legends

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

Replay of my Interview on “The Road Beyond” Podcast, re: Southern Ghost Stories, Bell Witch – 8-24-2021

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FruShxBsM90

Review: “The Mark of the Bell Witch” by Small Town Monsters

Review by Pat Fitzhugh of The Bell Witch Site

Transparency Notice: I am in this movie. However, I do not receive monetary compensation based on its sales.

December 20, 2020 marked the 200th anniversary of the death of Tennessee farmer, John Bell, allegedly by the hand of a malevolent entity called the “Bell Witch.” The saga of Bell’s tragic death and the sinister grasp of terror that his family was forced to endure has evolved into one of America’s greatest supernatural legends.

Days before the somber anniversary of Bell’s passing, Ohio-based film company Small Town Monsters released “The Mark of the Bell Witch,” a supernatural, docu-horror movie that focuses on the Tennessee version of the legend between the years 1817 and 1821.

In early 2020, while discussing my involvement in the film with writer-director Seth Breedlove, I remarked that most Bell Witch-related shows use the same worn-out approach to tell the same old story, and that I am constantly asked whether anyone will ever “get it right.” A few months later, Small Town Monsters got it right.

“The Mark of the Bell Witch” takes a historical approach by relating the earliest stories in their original form, providing true-life reenactments that depict genuine human fear rather than thrills or frills, and placing the stories along a well-thought-out storyline that intertwines the story with expert commentary while keeping a solid pace and maintaining the logical order of events. The film is divided into well-transitioned chapters that advance the story in such a way that viewers can digest the story as it unfolds.

Small Town Monsters cemented their historical focus by allowing Bell Witch researchers and related subject-matter experts to peel back the layers of time and provide depth, context, and perspective throughout the production. This approach, which is arguably one of the film’s strongest points, helps viewers to understand not only important details and developments that have surfaced, but also how the legend came about, how it has evolved, its cultural effect on the region, and its place in American history and folklore. Many previous film interpretations have lacked value because they required researchers to simply tell the story and do nothing more. Conversely, by allowing researchers to come full circle and discuss their findings on camera, Breedlove and his crew have added significant value and validity to their production.

Of particular interest to me was the interview with African American local historian, John Baker. He is a treasure trove of information about the area’s African American history, including slave ownership and how it likely had an impact on the Bell Witch legend. All too often, certain families and groups are omitted from Bell Witch-related productions, although their stories and perspectives need to be heard. Kudos to Small Town Monsters for seeking Mr. Baker’s input and perspective in the making of this film.

It is also noteworthy that “The Mark of the Bell Witch” is unbiased. With the Bell Witch being such a controversial case, well-balanced research and interpretations are hard to find. Small Town Monsters presents the legend in a clear, open fashion, without trying to prove or disprove it. Viewers are left to draw their own conclusions. Bravo!

Lauren Ashley Carter’s narrations are impactful and on point, performed with perfect timing and absent hesitation or distraction. Small Town Monsters made highly effective use of paradox in selecting Lauren as the narrator. Her voice and tone make the perfect counterpoint to the terrifying subject at hand, cutting a mark that runs deep. I was also impressed with the storytelling and historical analyses provided by Heather Moser, a classics professor and researcher at Small Town Monsters. Her research is spot-on, and she articulates her findings very well. Her professional demeanor is second to none.

The actual Spirit, played by producer Adrienne Breedlove, looked intense and downright creepy, just as how I would picture “Old Kate.” A lot of careful thought and planning obviously went into the Spirit scenes and character.

The other actors, Amy Davies (Betsy Bell), Aaron Gascon (John Bell, Jr.), Thomas Koosed (John Bell, Sr.), Grayden Nance (Drew Bell), and John Bell’s hair-do, did an awesome job as well. Their wardrobes were accurate to the period being portrayed, and their acting realistically portrayed how the Bell family likely reacted when faced with their unwelcome “visitor.”

The filming, scene compositions, still shots, audio, and overall production quality are of a class that is typically reserved for household name companies with huge budgets. One of the biggest things I noticed during onsite filming was the crew’s passion for getting the job done right; they all share a sincere interest and did everything it took to make a high-quality film. Well done.

With “The Mark of The Bell Witch,” Small Town Monsters have brewed up a perfectly blended concoction of history, folklore, expert input, and reenactments, to create what is, in my opinion, the best Bell Witch film interpretation to come along thus far.

RIP, John Bell

John Bell RIP

The Bell Log Cabin in Adams, Tennessee

Its history, its stories, and my spending two nights there
(a long article, so grab a pot of coffee)

On the grounds of the Bell School building and city park in Adams, Tennessee, a tiny and rustic house sits quietly, paying homage to a bygone era. For over two hundred years, her now rusty nails and withered logs have stood witness to the triumphs and tragedies of those who came before us. Some even say she holds secrets; if only those logs could talk.

Known as the “Bell log cabin,” the aging two-story house is named after the John Bell family, who moved to the area in 1804 and settled nearby. The cabin and park occupy a tiny portion of what was once John and Lucy Bell’s massive farm, where their family allegedly endured a four-year reign of terror at the hands of a malevolent entity known as the “Bell Witch.”
(more…)

Radio Interview Friday Night

Oct. 5th
10PM Central / 11PM Eastern
With Clayton Trout at WEHC FM 90.7 in Abingdon, Virginia.

We will be covering some haunted and weird cases from my book, “Ghostly Cries From Dixie.” Learn about The Greenbrier Ghost, Waverly Hills, The Bell Witch, Jacksonboro, The Brown Mountain Lights, The Bragg Ghost Light, and MORE!

LISTEN LIVE this Friday night @ this link.  Then click the “Listen Live” button)

WEHC2

“Witch Dance” is Now Available!

Lori Crane’s highly-anticipated new book, Witch Dance, is here!  Yes–it involves the location just off the Natchez Trace.

I have known Lori a long time, and in addition to being a top-notch musician and entertainer, she’s also quite the historical fiction author! Her topics are very similar to mine, yet we are not competitors, so I always try my best to help promote her works any way I can.

Here is the “Witch Dance” description from Amazon:

Just south of Tupelo, Mississippi on the Natchez Trace lies a place of mystery called Witch Dance.

When Thomas and Margaret Speedwell took their twins to Witch Dance for a weekend camping trip, they never imagined they would be pulled into a vortex of witchcraft, tragedy, and karma. One of the girls goes missing; the other won’t say what happened on the other side of the hill.

The tragedy pulls together a cast of characters from Margaret’s childhood and beyond – Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians, Toltec ancestors, the extinct Hopewell tribe.

With the help of a childhood friend, a concerned newspaper reporter, and visions by a strange old woman, a two-thousand-year-old mystery begins to unfold, uncovering missing children throughout generations. Who is taking them? Could it be the infamous witches of Witch Dance?

+ Witch Dance main page

+ Purchase Witch Dance for the low introductory price of only $0.99 on Kindle for a limited time

Paperbacks are also available for only $9.99!

To learn more about the author and what she’s working on, be sure to visit her site!

Sparta Event a Great Success and Lots of Fun

Many thanks to fans who braved the chilly weather to be a part of my storytelling and book signing events in Sparta, TN, yesterday and last night. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the turnout and everyone’s enthusiasm. As always, your interest and support are greatly appreciated; people like you are why I have been doing these and similar appearances for almost 40 years now. I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s events! We’ve only just begun.

 

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!