I was always fascinated with the "Bell Witch" growing up. I remember hearing all the stories and superstitions, like if you say the witch doesn't exist three times while turning around it will appear in a mirror. But when I started researching and reading the recollections of the people who were there, it made the hair stand on my neck. As extraordinary as the made up stories sounded, they were nothing compared to what really happened. I think that when people see the truth, they will be mystified and astonished, as were hundreds of visitors who came from all over the country to hear and experience the Spirit almost two hundred years ago.
I first began working on a screenplay for the “Bell Witch” when I was in college studying scriptwriting. In 1998, as one of the founders of the Sumner County Playhouse, I embarked on the task of writing “The Bell Witch Story” to be produced as the first production at the new facility. Later, as Linda Thornton and I became involved in writing and directing for film projects, our immediate goal was to produce a film on the phenomena, which was achieved and released as “The Bell Witch Haunting” movie. The original play and film are both based on eyewitness accounts from Charles Bailey Bell’s book “The Bell Witch of Tennessee” and Richard Bell’s manuscript “Our Family Trouble”. Because the story is so involved with a large number of people and events happening over a four-year period, many of the scenes in the play have been condensed or persons combined or changed that experienced and witnessed certain events; but I have stayed as true to the story as possible with the limitations of a stage production and a two-hour format.
There are so many aspects to this phenomenon that make it the most amazing “haunting” that has been recorded. A few are: The number of people who communicated with and experienced the haunting. This is the only known case where a spirit took credit for and was blamed for murder. Tennessee is the only state to acknowledge haunting activity in state records. After visiting the Bell's home, Andrew Jackson said, "I vow I would rather fight the entire British army single-handed than face this witch again!". The spirit demonstrated several personalities – kind, vicious, intelligent, it enjoyed scripture and church, and was a showman with a great sense of humor. At John Bell’s funeral the gloating Spirit cheerfully offered the large number of mourners a concert of brawny drinking songs.
Over a four-year period, hundreds of people witnessed the Spirit's amazing demonstrations; and many of the most reputable people of Robertson County and the area testified to the events, telling their stories over and over to the younger generations. During the period of these exciting demonstrations, ever so many detectives, wise men, witch doctors and conjurors came to exercise their skills on the Spirit and to try to rid the Bells of their tormentor; and all were brought to grief by the Spirit and left confessing that the phenomena was something beyond comprehension. So far, no one has ever given an intelligent explanation to the great mystery.
The Bell Witch legend bears witness to what the human spirit and body can endure and rise above, and is a great credit to the community that stood with and supported the Bells through many trials and tribulations. The Bell’s house, a religious center for revivals and bible studies, became a place of fear and terror; a home of torment for John, Lucy and their children. A place of suffering as John’s family and friends watched helplessly as a good husband, father and friend withered away while the Spirit did as it pleased. Yet, those who witnessed the demonstrations knew that the Spirit had a wonderful power of intelligence, possessing great knowledge of men and things; it could apparently read minds, tell men’s secrets, repeat sermons word for word, sing every song in the hymn book and quote scripture with absolute accuracy. Why was it so full of contradictions; kind to some, vengeful to others; angelic at times, demonic at others? These contradictions are what drew me to this story and continue to hold my attention and astonishment, as I’m sure it will yours. The play, like the film, merely relays the facts; it does not present answers for the great mystery of who “Kate” was, why It was here and why It killed John Bell, thus the great mystery continues…