone who watched Paranormal State or Psychic Kids is familiar with, would lead a seance in the house using a Ouija board. And then Bishop James Long would perform an "exorcism" of the location to close out the show. 

There's a reason for the quotes there. The "Exorcism" Bishop Long conducted is actually the minor rite, the one used to cleanse houses, things, places, and so forth--not people. Also, Bishop Long is not a Roman Catholic bishop, but an Independent or Old Catholic bishop. "Independent Catholics separated from the Roman Catholic church over doctrinal differences, mostly dealing with papal authority. And while their orders are acknowledged by the Roman Catholic church for the most part, they don't exactly have a hotline to the Vatican. Does that make a difference really? 

Well, I don't know. 

I do know that the St. Louis archdiocese released a strong statement against the show last week, The statement reads in part:

St. Louis, Mo., Oct 30, 2015 / 03:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News)- A television show’s promise of a live exorcism rite is more dangerous than it thinks, the St. Louis archdiocese warned on Thursday. 
“Any attempt to use the solemn Rite of Exorcism as entertainment exposes all participants to the danger of future hidden satanic attack,” Bishop Robert Hermann said Oct. 29. “We cannot play games with Satan and expect to win.” 
Bishop Hermann, an auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said no exorcism can take place without the authority of the local Catholic ordinary.St. Louis’ Archbishop Robert Carlson has not granted permission to any priests or bishops for the event.

In my PERSONAL opinion, that makes a difference. The Catholic church has strict tests that are applied to candidates for the rite of exorcism. That's why few people actually get permission to receive the rite of exorcism, and only a few priests are permitted to engage in them. Without the official backing of the Roman Catholic Church, I find it difficult to believe that a rite like exorcism can be successfully performed. We're not talking about smudging a house with sage here. We're talking about spiritual warfare, using consecrated objects like holy water, a crucifix, the priestly vestments and performed by a consecrated priest who is trained in the rite by the church who actually has a demonology institute in Rome where both priests and laity can be trained in the ritual.

So even before the show began, I was very skeptical about what we would see. But, you know, I could be wrong. So I watched and hoped for the best.

I did not get it.

 The Ghost Asylum guys, God love 'em--they did their best to conduct a real paranormal investigation--something almost impossible to achieve in an hour stuffed full of commercial breaks, interviews with a very cheesy host, social media checks by a radio host who would read a question and never answer it, a full contingent of multiple film crews, and actual protesters howling down the street. There's no way their evidence is uncontaminated, and even if the investigation was conducted live the evidence couldn't possibly have been analyzed with any degree of thoroughness under those circumstances. Sorry, guys--it was a bust. Totally not your fault, either. Hopefully, you got to investigate AFTER the show was done. I'm sure whatever lingers in that house was well and truly pissed off about 3 am and you got some great evidence then.

And then we get to Chip Coffey's ten minute seance.

Seriously, dude? Are you kidding me? I don't play with ouija boards--although I have used them in the distant past--and even as a giggling thirteen-year-old at a sleepover I knew that the session MUST BE PROPERLY CLOSED. This session was barely even opened when Chip asked one question--Is there a darker entity trying to take over the board--allegedly received an affirmative answer (impossible to determine since their hand completely obscured the entire board)--and then they all got up and left WITHOUT CLOSING THE BOARD for a cheesy one on one with the cheesy host and a conveniently timed commercial break.

For someone who makes his living allegedly communing with the other side, this was such an obvious mistake that Twitter exploded under my fingertips even as I typed BULLSHIT. Even Tim from livescifi.tv tweeted "What a joke that ouija session was lol" while the first commercial was playing.

So at this point, there was less than ten minutes left before the show ended, and the world was treated to the kind of exorcism ritual you might get at Sonic if they conducted religious rites there. The show went a few minutes over, but Bishop Long and his assistant Chip Coffey emerged from the house and triumphantly announced the exorcism was successful.

Now let's stop and think about that for a second.

This location was, in 1949, the site of a long-running, extensive, and extremely intense MAJOR rite of exorcism--where multiple priests conducted spiritual warfare with demons for a teenaged boy's soul. If the house is still infested by demons in 2015, then OBVIOUSLY THOSE EXORCISMS CONDUCTED AT LENGTH, BY MULTIPLE PRIESTS IN TANDEM, OVER DAYS, WEEKS, AND MONTHS DID NOT WORK. And now Bishop Long, Chip Coffey, and Destination America would have us believe than ten minutes of standard Catholic prayers, some holy water, and the participation of a few cameras managed to rid the house of an infestation that has persisted for almost seventy years? When a Ouija session had just been conducted by ONE OF THE ASSISTANTS OF THE EXORCISM and the session left OPEN by him just a commercial break before?And how did they KNOW that it worked? Especially considering that in most cases of demonic infestation, it's well documented that the house might be quiet for a few days, but then the attacks return and actually worsen?

You can't finish an exorcism, walk out the door, and announce, "Okay, we won! Yay for us!" The fact of the matter is that you don't know--can't know unless you freaking check. EVP session, EMF scan, K2 reading--something. The only thing that was successfully concluded with Bishop Long's proclamation of triumph was the show, thank God. Anything else is nothing but bullshit.

Exactly. Embrace the suck. I couldn't do anything after the "exorcism" ended. I just kind of sat there, staring at the TV, wondering if television executives really think the American public are that stupid.

Evidently, the answer is yes.

See, I had an advantage. I've witnessed demonic occurrences and I can tell you 100% that a ten minute recitation of basic prayers and a holy water spritzer aren't going to do anything with a true demonic entity except annoy it. I saw a friend of mine, who was demonically oppressed, suffer as three burns the width of his thumb rose for no apparent reason on his skin. They started below his left ear, went all the way down his neck, the center of his chest, and terminated on the right side of his torso. I have seen the rage of a devil, and that drive-by Hail Mary wouldn't affect it in the slightest.

So we have to ask ourselves--how far will we willingly suspend our disbelief?In stark contrast to the absolute idiocy of Exorcism-Live...? (punctuation change mine) stood two paranormal shows I watched this weekend. First was the Ghost Adventures investigation of Deadwood, SD--and if you weren't creeped out by that, then you're not going to be creeped out by anything. For the Ghost Adventures episode, obviously, there isn't a YouTube link that I'm aware of but I'm certain that the Travel Channel will replay the two-hour show this Saturday night.And second, oddly enough, was the Most Haunted investigation of 30 East Drive in Pontefract. This show explores a case that as best I can tell most accurately reflects some of the occurrences in the Bell Witch haunting. The location is billed as the site of the most violent poltergeist activity in the world and has been since the 1960's. When you watch it, think back to the story I just related about my friend's burns from nowhere--and you'll instantly understand what I saw.

The link is on my Scariest Paranormal Investigation videos playlist, along with several other videos you might like and that I feel are worth watching. I'll be constantly adding to that playlist, by the way, as I run across new things.

Whenever you are confronting questions about the paranormal, it pays to be skeptical. A good healthy skepticism is the advantage of a logical mind. While it may be easier to just believe in everything, it's not always smarter. You can, if you choose, watch paranormal videos for just the entertainment. Many people do.

But, take this little nugget with you and ponder: any paranormal group, show, author, psychic medium, inventor, or religious individual who makes grandiose claims about CURING or EXORCISING or CLEANSING or ELIMINATING any kind of paranormal threat is more than likely full of it. And if you're experiencing a traumatic paranormal event, the worst thing you can possibly do is to be taken in by a charlatan--something I very much fear happened Friday night in St. Louis.

Whether intentional or not, Destination America, Bishop James Long, and Chip Coffey delivered a promise that they were patently incapable of keeping. There wasn't an Exorcism--Live! on TV Friday night. There was a parody of epic proportions--the kind of thing that sets back sincere, realistic paranormal investigations light years.