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FERRIER FILES: Family member shares unknown, haunted side of Tennessee Bell Witch story


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The Tennessee Bell Witch is probably one of the most famous ghost stories across the country. Why is it so well known? Maybe because it is the only ghost claimed to have been seen by a US President, or because there have been more than a dozen eyewitness accounts, including two well-respected ministers.

Despite around 30 books, movies and specials produced on the subject, there are still unknown aspects of the story.

Austin and Bell is the oldest funeral home in the state of Tennessee that dates back to 1842. That's during the days of the horse drawn hearse when the family bought funeral horses from Jack Daniels.

But as important as the family business history is to some, none of it compares to the family's true claim to fame, the Bell Witch.

John Bell was allegedly haunted and murdered by the Bell Witch in 1820. Stories suggest the ghost beat and berated his daughter Betsy for years.

“There is evidence historically that this was not told just by one person it was told by a lot of people in the community that witnessed it, and that is powerful,” said Danny Proctor, a local who is playing John Bell this year in the Bell Witch play entitled “Spirit.”

The role is usually played by Bob Bell, the 5th great grandson of John Bell.

“This is where the entire story took place, this is a coveted place to come, but people are just not allowed to come here,” said Bob Bell standing in a corn field that used to be the site of the Bell Family home in 1820.

The story is so popular that Bob Bell has gone to great lengths to preserve the family history. While there is a large Bell Witch monument in Adams, Tennessee. Bell said that's not where John Bell is buried. The location, a secret.

“We let it grow up on purpose, so people can't find it, " Bell said. "You can be 20 feet from his grave, and you can't find it."

Visitors can see the Bell Witch story played out every October in Adams. The play called Spirit is based on diaries, claimed to be eyewitness accounts of the Bell Witch from 1818 to 1820.

US President was so taken with the story, he decided to come and see it for himself. He said his carriage wheels locked up on an old carriage road, and the ghost spoke to him. Stories say the battle-hardened man was terrified.

But while the story is told around the world, one that's never been heard is what happened to Bob Bell in his grandmother's home, the day the dishes flew out of the butler's pantry.

“My grandmother called terrified. 'Come to the house quick,'" Bell said. "When we got there, we looked at the butler’s pantry and all the doors were open, every single piece of china had crashed on the kitchen floor. They fell from eight feet up and they were covering the floor, and every single piece was still intact. We can’t explain that one."

Bob Bell swears he had an encounter with a spirit in that same house. The ghost was so loud he locked himself in a bedroom.

"I heard the footsteps come all the way to the door and stop. The hair on the neck stood up," Bell said. "I grabbed a bat and jumped out into the hallway. There was no one. I am here to tell you someone was in the house."

But what did his grandmother's home in Springfield have to do with the Bell Witch? Apparently not much. But later, Bell found an old Bible in storage from the Bell family. It was an 1820 edition. The Bible was in the home at the time of the haunting.

So, what did he do? Bob Bell got rid of the old Bible and a haunting hasn't happened to him since.

Bob Bell makes a living preparing the dead for burial. He doesn't scare easily, and he says he isn't superstitious. One thing's for sure: He's always careful to never make fun of the Bell Witch.

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"We don’t make fun of it. We don’t laugh about it. Ever. I mean for two years they were basically overtaken by whatever it was," Bell said. "Their new life in Tennessee was a grand idea on a beautiful farm, then this event totally changed their life. They were changed forever."

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