ghost stories

Review: “Who Killed John Bell?

This is a review of the August 25, 2022 performance of “Who Killed John Bell,” by the Murfreesboro Little Theatre in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

NOTE: I am not a professional theatre critic. This review is only my opinion. If you don’t have time to read the lengthy review that follows, the “short version” is that there were several awesome things about this play, but the story line–its heart–fell short in several ways, making the final product a big disappointment. Not recommended.

This is a hard review to write in terms of perspective. As most know, I wear THREE hats–a storyteller, a serious researcher, and a big fan of ghost stories. I wear them separately at different times. They are even contradictory in some ways. Right now, I am putting on all three hats and sharing my thoughts with you.

I think the Murfreesboro Little Theatre did an awesome job of organizing and putting on the play, which will also be performed Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, August 26-28. The set was very basic, which is good, because it allows the audience to focus more on the actors and the story.

Casting was great for all but a couple roles, but that wasn’t problematic because the production rarely followed established, historical records to begin with. The acting was excellent; kudos to the actors for their hard work and dedication. I only wish that the story had placed the actors in a Bell Witch production that adds value to the legend and moves the case forward, rather than what amounted to a two-hour-long character assassination of John Bell that made even the “An American Haunting” fiasco look like a John Bell praise club.

Scene after scene, the production portrayed Bell as an evil, hot-tempered, child-hitting, cheating, and devious man who would give even “Ol’ Lucifer” a run for his money. As anyone familiar with the real legend knows, Bell had business disputes with two other men in the community (including Kate Batts’ brother-in-law) but was also one of the area’s most well-loved and respected men. His wife, Lucy Bell, who was thought to be a strong yet humble woman, also was portrayed grossly out of character by the story. The actor herself did a marvelous job, however.

On a positive note, although I loved all of the acting (but just not the storyline), my favorites were the two females in long dresses who portrayed the spirit. Their manner of dress and makeup, along with how they seemingly “floated” around the stage like supernatural entities would, was spot-on. Perfect. I also really liked the Richard Powell character. He had the look, and based on many years of researching Powell, I think his lines were likely what the real Powell said, although the real Powell’s demeanor was happy-go-lucky and not so stern. At any rate, I loved Powell’s character, and the actor did a great job–as did all the actors.

Research for the play was interesting. Their researchers knocked the ball out of the park with several little-known, obscure facts that figure prominently into the legend. However, they ignored, and in some cases grossly misstated, some of the legend’s most basic facts, and in one case adopted a side theory–and ran with it for most of the play–that was debunked by historical records over twenty years ago. One can’t expect to have a credible Bell Witch play, book, or other account when old, worn-out, and previously debunked theories are rehashed.

This easily could have been one of the best Bell Witch productions ever to hit a stage. All of the elements, but one, were present. Creative license is a wonderful thing, and I encourage and appreciate it. I love hearing and learning about new perspectives on the Bell Witch legend. However, when creative license entails painting an unwarranted, negative, and unrealistic picture of a person who is no longer around to defend himself, or ignoring or misstating readily available historical records, it is in bad taste and goes too far. The party’s over.

This isn’t the first such production, nor will it be the last, but at least the other negative productions–even An American Haunting–made an effort to bring in researchers to narrate, comment, and/or answer audience questions so that the full scenario (folktale, assumptions, facts, factoids, scandals, and possible theories) could be put into proper context and perspective. That did not happen here, which made the story line and context hard to understand. Continuity and transitions could have been better.

I don’t know about the play’s ending and the revelation of who killed Mr. Bell, as I had already left by them. But suffice it to say, the play itself did a pretty darn good job of killing John Bell, reputation-wise.

If you are looking for a quick paranormal fix that’s based on an old, scandalous Tennessee folktale, and don’t care about the historical or fact vs. fiction aspects, I recommend that you see this play. For all others: NOT recommended.

New “Bell Witch” Documentary now in Production for 2022

I am proud to be featured in The Bell Witch, Past and Beyond, a new documentary from Crimson Night Productions and Black Leather Productions. We are going to discuss all that has been said and written about the case over the years, and reveal which items are facts. This will be a very exciting and informative documentary. Filming begins in November, with the release scheduled for 2022.

The Bell Witch - Past and Beyond
The Bell Witch – Past and Beyond

RIP, John Bell

John Bell RIP

2018 in Review, Looking to 2019

Greetings, Friends and Enemies:

A year ago today, I was relaxing after a busy last few years and contemplating much of the same for 2018. As it turned out, I was right. Although I haven’t “rested up” from the whirlwind called 2018, and probably will not for some time, I must admit that it was a great year on all fronts and I couldn’t be happier.

On the musical end, I did several key projects this past year. And more importantly, I made many new friends and contacts along the way. It is an honor and a privilege to know and work with them.

The paranormal world was busy as well, with investigations, lots of behind-the-scenes research on some alternative and new-to-me areas of the field, several special guest appearances at conventions, a handful of radio interviews, three TV appearances, a musical guest appearance with the OrbTones (a rock band composed of paranormal researchers), and some well-attended lecture and book signing events.

To those who attended any, or some, of the events listed above, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You (fans and friends) are the folks who matter, and are why I’m here and do what I do; you have my full loyalty.  The paranormal activities and events are special in the same way that musical activities are special. They afford me the opportunity to meet many exciting people and make strong, lasting friendships, and offer me the privilege of being able to relate to, and learn from, those people.

Having been in the paranormal field since 1978, I have seen the field recycle, reinvent, and redefine itself many times. Interest reaches a peak every five years, and then resets in the sixth year. 2019 will be the fourth year of the current cycle. Look for more great things; not only from me, but from others as well. We are only a year away from the very top of the roller coaster. Enjoy.

Looking to the future, I first think of all the “new me” statements people make, especially on social media. Why? I mean, let’s reason together. How often does a new year—a predetermined date on a calendar—automatically and suddenly alter a person’s life and attitude? It doesn’t, except for rare cases when someone manages to keep their New Year’s resolution.

This brings me to my own New Year’s resolution for 2019, which I should be able to keep because it hasn’t changed in 40 years: “keep on keeping on, stand strong and firm in my convictions, maintain my standards of research, and don’t change a thing.” The “new me” is still the “old me.”

A couple exceptions might come into play, however. I am looking at extending my efforts and research into an area that I feel would greatly benefit from it, but as with everything else, I look before I leap. And, I am still looking. I am also pondering some new and big paranormal opportunities that have recently been offered to me. (Side note: I will not discuss them, so please don’t ask). As good as the opportunities sound, I can’t lose sight of the fact that everything usually looks good on paper, but paper often amounts to nothing more than the proverbial “sheep’s clothing.” I must evaluate the opportunities very carefully, and wisely.

But, most importantly, I would like to wish everyone a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2019!

Meanwhile, in Louisville…

I had a fabulous time at the MID-SOUTH PARANORMAL CONVENTION over the weekend. I performed with the Orb Tones, gave a Bell Witch lecture presentation, and signed books all weekend.

It was also great to catch up with old friends and make lots of new ones. Great convention + great people! And, KUDOS to the LGHS for organizing yet another stellar, first-class convention!

Stay tuned for MORE conventions and excitement later this year!

 

captain jack

Captain Jack, the Paranormal Pup

Cave

Free-hanging pendulums with audio + visual alarms

elvis

You never know who you’ll see at MidSouth

Guitar

Doing one of the things I love

guitar2

Giving my guitar a last-minute workout before performing with the Orb Tones

Table 1

My book setout for MidSouth this year

Frights on the Gallatin Ghost Walk

I was recently given the honor of co-hosting a special edition of the Gallatin Ghost Walk in Sumner County, Tennessee, a few miles northeast of Nashville. As Donna and Randy Lucas shared the haunted history of Gallatin’s many old buildings, I demonstrated how to use ghost investigation equipment by conducting a mini-investigation of each location we visited. The results were nothing short of amazing.

Gallatin Ghost Walk in Gallatin, TN / May 2017

Both the flashlight and the EMF meter are flashing on the window ledge of Andrew Jackson’s old law office in downtown Gallatin, TN.

Is there more information about the Gallatin Ghost Walk? What is the historical significance of Gallatin and Sumner County?

The Gallatin Ghost Walk intertwines Gallatin’s rich and diverse history with spine-tingling tales of haunts and eerie happenings. Its hosts, Donna and Randy, stroll around the Square and surrounding blocks, enlightening and enthralling their guests with spellbinding stories of old Sumner County and her illustrious former residents, many of whom still frequent the old buildings today.

Gallatin Ghost Walk in Gallatin, TN / May 2017

I had the honor of co-hosting a special edition of the Gallatin Ghost Walk back in May. As Donna and her husband–both dressed in period clothing–told the haunted history of Gallatin’s old buildings, I brought along ghost investigation equipment, explained how it us used, and conducted fast, “mini investigations” of each building we visited. The old buildings were so active that the batteries in all of my equipment died before the walk was over with. Incredible!

Eighty-six buildings in Gallatin’s Commercial Historic District were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, although some have since been torn down. Construction dates of the buildings range from the late 1790s to 1935, and their diverse architecture includes Art Deco, Classical, Victorian, and some unusual examples of Gothic Revival, Italianate, and Second Empire.

Gallatin Ghost Walk in Gallatin, TN / May 2017

The Gallatin Ghost Walk group sits and listens to Donna and Randy tell the chilling history of the old building in the background. And yes, Randy’s gun is real.

From the man who disappeared before his disbelieving family’s eyes in an open field, never to be seen again, to the 16 Confederate soldier spirits in Andrew Jackson’s old law office on Gallatin’s public square, the paranormal happenings in and around Gallatin are legion–and LEGEND!

Gallatin Ghost Walk in Gallatin, TN / May 2017

Ms. Donna telling about some of the old buildings and activity that has occurred there in recent years. Here, we are standing caddy-corner to a very old building that was once Andrew Jackson’s law office.

 

Gallatin Ghost Walk:  On Facebook  /  On Blogspot

 

Remembering Jay Ellis

Jay Ellis was a very nice, knowledgeable, and beloved paranormal investigator who unfortunately passed away last year. Jay loved to investigate Octagon Hall and communicate with little “Mary-Elizabeth,” one of the old plantation’s resident ghosts.

During a private ghost investigation back in March, while having a session in the family graveyard where Mary-Elizabeth is buried, my friend Joe asked her about Jay. It was obvious that she misses him terribly.

Summer Greetings

Time truly flies when you’re having fun–and when you are busy. I apologize for the long delay between updates; it has been a very busy and productive last few months. I plan to post a lot of pictures, videos, and news in the coming weeks.

As 2017 reaches the halfway point, I am repointing and refocusing my efforts on current research and writing projects, and fewer ghost investigations. Not that there is anything wrong with ghost hunting, but planning the investigations, the travel involved, and spending weeks reviewing evidence takes a LOT of time. And so does writing. Finding the time to investigate hauntings, research cases, and write books, all at once, and hoping for the proverbial “big bang,” is daunting at best. Any more ghost investigations? You betcha–but just not as frequently (for a while). It is now time to catch up on my writing projects.

I have several works in progress, some of which are near completion. In my queue is a new, revised edition of “The Bell Witch: The Full Account,” a sequel to “Ghostly Cries From Dixie,” entitled, “More Ghostly Cries From Dixie,” and two new, first edition books: “The Outlaws and Ghosts of The Natchez Trace” and “From Turkey Creek – A Memoir.” The Natchez Trace book is in its early stages, and Turkey Creek is almost finished.

You will be hearing much more about these titles, as well as release dates and upcoming appearances, through more frequent updates of this web site/blog. I will also be sharing pictures from various ghost investigations and my travels.

In the meantime, I leave you with a video from a ghost investigation near Jackson, Tennessee, conducted on January 21, 2017. Three of us investigated an 1850s-era church building and Masonic hall, and the graveyard behind it, which dates back to the early 1820s. Activity was fast and furious, so much that we brought a much larger group for another investigation on June 24th; we encountered the same results.  The area is chock full of history. Watch the video and read the captions for more information!

Thanks for watching. See you soon!