How did I get ATTRACTED to the Bell Witch Saga?
It all begins with the answer … wait for it … here it comes … It’s a long story. How many times have you responded to a question with those words?
When did you first get ATTRACTED to the Bell Witch Saga?
That’s an easier question. It all began in 1990. In 1989, I earned my masters with a specialization in storytelling at ETSU (East Tennessee State University in Johnson City , TN ). My former storytelling professor had decided to begin a Tennessee Storytelling Journal centered around the Halloween theme. She was also going to hold her first Halloween Storyfest at the ETSU 900-seat auditorium. She requested that I research the story of the Bell Witch, write it up as a story to be featured in her journal, and then perform that story at her evening of storytelling.
I must admit that I was not very familiar with that story. Other than Sixth Sense, I don’t watch scary movies. Even though I love reading, hearing, and telling ghost stories, I don’t even read many scary books. Plus, from 4th grade on, I grew up in East Tennessee. That story was not a common topic of conversation among the people I knew.
On the other hand, if I had grown up in Middle Tennessee, I probably would have been familiar with that story from infancy onward. For those of you who are not familiar with this widely-documented ghost story, the family of John and Lucy Bell was haunted by a poltergeist from 1817 to 1821. Even Andrew Jackson was reported to have had a run-in with this spirit most commonly called Kate or the Bell Witch.
I went to some of my professional storytelling friends to ask them what they knew of the tale. A Knoxville, Tennessee, storyteller told me that she had performed the story for years. During performances, she frequently experienced lights flickering or going out and her sound system malfunctioning. Twice, a psychic in the audience told her that she saw a ghostly figure looming over her during the performance. A second storyteller reported feeling an invisible hand pulling on her arm during her rendition of the Bell Witch. A third storyteller said, “I heard that anybody who tells the story of the Bell Witch is cursed.”
What was my reaction? “I want my Mommy!” From long years of a big brother who had me totally convinced that the boogie man hung out under my bed, in my closet, and down in the basement when I had to retrieve a canned vegetable for my mother, I do NOT fancy scary sounds and things that go bump in the night.
Talk about the “Fear Factor”!!! Heart pumping hard, my Fight-or-Flight adrenaline rush instinct highly activated, I gingerly entered the Kingsport Public Library to begin my research on the infamous story of the Bell Witch.
The Kingsport Public Library in Tennessee is lovely now, inside and out. But in 1990, it was sadly in need of renovations. With visions of the “Amityville Horror” dancing through my head, I approached the front desk. I found out that there were no “Bell Witch” books available for check-out. Instead, I had to go to the archive section of the library to read the existing books on the subject. A helpful librarian took me upstairs via the creaky-sounding elevator and showed me the rather dark, dank room housing all their archival material. Taking the four books to a table, I sat down and began to read.
These are the books I studied: The Bell Witch At Adams by Gladys Barr, The Secrets Of The Bell Witch by J. M. Hockenheimer, An Authenticated History Of The Famous Bell Witch by M. V. Ingram, and A Mysterious Spirit by Charles Bailey Bell.
Even though I was alone for most of the time, the hairs on the back of my neck would raise occasionally as I felt some kind of dark-feeling presence with me. Through a filter of fear, I found this all very unnerving. I also found the story details quite disturbing. According to the archives, John Bell was murdered by the poltergeist and his teenage daughter, Betsy Bell, was tortured until she agreed to end her engagement to the love of her life, Joshua Gardner.
Over the course of a few days, I finished reading all the available materials on the subject. I almost literally wrote the story at arm’s length. I wrote the story from the point-of-view of Betsy Bell, the teenage daughter, and found the whole experience quite distasteful. I handed this tale to the storytelling professor for inclusion in her Tennessee Storytelling Journal; however, I refused to perform such a depressing story at the festival. Instead, I told a wonderful fiction tale by Frances Caffrey called “Black Bubblegum.”
Then I swiped my hands together in a dismissive fashion as I emphatically declared, “I will NEVER have anything to do with the story of the Bell Witch again.”
What is it they say? Never say never!
Tune in to my next blog as my Bell Witch Saga continues.
Thanks so much! Have a wonderful rest of the week!
Best Wishes to you all,
Author of “The Bell Witch Unveiled At Last!
The True Story Of A Poltergeist”