Famous Supernatural Events in 19th Century America

Lisa R. Parker

Supernatural or paranormal events have long been a newsworthy topic, attracting the attention of believers and skeptics alike. It seems that when anything seemingly unexplainable happens, especially when mysterious circumstances like ghosts are involved, it isn’t long before neighbors start talking, newspaper articles begin popping up, and soon enough the story has become something of a legend. Over the years, these stories become more and more embellished, and they are soon part of a community’s lore. There are numerous fantastic examples of these supernatural tales, and following is an overview of three of the most well-known.

The Bell Witch – One of the most famous hauntings in America occurred in what is now Adams, Tennessee, on the land that was owned by John Bell in the early 1800s. The tale begins in 1817 when John, a farmer, was working in one of his cornfields and spotted a bizarre looking animal. The creature appeared to have a dog’s body with a rabbit’s head, and John wasted no time in trying to shoot the thing. After several shots, the animal simply vanished, and John returned to his home. That evening, a series of loud banging sounds began, as if something were beating on the outside of the home. John and his sons went to inspect the noises and found nothing amiss, but this was only the beginning of the bizarre and terrifying events that the family would suffer. Before long, the Bell children began experiencing strange sounds in their bedrooms, covers being yanked off them at night, and even painful pinching and slapping. Betsy Bell was the main recipient of these unwelcome events, but the whole family was being traumatized as well. Faint whispers, laughing, and crying sounds were also occurring, and soon John Bell was forced to tell his close friend and neighbor about the strange happenings. News of the haunting began to spread, and people as far away as Nashville began to take interest in what had begun to be called The Bell Witch. As the years passed, the entity’s antics did not cease; rather, they became more frequent and severe. Betsy continued to endure the physical abuse of the Witch, and it wasn’t until John Bell’s death in December 1820 that the events apparently began to die down. Bell family descendants have reported the return of the spirit on a few occasions, and to this day, people in the area claim mysterious things still go on around the old Bell place.

The Lemp Mansion – One of St. Louis’s finest homes from the 19th century is the Lemp Mansion, located right in the heart of the city. The home was built in the 1860s by brewing tycoon Johann “Adam” Lemp, who became world-famous for his lagers. Lemp and his sons amassed a fortune operating their brewery that covered five city-blocks, and were well-known in St. Louis for their wealth and power. With so much success in the brewery, William Lemp, Sr., son of Adam, built the 33-room mansion that became the family home for all the Lemps. Problems began for the family in 1901 when William’s favorite son died quite suddenly from health issues, and only continued for the Lemps with scandalous divorces, dwindling success in the brewery, Prohibition beginning in 1920, and finally, multiple suicides. By 1922, three of Adam Lemp’s children had committed suicide, with another son doing the same in 1949. With the brewery permanently closed and eventually sold, and the family name so tarnished, the remaining Lemp descendants lived rather quiet lives. But the mansion, it seems, was anything but quiet. Paranormal events first began to be reported in the 1950s following the fourth suicide. At that time, the home had been purchased and transformed into a boarding house. But with the strange sounds and eerie footsteps echoing through the house, tenants didn’t stay long. In 1975, the Lemp mansion was sold to Dick Pointer and turned into a restaurant and inn. Patrons of the place have reported mysterious sounds, the feeling of being watched, and objects moving of their own accord. Though the Lemps have long been gone from the mansion, it seems that their absence is only in the physical sense, and that their spirits linger, unable to leave the family home.

The Fox Sisters – Sisters Leah, Kate, and Margaret became undoubtedly three of the most famous mediums in America when they began receiving messages from the dead in 1848. Living in a house with a reputation for being haunted, it wasn’t too far of a stretch for people to believe that the young girls had been selected by a spirit to serve as links between the living and the dead. Through a series of knocks, a code was developed where the girls asked yes-no questions and the spirit answered with a certain number of knocks. These communications led to the discovery that the ghost was that of a murdered man who had been buried in their cellar. Word quickly spread, and soon the girls were famous, traveling and giving public séances. As interest in Spiritualism escalated, so too did the skepticism surrounding the Fox sisters, with critics loudly proclaiming that they were frauds. It wasn’t until many years later that Kate and Margaret confessed that they were responsible for the knocking sounds, producing them through the cracking of the joints of their toes. Though they admitted to duping the public about their spiritual communication, their story furthered a growing interest in the supernatural and remains one of the most well-known examples of paranormal activity today.

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