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Trouble in Tennessee: A Presidential Haunting

For several years, her ghost pinched, slapped, scolded and otherwise tormented a prominent Tennessee family in one of America`s best-known poltergeist cases.

The Legend

Adams, Tennessee, in 1817, was the site of one of the most well-known hauntings in American history. The haunting was so well known that it eventually caught the attention and then the involvement of a future president of the United States.

Word of the haunting soon reached Nashville. With a party of friends including Sam Houston, one of Nashville`s most famous citizens, General Andrew Jackson decided to leave his plantation The Hermitage, and travel by horse and carriage to Adams in order to investigate the accusations of a demonic entity terrorizing his good friend, John Bell and his family. The General, who had earned his tough reputation as an Indian fighter in many conflicts with Native Americans, was determined to confront the phenomenon and either expose it as a hoax or send the spirit away. Little did he know that the force would be too strong even for Old Hickory himself. Known as The Bell Witch, ” the strange and often violent poltergeist activity which provoked fear and curiosity in the small farming community has remained unexplained for nearly 200 years, and is the inspiration for many fictional ghost stories, including the recent film, The Blair Witch Project.
However, the facts of The Bell Witch case share little in common with the mythology that was created for The Blair Witch, except for the fact they both attracted a great deal of public interest. What makes The Bell witch more frightening is that, unlike The Blair Witch, the Bell Witch was real. One of the earliest accounts of The Bell Witch haunting was written in 1886 by historian Albert Virgil Goodpasture in his History of Tennessee. He wrote, in part: “A remarkable occurrence, which attracted wide-spread interest, was connected with the family of John Bell, who settled near what is now Adams Station sometime around 1804. So great was the excitement that people regularly came from hundreds of miles around to witness the manifestations of what was popularly known as the “Bell Witch.” This witch was supposed to be some spiritual being having the voice and attributes of a woman. It was invisible to the eye, yet it would hold conversation and even shake hands with certain individuals.”

A Closer Look

In October 2003, I flew from Orlando International airport to Nashville International. I then drove about 100 miles Northwest to the small community of Adams, Tennessee located in Robertson County. After arriving in Adams it did not take long for me to grasp how deeply ingrained the legend of the Bell Witch is in this small rural town. There were signs and plaques everywhere with historical information about the key players in the Bell Witch legend. The first place that I wanted to visit was a local tourist attraction, The Bell Witch Cave. I stopped for gas and while there, I had a chance to strike up a conversation with the young man working at the station. Why you wanna go there for? Ain`t nothing to see, they don`t let tourist get anywhere near the old Bell farm anymore, ” said Beason Lane.

The Bell Witch Cave can be found by turning right after the small Amoco station and taking Eden Road until you see the sign for the cave. Admission to the cave is only $7 per person and in my opinion it is well worth the cost.

Once my photographer and I arrived at the cave, he began taking a few pictures. While he was taking the pictures, I noticed a group of young school children hanging around the ticket office. One of the little girls asked me What are you taking pictures for, Lady? ” I told her that I was a reporter and that I was looking for the Bell Witch. She laughed and replied, Everyone knows all you gotta do is go in your bathroom at night, turn off the lights and face the mirror and say, I do not believe in the Bell Witch thirteen times and then she will appear. But, I don`t know why you wanta to do that though, everyone knows that you don`t wanta go around poking fun at old Kate Batts, nice Lady.”

Kate Batts was an old angry unfriendly neighbor of John Bell who believed that she had been cheated and treated unfairly by Bell in a land purchase. On her deathbed, she swore that she would haunt John Bell and his descendents until she was satisfied for the wrong that had been done to her.

cave2

Once in the cave, it pretty much seems like any other cave. The first thing that I noticed was an unusual rock formation on the cave wall. When you look at the formation, you notice that it looks a lot like a silhouette of a Halloween witch. The further we proceeded down the passage way of the cave, I noticed that the temperature seemed to be getting cooler, and however, I was certain that this was a result of moving deeper into the belly of the cave. But, I decided to take a reading with an EMF meter. EMF meters are used to determine if objects in a giving area are producing higher than normal magnetic fields. I was unable to detect any abnormality in the EMF readings. I also used a laser directed thermometer to check for any unusual temperature fluctuations. Again, nothing.

As we continued down the passage way, my photographer began to take random photographs on a digital camera. Toward the end of the corridor, one of the other guests on the tour noticed over my photographers shoulder that there seemed to be a strange green glow on the photograph but when we looked to the end of the corridor there was nothing there. So he began to take a few more pictures in the area and on every picture he took, there it was again, that greenish glow.

After we left the cave, we headed to the old Bell farm. I knew that it was going to be difficult to look around or to find anything there because the farm is now closed to the public and is owned by a private trust corporation.

The first thing we did was stash the car, grab our equipment and hike about a mile and a half to where the old Bell House once stood. It was about 5:45 p.m. when we arrived at the Bell property. My photographer and I waited until it got dark and then began to set up our equipment. We placed motion detectors around a two acre perimeter and then set digital sound recorders (DATS) in several of the trees. We didn`t want to attract any unwanted attention to ourselves so we were unable to use the lights on our cameras. The DATS were also motion sensitive. At about 2:45 a.m. all of the digital recorders simultaneously activated and began recording. However, none of the visual motion detectors were ever activated nor could we pick up any sound on the directional microphone. Something was definitely being recorded; we just were not sure what.

By now, after the green glow incident and motion detectors going off like crazy, my photographer began getting a little jumpy. I have to admit, I was starting to feel a little nervous myself. We then split up and walked the perimeter checking for EMF readings and manually tripping the outer perimeters motion detectors to make sure that they were in working condition. All of the motion sensors were working and there were no unusual EMF readings, so we grabbed our stuff and called it a night. Back at the hotel, we once again checked all of the equipment; again we determined that everything was in perfect working condition. We then replayed the recording of what we believed would be nothing more than white noise. To our astonishment we heard a clear and distinct sound of what appeared to be a baby nursing from its mother. This went on for more then 20 minutes.

The following day I consulted Brad Steiger, Author of Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits, and Haunted Places. Steiger stated that the Bell family as well as other people throughout the history of the occurrences were confronted by a sucking noise that seemed to fill the entire house. These people heard what sounded like the sucking noise of a baby being nursed, and lips smacking together. Several investigators of ghost phenomena have noted the peculiar sounds of psychic nursing “. Some researchers have noted that these haunting noises often signal the beginning of a particularly violent episode of disturbances. Sacheverell Sitwell wrote in his book, Poltergeists that such a being might be an embryonic phantasm ” that comes into existence on the borderlands, upon one frontier or the other, of human life. It is all things unholy, unhallowed, and not human.”

Talk of the Town

After a little more research, we headed into town and spoke to several local residents. People come here all the time looking for the Bell Witch. Mostly though all they find are t-shirts and ghost stories, ” said Erin Thompson.

“When I was sixteen years old, me and my girlfriend were walking though the old Batts cemetery. It used to be a popular place for the teenagers to sneak off to. On one particular night when my girlfriend and me snuck off to the old cemetery, we had been there about a half an hour and all of a sudden there was a strange smell in the air, like honeysuckles. The next thing we knew it felt like a cat had jumped from a tree and landed plum on the center of our faces, dug in and took off. We jumped up and started to run, we never saw a cat, but we both had fresh scratches on our faces and my girlfriend`s clothes smelled like honeysuckles, ” said Carl Langford.

After speaking with Mr. Langford and still feeling a little ambitious I went to check out a few more key locations that had stories of involvement with the Bell Witch legend. We checked out the Batts family cemetery land and the sight of Betsy Bell`s grave. However, there was nothing unusual in either location.

Things to Come?

For now, it seems that the Bell Witch legend still holds more secrets then answers. However, throughout the Bell Witch haunting, in between her torment and childish pranks it seems that she has also provided a window into the future on more than one occasion. Bell descendent, Dr. Charles Bailey Bell noted that the precognitive powers of the witch in a series of “wonderful things” and prophecies that the entity revealed to his grandfather, John Bell, Jr. According to Dr. Bell, the witch predicted the Civil War, the emancipation of the slaves, the acceleration of the United States as a world power, the two world wars (the date for World War II was off by only 4 years), and the destruction of our civilization by “rapidly expanding heat followed by a mighty explosion.” The final prediction the witch provided the world as we know it will end; the witch provided no date for this occurrence. Recently, after the train station bombings in Madrid Spain on March 11, 2004, a van that was used by the terrorist who orchestrated the bombings was discovered and inside the van was a copy of the quran and a video tape with a person of Middle Eastern descent saying that their plans for jihad were 90% complete and the black wind of death would soon be released upon America and it`s allies.

The Bell Witch legend is again becoming America`s most popular ghost story. The Bell Witch movie was just released in July, 2005 and you can check out trailers and historical information on the Bell Witch movie website. http://www.bellwitchthemovie.com/

If you have any interesting stories about Kate Batts please email them to judythpiazza@gmail.com.

For more information about Hope Banks http://hopebanks.com/

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