Spirit’s legend lives on

Ann-Rickman Bell portrays a haunted vision in “Spirit: The Authentic Story of the Bell Witch,” which was performed this weekend in Adams, Tenn. Bell was among several descendants of the original Bell family who performed in the play. EMILY FOX/HERALD

Cristen Friddell

Lisa Jernigan, a lifelong resident of Adams, Tenn., said the town does nothing special to attract tourists during the Halloween season – because there’s no need to.

Adams, Tenn., which is about 60 miles from WKU, was home to John Bell. Legend has it that in 1820, John Bell became the only man to be murdered by a spirit in the U.S.

Jernigan lives across the street from the Bell farmhouse and cave.

“She brings them in,” she said referring to the Bell Witch, the spirit who is said to have haunted the Bell family about 200 years ago.

The legend

The Bell Witch story has been featured in many films, books and even a play called “SPIRIT: The authentic story of the Bell Witch” that is put on by locals.

One such book is a first-hand account of what happened to the Bells. It was written by Richard William Bell, a member of the family.

In 1817, the family began to see strange creatures outside their house and heard noises that sounded like gnawing on their bedposts at night, according to the book.

Over the next four years, the noises began escalating to what sounded like two dogs fighting and sounds of breathing and choking.

Bell said in the book that covers were pulled off the children at night, and an unseen force slapped their faces and pulled their hair.

Richard Bell said that Betsy Bell, his youngest sister, suffered the worst attacks.

He wrote that the spirit eventually began to speak in a human voice to the family and visitors.

The spirit told them her name was Kate, leading many to believe that the spirit had been sent by a neighbor, Kate Batts, who had had a quarrel with John Bell, the father of the Bell family, a couple of years earlier.

Over time, the spirit developed a personality – he wrote that she was compassionate and endearing to John Bell’s wife, Lucy, and abusive to Betsy Bell.

John Bell was the target of most of her wrath though, and she vowed to kill him.

In 1820, John Bell became ill and was bed-ridden.

Richard Bell wrote that on Dec. 19, the family returned to find his father unconscious with a strange bottle on his bedside table.

The spirit told the family that she had given John Bell “poison.”

John Bell died the next day.

His death is the only one in the history of the U.S. that is attributed to a spirit, according to the Robertson County Historical Society.

The cave today

To this day, the legend of the Bell Witch lives on, Jernigan said.

Visitors come to tour the Bell Witch cave located on the Bell farm, where the spirit supposedly still dwells.

Jernigan said that she has heard that cameras and other digital recording equipment have been known to malfunction in or around the cave.

“I know people who have gone in and taken pictures,” she said. “But when they came out, there were no pictures on their camera.”

Jernigan also told of an instance from her own childhood, when a teacher from her school went to the cave to film material for a class.

But to the teacher’s surprise, there was nothing on the film when she tried to play it for her students, she said.

The 2005 movie “An American Haunting,” with Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, James D’Arcy and Rachel Hurd-Wood, was based on the Bell Witch legend.

Jernigan said the movie attracted even more tourists, but locals were disappointed with the Hollywood interpretation.

The play “SPIRIT: The authentic story of the Bell Witch” was written and directed by David Alford.

The performance is at 7 p.m. from Oct. 28 to Oct. 30 at the open-air pavilion at Old Bell School.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for students, according to the play’s website.

The cave is open on Halloween, but visitors are warned against taking a stone from the inside of the cave, unless they want the Bell Witch to follow them home, Jernigan said.

Visit www.bellwitchcave.com for more information.