DOES THE BELL WITCH STILL HAUNT ADAMS?
by Tennessee Traveler
Taken from Democrat-Union, Lawrenceburg, Tennessee page 16, Thursday, August 3, 1978
What better way to get your girl to snuggle up to you than to take her to a haunted cave. That may have been the rationale for one young man who visited the Bell Witch cave eight times in one summer. On the eighth visit, he had just started on his way to the cave when he remembered something in his car. As he turned back, he could see something written on his windshield in two tone, perfect letters. As he got nearer, he made out the words: 'DO NOT COME BACK ANYMORE'. He knew no one had been near the car, and no one would have had time to write the message if they had. Needless to say, he left and has not been seen again.
The phenomenon of the Bell-Witch has been alive in Adams, Tennessee in Robertson County for more than 150 years. Folks in that sleepy community still sit on their front porches and swap Bell Witch tales, stories of unexplained happenings to their great-grandfathers or maybe even to themselves.
It all began in the early 19th century with John Bell and his family. The Bells, one of Tennessee's earliest families, had moved from North Carolina to a 1,000 acre farm near Nashville. Mr. Bell was a prominent citizen, and he prospered rapidly in his new Tennessee home. The first foreboding hint of trouble came in 1817, when he saw a strange black animal similar to a dog in his cornfield. Shortly afterwards, unexplained knocking sounds were heard all over the house. It wasn't long before the witch began talking to the family before, during and after her various pranks. She claimed to be the spirit of Kate Batts, an eccentric neighbor of the Bells. The question of who the spirit was is still up in the air.
The tale of these occurrences spread rapidly, and General Andrew Jackson traveled from Nashville to Adams to investigate. According to his story, he was nearing the Bell farm when the wheels of his wagon became locked, and no amount of effort from his men would budge his vehicle from resting on flat, dry land. Soon a sharp, metallic voice was heard from the direction of some bushes, "All right, General, let the wagon move on. I will see you again tonight." She kept her word; the witch was out in full force, pinching and slapping Betsy Bell, pulling covers off Jackson's men and tearing down their tents. When asked about the visit after his return to the Hermitage, Jackson said, "By the Eternal, I saw nothing, but I heard enough to convince me that I'd rather fight the British than to deal with this torment they call the Bell Witch."
John Bell and his daughter Betsy were the principal targets for the witch's antics. Betsy would experience sensations that felt like pins were being stuck in her. The witch would slap her; witnesses could hear the smacking sound and see the red mark develop on the side of Betsy's face.
The witch vowed to taunt the family until John Bell was dead and in 1820, his death was attributed directly to the witch. According to the traditional tale, John became very ill. A strange vial of medicine that no one had seen before was found on his bedside table, one-half empty. The strange smell of the medicine was detected on John's mouth even though he had been unconscious, and none of the family had administered the drug. To test it, they gave the remainder of the vial to the cat which immediately went into convulsions and died. John Bell soon followed. With her purpose fulfilled, the witch left, vowing to return in seven years, which she did, stayed a short while and left.
The Kate Batts stories abound throughout Middle Tennessee. Her pranks of a century and a half ago are numerous and carefully documented in several books. However, the legend by no means stops there.
Adams seems to be the center for unexplained events and bizarre coincidences. Many of the later day tales focus on the Bell Witch cave, located on the Red River and part of the original tract. W. M. Eden, current owner of the cave which can be toured for a nominal fee, has an endless number of stories about things happening to him and people visiting the cave. It's not uncommon for cave visitors to have difficulties starting their cars after their tour or to discover that pictures taken while inside the cave would not develop. I, personally, had no difficulty starting my car, but half of my cave pictures turned out completely black.
One of the best porch stories occurred near the cave. There is a small spring that runs through the cave to the outside some 15 feet and then makes a 20 foot drop into a pool running into the Red River. It seems that the waterfall was used as a Saturday night shower years ago by the local men and their sons. One day a man was down there washing away the week's worth ol toil and asked his son to run back to the house for the soap he had fergotten. Before the boy could turn to do this errand, a bar of soap rolled down the bluff to the bathing man. No doubt the shower was quickly terminated.
In spite of, or maybe because of, the tales, the cave is a spelunker's dream. At places the walls seem to be perfectly straight and perpendicular to the floor, almost as if they were chisled out. Stalactites and stalagmites of all shapes and sizes are scattered throughout. About 30 feet into the cave is a large room where seances are often held. Some football players from Vanderbilt were holding a seance one night, and three of them fell to the floor of the cave and could not get up. Several friends tried to help them up but to no avail. Suddenly, as if a heavy weight had been lifted, they were freed. In an earlier year, the room was reportedly used for Indian burials and rituals. The skeleton of an Indian was found in the cave, and one can still be seen there.
If you don't believe in spooks, visit the Adams area anyway. Should the witch decide not to greet you with her tricks, the trip still will not be wasted. The northern Middle Tennessee area includes beautiful rural countryside where the colorful, clean vista gently rolls northward to the Kentucky border. In the fall the landscape is sprinkled with smoking barns where dark fire tobacco, indigenous to the area, is being cured. Adams is the home of the Red River Baptist Church, the first church founded west of the Cumberland Mountains.
Old time superstitions have just about died out in even rural Tennessee, but you won't find many people who will verbally admit to not believing in Adam's Bell Witch.
For more information contact the Robertson County Chamber of Commerce in Springfield or the Department of Tourist Development, 505 Fesslers Lane, Nashville, Tennessee 37210.