Colin Dickey gives a detailed account of the legend of the Bell witch of Tennessee, before questioning why this story has lingered throughout the centuries — finding the answer in the anxieties that define American culture. A scary tale and a cultural analysis in one, what more could you want?

This complexity could be why we can’t look away from the story of the Bell Witch amid all the other ghost stories that drift in and out of the American consciousness. Storytellers look for explanation, resolution, clarity. The only clarity in the story of the Bell Witch and its endurance over more than a century is the way it taps into white, male American anxieties, anxieties that are of culture’s own making.