It’s easy to tell The Blackwood Witch is based on an actual recorded haunting, known as the Bell Witch. The story starts in 1817, when John Bell and his family were attacked and disturbed in their Tennessee home by a poltergeist. The ghost would move things around, talk to people, and slap and pinch the children. As the poltergeist grew more and more active, they realized it was a woman identified as a witch named Kate. The haunting seemed to focus on one of the Bell daughters, a girl named Betsy. Also noticed at the time of the haunting were strange animals around the property.
It’s worth noting the only real account of the haunting was written in 1894, long after anyone involved could give their story. Among the visitors to the home, it’s rumored Andrew Jackson made an appearance and talked to the ghost in question, though there doesn’t seem to be any contemporary proof of it. Both the house and the Bell Witch cave still stand, where anyone can take tours of it. You can visit the official website of the Bell Witch Cave here, which has a full version of the legend as well as information about tours and books on the subject. For a skeptic’s take on the story, I suggest the Monster Talk episode “Witch You Talking About?“.
The story was moved to Virginia for no reason at all. This story was more of a test than anything else. The truth is I, the author, spend a lot of time watching reality television ghost shows as well as the reenactments. My absolute favorites are Ghost Adventures and A Haunting. What I find, watching these shows, which I really do love, is an absolute frustration with modern ghost hunting. These days we rely on electromagnetic ghosts, assuming ghosts can affect electronic devices, can be recorded on digital recorders, but the amount of concrete proof this has provided is minimal at best. Even more so I’m often frustrated with modern day paranormal fiction. Each secret society vampire story is baffling to me in a world of Instagram and Snapchat. Modern technology is making it hard to write proper paranormal fiction.
So I took it back. It’s 1888. The modern era hasn’t begun yet. The frontier is basically won, but there’s a lot still out there. Myths and legend hide in every shadow, carried on the backs of immigrants, cultivated in the new earth of the nation.
The west was romanticized in its own time. In the 1840s P.T. Barnum had museums filled with Indian chiefs and dances, and in the 1850s dime novels gave the popular image of the cowboy. The Wild West show appeared in 1883, which recreated famous battles and had demonstrations from sharp shooters and wranglers. They created fantastic landscapes of brave, brash men and women who rode out fighting Indians and showed their skills gifted to them by their work.
The old west does have its charms. It’s an untamed frontier, lawless, where people make their own fortunes, and offers a wide variety of people and beliefs. It is a strange, unknown place.
It was also not unusual for people to be interested in the paranormal. Spiritualism as a belief sprung up around the 1840s, and in the wake of seances and communicating with the spirit world, people also investigated it. Henry Evans wrote about fraudulent mediums and magicians in the 1900s, and Hereward Carrington joined the Society of Psychical Research in 1907. Gabe and Violetta may be a little ahead of the times, but the interest has always been there.
This story is tailored something like a television show. I enjoy the serial format, and I think it helps cut away a lot of the boring travel between states and places. A lot of inspiration also comes from the show Supernatural. It’s sort of a modern western, at least the early seasons. Two brothers travel town to town, hunting monsters, solving problems. I’ve wanted to experiment with this serial format for a long time, and I think I’ve finally found a story to stick with.
So enjoy the stories of Gabe and Violetta, travelers through a strange land. There will be more notes in the future, along with the legends that go along with the monsters they fight.