A visit to the cave of the Bell Witch, America’s most documented haunting

When Baby Girl was about 12, I took her to Adams, Tennessee, to tour the Bell Witch Cave.

Most people in the south have heard of the Bell Witch, a 19th century poltergeist said to be most documented haunting in the history of the United States. The “witch” reportedly haunted the family of John Bell of Tennessee beginning in 1817.

Although the original farmhouse is gone, a cave that was once on the Bell property in Adams, Tennessee, is now open for tours. Located at 430 Keysburg Road, the cave is said to have been the site of some of the ghostly activities. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last tour beginning at 4 p.m., according to BellWitchCave.com, but be sure to call first to be sure. The number is 615-696-3055. Also on the property is a replica of the Bell cabin.

The legend of the Bell Witch

John Bell (1750-1820) was a prominent farmer in Robertson County, Tennessee, in a community then known as Red River, according to an account by author Pat Fitzhugh on bellwitch.org. John and Lucy Bell had nine children, including youngest daughter Betsy Bell, born in 1806.

It would be John and Betsy who bore the brunt of the Bell Witch haunting. It began when John Bell spotted a mysterious creature in the corn field with “the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit.” Soon after the sighting, the Bell children began hearing scratching noises and experiencing various disturbances, thought to be the result of a curse by a local woman with whom John had a property dispute, Kate Batts.

Fitzhugh wrote: “The encounters escalated, and the Bells’ youngest daughter, Betsy, began experiencing brutal encounters with the invisible entity. It would pull her hair and slap her relentlessly, often leaving welts and hand prints on her face and body.”

In 1820, John Bell died, becoming, Fitzhugh said, “the only person in history whose death was attributed to the doings of a Spirit.” Fitzhugh said the haunting of the Bell family “involved real people and is substantiated by eyewitness accounts, affidavits and manuscripts penned by those who experienced the haunting first hand. This distinction led Dr. Nandor Fodor, a noted researcher and psychologist, to label the Bell Witch legend as ‘America’s Greatest Ghost Story.’”

The 2005 film “An American Haunting,” starring Sissy Spacek and Donald Sutherland, was based on the legend but it was panned by critics when it included the unsubstantiated aspect of child abuse by John Bell.

I couldn’t find my photos from all those years ago but here are some from BellWitchCave.com.

Entrance to the reportedly haunted cave of the Bell Witch in Adams, Tenn. (Source: BellWitchCave.com)
Inside the reportedly haunted cave of the Bell Witch in Adams, Tenn. (Source: BellWitchCave.com)
The falls inside the Bell Witch Cave in 1909. (Source: BellWitchCave.com)
Historic marker about the Bell Witch in Adams, Tenn. (Source: BellWitchCave.com)
Memorial to Betsy Bell in Adams. She is buried in Mississippi, where she moved after she married. (Source: BellWitchCave.com)


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