VALDOSTA — The streets of Valdosta are sure to be filled with faux ghosts for the Halloween holiday, haunting doorways in hopes of getting treats.
However, what about the ghosts that reside in town year round?
A popular tale of ghosts in Valdosta revolves around the Bell House. Through the years, this house has been known as the Bell House Bed and Breakfast and Vito’s.
Prior to these establishments, it was the home of an eccentric man who may or may not have ever moved out.
Dr. David S. Bell was far from a medical doctor but adopted the name as part of his medicine man persona.
During the Depression, he was the owner of a medicine-tent show. This show helped him to sell his “Miracle Cure,” an elixir that could “cure everything from kidney stones to impotency.”
In full Professor Marvel-esque getup, Bell would speak to crowds along with his assistant, Silas Green of New Orleans, in hopes of making a quick buck. Green wore a loin cloth, moccasins and Lakota Sioux war bonnet, showcasing him as an “Indian” and stating that the elixir was a miracle cure created by his tribe.
Bell and his assistant, known as “chief” to the crowds, booked shows throughout farming communities. They both knew better than to attempt these pitches in larger cities and Bell knew how to handle himself and was known to pay off a few sheriffs to avoid them looking too far into his show.
The 1930s brought about the Rustic Patio, a nightclub owned by Bell, where the unknown Ella Fitzgerald performed.
War time brought Bell’s brief work in real estate, but post-war he returned to his beloved cure-all schemes.
A pyramid scheme was developed to promote Bell’s “Re-Nu Tonic.” Bell was known to say “when you are gone, it will bring you back,” which cryptically fits with some beliefs that his spirit is at unrest.
His operation involved buying a bottle of tonic, sending a dollar to a name on a list and getting your name on a list to receive money. It is said that within his home, he had seven secretaries depositing money received from the chain letters into 30-gallon garbage cans. He would take a wheelbarrow full of money to the bank for deposit each day.
So much money flowed in, it caught the attention of the FBI which stationed an agent above the ceiling of the post office to watch the sorting of his mail. Eventually his operation was shut down, ending his involvement in the chain letter business.
The last venture known to be taken by Dr. Bell was a fortune-telling studio inside his home. It was said that in his Arabian-themed room, he dressed like the Sheik of Arabi and sat behind a crystal ball to let clients know what was in their future, for a fee of course.
This jack of all trades passed away at the age of 70 on Jan. 6, 1964, but many are led to believe that was not the end of his exciting life. His body lay inside his home on Ashley Street for two days awaiting his burial.
When the Bell House was leased by Robin Griffin and operated as a restaurant and guest rooms, many employees and guests reported strange sounds around the building.
Reports included hearing dogs barking and impressions on upstairs beds with no guests in those rooms.
While some were convinced of the supernatural, many wrote it off as mere sounds of an old home.
While Griffin never saw the ghost, she stated that some of her guests and workers had “close encounters” and were able to describe Dr. Bell “to a tee.”
These reported hauntings led a professional “ghostbuster” to visit the building.
In the 1990s, Dr. William Roll and some of his parapsychology students from the State University of West Georgia tested the home for paranormal activity.
The team used an electric field measurement device attached to a volt meter in search of unusually strong magnetic fields. A normal reading was considered to be two milligauss or less.
When the device was near the Magnolia Room, which was a dining room within the house, the numbers reached as high as 185.3. This reading was astronomically high as a row of three refrigerators only caused an electrical reading of 20 milligauss.
High readings were found within the Peach Room, which was one of the rooms where guests frequently reported odd experiences.
Roll suspected that these readings were caused by the house’s wiring versus any demonic or paranormal presence. However, he did feel that such strong magnetic fields could cause a number of strange effects on a person's mind, and even stated “these fields may also trigger a person’s psychic ability into operation, so that what you see, in fact, occurred in the past.”
A PSI, or Psycho Spiritual Investigation, session was held within the home by the visiting team. During this 90-minute session, Roll and his students imagined that Bell was in the room with them.
Bunny Carnahan, co-owner of the house, stated that during the session she felt a presence pressing down on her. She also reported that they lost power six times and that some students smelled cigar smoke during the session.
Roll’s final analysis of the home was “there are these strong magnetic fields, that there are these unusual effects and that they are quite explainable; not haunted in the popular sense of the word.”
Despite the fear among many employees, Griffin continued to operate her business after the visit and merely laughed saying, “We’re trying to get the ghost to pay his share of the utility bill.”
When the bed and breakfast eventually closed, the building was turned into Vito’s. Many ghostly stories still continued, including the moving of chairs, lights and sound cutting off and cold chills running throughout the rooms.
The Bell House is currently under renovation by Buddy Walker. Whether or not Dr. Bell is still haunting his former home is all up to the beliefs of the citizens of Valdosta.