The Legend of the Bell Witch
One of the spookiest places that many folks in the south eastern US would immediately put in their top three spooky places in the south is certainly going to be Adams, Tennessee. What? Never heard of it? How about the Bell Witch? If that rings a bell (see what I did there?), you are not alone. After the blockbuster movie of the same name, most people are at least familiar with the legend.
The Bell Witch began tormenting the family at their family home, located in Adams, in the early 1800’s. She tormented the family with eerie noises, and eventually brutal pummelings. Over the years she was particularly focused on Betsy Bell, the daughter of John, Bell family head. The witch didn’t relent on her brutality of Betsy until she finally consented to break off her engagement to her fiancée, Joshua Gardner.
The witch terrorized the family for four long years, eventually killing John Bell, Sr. via poisoning only to interrupt his funeral with drinking songs. The spirit vowed to return to in seven years, eventually finding Lucy, another daughter and her sons and inflicting them with similar punishment which was largely ignored. After a period of time, the witch was reported to leave.
The witch was reported to live in a cave on the property where Native American tribes have been verified to have traveled, harvest flint and other materials from the caves, and utilized the bluff above the cave as a large burial mound. This mound was disturbed, leading to a very unhappy spirit looking to exact revenge for the disturbance.
Getting to the Bell Family Farm
The trip to Adams, Tennessee is an easy drive from Nashville. The trip took right at an hour from our hotel in the down town area. We GPS-ed it and found the farm quite easily. It is absolutely out in the middle of nowhere (as most good farms are), so don’t let that fool you. Keep in mind the setting is rural, and the community is rather small. Be respectful.
Cave and Farm Tour
During the summer months tours are offered most days during the week. The property has hourly tours to the cave itself, which is a short, easy hike from the gift shop and ticket counter. Also available for tour is the family home. It is still located on the property and accessible as an add on to the tour.
We took the tour on a hot and steamy summer day – which is absolutely inevitable for each and every day in the South during the summer. The short hike to the cave is down a natural path. Wear walking shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. If it has been raining, expect the clay to be a little slick. There are some nice views of the Red River as you walk. The guide will take you to the entrance of the cave and give you an overview of the legend.
The entrance to the cave is locked at night, so no unexpected visits are going to be available for the adventurous. You will walk though the rocky cave – keep in mind that there is water flowing – the rocks can be slick. Watch where you step and take your time. Stay with the group.
Inside the cave, the guide will point out areas where the pitch from torches of Native American foragers has been verified. These are near outcroppings of rock that were used as spearheads and arrow heads. Local anthropologists from a nearby University were able to identify these markings on the walls and identify the areas where the most rock was harvested for blades and points. A burial was moved from deeper in the cave system to the front during the mid nineteenth century and replicated for viewing. Be sure to get a good photo of a formation named for the cave’s namesake – it is actually a little trippy.
The formations in the cave are really amazing and beautiful. These mineral deposits formed over thousands of years of water dripping as it filtered through the cave from above. Above the cave is an extensive burial mound that has been partially excavated (largely not by professionals decades ago), and is now protected. There is no access to this region on the tours, but the guides will point out where the burials are.
All in all, the tour did not disappoint. We did not experience anything paranormal (but honestly, I wouldn’t know what I was looking for if it were there), but the whole cave is a tad creepy, just knowing why we were there, and all of the bodies above you. The guides played some recordings of disembodied voices captured by sanctioned investigations which were more than a little creepy.
Various articles have appeared over the last couple hundred years since the start of the mysterious hauntings. None have been proven to be the single authority, but they are quite amusing to read. My favorites are the ones that include a visit to the farm by Andrew Jackson, who vowed never to return after the one night he spent at the farm.
Tours are scheduled regularly, and if you miss one, you have a little wait on your hands before the next one starts – and the signal can be spotty. Have a rest on the porch, drink some water and stay hydrated, and take in the beauty that is all around you. Even in the summer heat, the green grasses and beautiful farm land are a treat.
Looking for a creepy but fun activity to do at home? Check out some Halloween theme nights that you can do with the fam! Don’t want to engage with too many “spirits” this Halloween? Check out our family friendly mock tails here. Another fun haunted and historic location is St. Augustine, Fl. Check that post out here!
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