The most spiritual events and legends of 19th century


The “Bell Witch” terrorized family and frightened the fearless Andrew Jackson

A malicious spirit first appeared on the farm of the Bell family in northern Tennesse in 1817. The spirit was persistent and nasty, so much so that it was credited with actually killing the patriarch of the Bell family.

The weird events began in 1817 when a farmer, John Bell, saw a strange creature hunched down in a corn row. Bell assumed he was looking at some unknown type of large dog. The beast stared at Bell, who fired a gun at it. The animal ran off.

A few days later another family member spotted a bird on a fence post. He wanted to shoot at what he thought was a turkey, and was startled when the bird took off, flying over him and revealing that it was an extraordinarily large animal.

Other sightings of weird animals continued, with the strange black dog often showing up. And then peculiar noises began in the Bell house late at night. When lamps were lit the noises would stop.

John Bell began to be afflicted with odd symptoms, such as the occasional swelling of his tongue which made it impossible for him to eat. He finally told a friend about the strange events on his farm, and his friend and his wife came to investigate. As the visitors slept at the Bell farm the spirit came into their room and pulled the covers from their bed.

According to legend, the haunting spirit continued making noises at night, and finally began to speak to the family in a strange voice. The spirit, which was given the name Kate, would argue with family members, though it was said to be friendly to some of them.

A book was published about the Bell Witch in the late 1800s claimed that some locals believed the spirit was benevolent and was sent to help the family. But the spirit began to show a violent and malicious side.

According to some versions of the story, the Bell Witch would stick pins in family members and throw them violently to the ground. And John Bell was attacked and beaten one day by an invisible foe.

The fame of the spirit grew in Tennessee, and supposedly Andrew Jackson, who was not yet president but was revered as a fearless war hero, heard of the weird events and came to put an end to it. The Bell Witch greeted his arrival with a great commotion, throwing dishes at Jackson and not letting anyone at the farm sleep that night. Jackson supposedly said he’d “rather fight the British again” than face the Bell Witch and departed the farm quickly the next morning.

In 1820, just three years after the spirit arrived at the Bell farm, John Bell was found quite ill, next to a vial of some strange liquid. He soon died, apparently poisoned. His family members gave some of the liquid to a cat, which also died. His family believed the spirit had forced Bell to drink the poison.

The Bell Witch apparently left the farm after John Bell’s death, though some people report strange happenings in the vicinity to this day.

seancebwThe Fox Sisters

Maggie and Kate Fox, two young sisters in a village in western New York State, began to hear noises supposedly caused by spirit visitors in the spring of 1848. Within a few years the girls were nationally known and “spiritualism” was sweeping the nation.

The incidents in Hydesville, New York, began when the family of John Fox, a blacksmith, started to hear weird noises in the old house they had bought. The bizarre rapping in the walls seemed to focus on the bedrooms of young Maggie and Kate. The girls challenged the “spirit” to communicate with them.

According to Maggie and Kate, the spirit was that of a traveling peddler who had been murdered on the premises years earlier. The dead peddler kept communicating with the girls, and before long other spirits joined in.

The story about the Fox sister and their connection to the spirit world spread into the community. The sisters appeared in a theater in Rochester, New York, and charged admission for a demonstration of their communications with spirits. These events became known as the “Rochester rappings” or “Rochester knockings.”

houdini_lincoln_smallAbraham Lincoln saw a vision in a mirror

On election night 1860 Abraham Lincoln returned home after receiving good news over the telegraph and celebrating with friends. Exhausted, he collapsed on a sofa. When he awoke in the morning he had a strange vision which would later prey on his mind.

One of his assistants recounted Lincoln’s telling of what happened in an article published in Harper’s Monthly magazine in July 1865, a few months after Lincoln’s death.

Lincoln recalled glancing across the room at a looking glass on a bureau. “Looking in that glass, I saw myself reflected, nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed, had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished.

“On lying down again, I saw it a second time — plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler, say five shades, than the other. I got up and the thing melted away, and I went off and, in the excitement of the hour, forgot all about it — nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up, and give me a little pang, as though something uncomfortable had happened.”

Lincoln tried to repeat the “optical illusion,” but was unable to replicate it. According to people who worked with Lincoln during his presidency, the weird vision stuck in his mind to the point where he tried to reproduce the circumstances in the White House, but couldn’t.

When Lincoln told his wife about the weird thing he’d seen in the mirror, Mary Lincoln had a dire interpretation. As Lincoln told the story, “She thought it was ‘a sign’ that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term.”

Years after seeing the spooky vision of himself and a his pale double in the mirror, Lincoln had a nightmare in which he visited the lower level of the White House, which was decorated for a funeral. He asked whose funeral, and was told the president had been murdered. Within weeks Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater.

ETtrainwreck4A decapitated train conductor

One famous ghost train which used to appear in the American Midwest was apparently an apparition of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train. Some witnesses said the train was draped in black, as Lincoln’s had been, but it was manned by skeletons.

Railroading in the 19th century could be dangerous, and dramatic accidents led to some chilling ghost stories, such as the tale of the headless conductor.

As the legend goes, one dark and foggy night in 1867, a railroad conductor of the Atlantic Coast Railroad named Joe Baldwin stepped between two cars of a parked train at Maco, North Carolina. Before he could complete his dangerous task of coupling the cars together, the train suddenly moved and poor Joe Baldwin was decapitated.

In one version of the story, Joe Baldwin’s last act was to swing a lantern to warn other people to keep their distance from the shifting cars.

In the weeks following the accident people began seeing a lantern — but no man — moving along the nearby tracks. Witnesses said the lantern hovered above the ground about three feet, and bobbed as if being held by someone looking for something.

The eerie sight, according to veteran railroaders, was the dead conductor, Joe Baldwin, looking for his head.

The lantern sightings kept appearing on dark nights, and engineers of oncoming trains would see the light and bring their locomotives to a stop, thinking they were seeing the light of an oncoming train.

Sometimes people said they saw two lanterns, which were said to be Joe’s head and body, vainly looking for each other for all eternity.

The spooky sightings became known as “The Maco Lights.” According to legend, in the late 1880s President Grover Cleveland passed through the area and heard the story. When he returned to Washington he began regaling people with the tale of Joe Baldwin and his lantern. The story spread and became a popular legend.

Reports of the “Maco Lights” continued well into the 20th century, with the last sighting said to be in 1977.

Rescue masks


A pair of early rescue masks dates from between the mid-1800s and WWI.The black leather helmet on the left is labeled “Respirations Apparat” by “G.B.Konic Altona,” and was made in Hamburg, Germany. The brass, three-quarter face mask to its right was made in Paris by J. Mandet. This type of breathing mask had a very simple apparatus, allowing only a short range of operation. When used, air would be forced into the helmet through no more than 13 meters of flexible tubing by means of a bellows operated remotely from the outside. Both of these masks have mica lenses to help protect the eyes from heat. One well-known 19th-century manufacturer was named Vajen-Bader”.