Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The REAL Bell Witch Legend: What A Real Night Investigating In Adams Is Like

After watching the premiere of A&E's Cursed:The Bell Witch "reality" show last night, I was really pissed off. I know Adams intimately. I know many families there. And I have investigated at one time or another every site of paranormal activity in Adams, and some several times. So let me share with you just one of those nights, when Kate decided to show me what the Bell Witch is really all about. 

Back in the 80's and early 1990's, the land that once was the Bell homestead was owned by the Eden family.  The owner, Bims Eden, had been brought up in Adams and had experienced the haunting since childhood. His house was at the end of the long gravel driveway that leads to the cliff and the Bell Witch Cave. The Edens were farmers, and my father owned (and still operates) a farm store in Clarksville, fifteen miles away, where I worked from the time I was eleven until I finally left Clarksville at the age of twenty-six. I first went to the Edens' farm when I was eighteen at Mr. Bims's invitation. We'd talked about the legend one day at my dad's store, and he told me to come on down and see the cave and he'd tell me stories about things that had happened to him. So I did, and that created a relationship that lasted until he finally sold the land to the present owners. 

In October of 1993, I was driving around with a couple of friends of mine from the theater department at Austin Peay State University. Mid- to late-October in Tennessee is, for me, the best season. The air is crisp and smells of wood smoke, the trees are usually in brilliant cover, and the skies over a rural community like Adams are achingly sharp and clear. I've never seen more stars anywhere than I have in Adams at night. During Halloween season, the Eden family ran a haunted hay ride in their cornfields, taking people to the old Bell cemetery and the ruins of the house, and then led them to the cave for tours. So I got a wild hair up my rear and suggested that we go to Adams and see Mr. Bims. 

As we pulled into the driveway by the house, we parked next to a line of cars in the gravel lot at the top of the cliff. I locked the car, and went to see Mr. Bims who'd come out to greet us. He always did that--meeting any visitors personally if he was there (and if the visitors weren't rude enough to show up at an inconvenient time, like late at night). We stood there and talked for a few minutes, and I told him I wanted to take my friends down to the cave if that was all right. He said, "Go on down, Celina--you know the way. Nobody's down there--they're all out in the field--but the gate's open. The ride won't get done for another hour or so."

So I gave him a hug, and took my buddies Rob and JJ down the path on the side of the cliff. Back then, the cliffside trail wasn't as safety-conscious as it appears to be today. The Bell Witch Cave wasn't an official tourist attraction. It wasn't operated as a business, as it is now. So the trail was dirt and gravel, well-graded, with a rather flimsy two by four railing and for lighting a single string of electric light bulbs stretched overhead.
This wasn't the kind of trail that you descended with any kind of speed; you had to be careful. So after a few minutes, we stood on the plateau in front of the cave. This natural landing in the bluff is not that large, and hangs precipitously over the sluggish waters of the Red River. I'm not that cool with heights, so I never went close to the edge. 

The point of this description is the establishment of the fact that there is nowhere for anyone to hide either on the trail or the landing in front of the cave. Believe me. Nowhere. 

We stood at the front of the cave for a few minutes and talked before we went in. It's hard to describe how quiet it really is there. When I say it's the middle of nowhere, I mean it's the middle of nowhere. The front gate of the cave is, as I've mentioned before, very heavy and iron.
Mr. Bims told me they'd had it put up after the family kept busting Satanist/pagan groups conducting rituals down there. The iron door stood open, and the lights were on in the cave--as was usual when the haunted hayride season was on. So we went in, and the cave was perfectly silent and still. 

Word of warning, by the way. Never, ever, EVER take a souvenir rock from the cave. Not a good idea. This becomes significant later in this story. At any rate--

We spent a little time in the first main chamber of the cave, where the old Native American grave is, before we decided to head to the back chamber. In between the front room and the back is a very narrow, twisting passage, so short in places that you have to bend over to get through. If you're claustrophobic, it's not a great place to be. So Rob went first, then me, then JJ. When we were about halfway through the passage, all the lights in the cave suddenly went out. 

Naturally we froze. At first, I figured someone--one of the Eden boys running the hayride, maybe--was playing a joke on us, so I yelled, "You turn the lights back on damnit!"

Crickets. The lights stayed off.

So then I swallowed hard, and politely said, "Kate, would you please turn the lights back on."

The lights turned back on with a snap, and we heard laughter echo toward us down the passage.

JJ turned around and ran for the entrance, me and Rob right behind him. Once we were in the front room, I headed straight for the front door. Back then, there was a jury-rigged power switch and stool just inside the iron gate. That's where Mr. Bims turned on the lights to the cave any other time I'd visited there. But that night, there was no one there. Rob went on out onto the landing, and no one was on the path to the top. As I've said, there is NOWHERE to hide there. So JJ and I joined him on the landing, to try and figure out what in the heck was going on when behind us we heard the screech of hinges. A second later, all the lights in the cave and on the trail went out and that heavy iron door slammed shut behind us.

Ever try to run up a cliffside trail at night using a lighter? I don't recommend it. It's not much fun.

By the time we got to the top, Rob and JJ were done with Adams. No one was on top of the cliff; Mr. Bims had gone back in the house and the hayride wasn't back yet. So we proceeded at a hurried pace--okay, ran--to my car and opened the doors.

Rocks were piled on the seats--the driver's seat, the passenger's seat, and the back seat. Just then, JJ said, "Wait a second--you locked the car, Celina!"

Needless to say, we threw those rocks out of the car and I put the key in the ignition.

Nothing. I tried again.

The engine didn't turn over, but the windshield wipers turned on. It took almost five minutes before the car started and we were able to pull out of the lot. JJ and Rob were cussing and we were all chain smoking. Our nerves were shot. But Kate wasn't done with us yet. As we headed down 41 for Clarksville and safety, animals kept coming into the center of the road where they'd stop and stare at us as we drew near, almost daring us to drive past them. The first two critters were unnerving. Once we'd seen five, six, seven it was downright terrifying. Some of the animals I couldn't identify, and I grew up there. There were several big, black animals, roughly the size and shape of a German Shepherd or black lab, whose eyes reflected the headlights with an eerie, feline shine. Red, but feline.

At any rate, we finally made it back to campus, where we shared our story with our friends. A few days later, a group of over twenty of us went back to spend the night in the cave--a story I'll tell another time.

The next morning on my way to class, I noticed that we'd forgotten one of the rocks we'd found piled up in the seats. I skipped my afternoon art history class to drive that rock back to Adams and gave it back to Mr. Bims. When I got there, he was sitting outside on his lawnmower, and as I got out with the rock he smiled at me.

Bims Edens was one of those slow-speaking, polite Southern gentlemen. He was so very kind, but he also had a devilish gleam in his eyes sometimes when he smiled. As I told him what had happened, his eyes got that little twinkle in them and he smiled slowly. "I knew something happened," he said. "You've never left before without telling us goodbye and thank you."

"The rocks were what freaked me out," I confessed. "That's why I thought I'd better make sure to bring this straight back."

"Last night the dead men's lanterns were glowing in the woods," he said, looking in the direction of the Bells' old graveyard. "Things was restless last night. Probably one of those stupid kids on the hayride got things riled up. But she gave you a warning, Celina. Better be careful, girl--she let you know that she knows who you are."

Mr. Bims took the rock, said goodbye, and headed toward the trail. I knew he was going to put the rock back in the cave--like he always put those rocks that came back in the mail from all over. I should have taken it myself and spared the old man the trip, but I knew he wouldn't let me. He believed Kate had given me a warning, and so he'd given me one too.

So I went back to my car, thinking that everything looked really different in the bright October sunshine. I opened the door and froze.

Another rock was set precisely in the center of the driver's side seat.

I knocked the rock out of the way, got in, and drove back home. Not a single animal interrupted my drive.

Author's note: If nothing else, this should explain why I'm not particularly impressed with the A&E show last night. If this gentleman who claims to be a descendant of the Bells is really confronting some ancient curse against his family, then it makes no sense that he didn't go straight to the epicenter of the paranormal activity in the area. Would have saved a lot of time and film.