Unlike The Bethbirei Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg, TN, whose local residents strongly discourage visitors to the haunted site, Adams, TN is more commercialized around the haunting story that puts them on the map. The Bell Witch. It’s the story of the Bell family, who migrated from North Carolina to the area that was then called Red River, TN (just northwest of Nashville) in the early 1800’s. They were haunted by a witch’s curse of a tormenting spirit.
They say John Bell had a land ownership dispute with Kate Batts, a woman rumored to be a witch. Immediately after she cursed Bell, he saw a wolf/dog/rabbit/manbearpig animal on his property. Later the the family starting hearing scratching sounds outside the house, then inside the house, then eventually, there was an invisible entity that would taunt anyone in the house. It would move things, take covers away, pull hair, slap the kids, and things of that sort. There were supposedly many people who witnessed this when they would be at the Bell home over a 4 year period.
Another part/version of the story says that Kate Batts (and/or the ghostly entity) wasn’t happy with Betsy Bell’s (one of the several children of John and Lucy Bell) relationship with Joshua Gardner, and she threatened then to break things off and would go above and beyond her normal tormenting when the couple were together.
One movie adaptation of story, “An American Haunting”, staring Sissy Spacek and Donald Sutherland as John Bell, suggests that the real tormentor was John Bell himself and that he was sexually assulting his daugher Betsy.
One of the more popular notes about the story is that General Andrew Jackson, before he became President, heard of the Bell Witch stories, and he traveled to Tennessee to investigate. Supposedly, he and his posse had a first-hand encounter with the entity and basically ran off, saying he would rather fight the British Army than deal with the Bell Witch.
If you want the entire story with all the juicy details, this is the main website for The Bell Witch. I would also recommend this blog that presents an argument against the stories of The Bell Witch to be fact.
For as long as I lived in Tennessee, I surprisingly never visited Adams while I lived there. I think I had it in my head that Adams was way further from where I lived that it actually is. So, this last time we were in town to visit family, we decided to take the short road trip. Recommendation number one is do all of your research before you go there! I don’t mean history of the Bell Witch research. I mean, find out what you can and can’t see when/where/and for how much. First of all, there’s not much to see of the original property or home or anything of the Bell family, really. There are a couple sites, like the old schoolhouse where the Bell kids attended, but even that doesn’t look all that old or amusing. There’s a monument set up for the Bell family at Bellwood Cemetery, but that’s not where they are buried. My understanding is that the original property, including grave sites, are private property and not open to the public. The home is no longer standing. The best you can find is of another small cabin that one of the Bell descendants helped build, but none of the Bells ever lived in it.
The best place to check out if you do go to Adams is the Bell Witch Cave. It doesn’t really have any significance beyond the Bell children playing in in it, but it’s still a big spooky cave, so it’s cool. And the people who run it will hype it up pretty well. But don’t get confused when you see the cave and cabin tour and are initially led to believe that the cabin is the Bell home. It’s not. It’s just a cabin that contains some of the family’s possessions. I didn’t even take the cabin tour after I learned that it wasn’t the real home, but that’s mostly because the man who runs the operation is rude and lacking southern hospitality in his customer service.
(Warning: This is my “visitor beware” rant, but I want to make sure you are better prepared than I was when I went.)
We actually went to Adams two days in a row. The first day we went was the Friday before Memorial Day. To our disappointment, we found out that the cave wasn’t open that day. Their website now says “by appointment only”, but there were no clear hours posted at the time, so we went in the middle of the afternoon, assuming it would be open. If it’s raining, though, forget it. The cave floods. Anyway, so we toured the rest of the town, including the school house, and then we came back the next day to try the cave tour again. As we pulled in the driveway for the tour site, the man running the “gift shop” started yelling for us to hurry because a tour had already started and maybe we could catch up. It was such a rushed, frantic situation, I didn’t get a chance to ask questions about what we were even paying for, what the tour would involve, and what our options were for touring. I just didn’t want to miss it two days in a row, so we jumped when the man said jump. I was at least under the impression that we were paying for a tour of the cave and cabin that was right behind the gift shop. Oh, and the man yelled at me for carrying my camera into the gift shop. It’s not even a shop, it’s a counter with some t-shirts and homemade jelly for sale. But I guess because he has photos hanging of all the real sites that they won’t show you in person, they don’t want you to take a picture of their pictures or something. I don’t know, but the guy was kind of mean about it. We were the only two people standing there, and I just had my camera around my neck. I’m like, “I’m not taking any pictures in here”, and he snapped, “The sign says NO CAMERAS”. Okay, dude, chill. Anyway, so we ran off down the trail into the woods to catch up with the group. By the time we joined, the man’s wife, who gives the tour and was very pleasant, had already told the story of the significance of the cave. This sucked, because that was the whole reason I wanted to go on the tour, to know what the cave has to do with the witch or ghost or whatever. The tour itself was okay. It’s a lot bigger than I expected. It’s not just some dent in the side of a mountain. It’s dark and cold and wet. Expect your feet to get wet if you go. At times, you’ll practically crawl through narrow openings, and other times, you’ll be in spaces that look like large rooms. Lights have been added throughout the cave for safety. The wife told us some short stories of the Bell children playing in the cave, and how the spirit actually saved one of the children who was stuck in a narrow hole. There’s also a random old burial site that dates back before the Bell Witch time. Her stories were fun, but who knows if there’s any truth to them. Anyway, once that tour was done, it was time for the cabin tour. But as we were headed back that way, we were told that we only paid for the cave tour and it would cost more for the cabin tour, too. That would have been $22 each to take both tours. Whatever, it’s not Six Flags, people! The best is when the dude super snapped when I tried to take a photo of the cabin from a distance. You know, there’s not clear statement about what we can and can’t photograph, and there was no clarification of what we were paying for. But fine, so you’ve got rules and you have to earn a living. Fine, but I think they should be more clear about things and perhaps a little friendlier about it. I would have paid for the cabin tour, but I couldn’t deal with the dude anymore.
So, here are the photos from my trip(s) to Adams, Tennessee to check out The Bell Witch. I did I what I could with what I had to work with to make them look a little cooler than they actually appear. The park area across from the school house was kind of cool, and it was spooky to explore through the woods.