Religious

The Bell Witch

 

bell witch

I’ve put off talking about the Bell Witch because honestly I’m scared of her.  I grew up with the story in Hermitage, TN and I’m an Adams from where she was from so I was told not to tell it.  But here I go.

My mom bought me a Bell Witch book for Christmas this week simply called The Bell Witch.  It’s edited Brent Monahan but is the memoirs of Richard Powell – who married Betsy Bell, the most tormented of all the Bell Children.

I never read prologues because shit they’re mostly boring but I wish I had because I nearly crapped my pants at the beginning of chapter 1.  It begins:

“You first heard about the “Bell Witch” when you were 7.”

I WAS 7 WHEN I FIRST HEARD ABOUT THE BELL WITCH.  For ten seconds I literally thought the book was talking to me.  I read it over and over again until I realized Richard Powell was talking to his daughter.  It goes on to describe the first-hand account he lays out about the Bell Witch, Kate Batts, “in the event of his death.”

Kate Batts, Monahan describes as a unique American poltergeist – a weirder Beetleguise because she could hurt people.  I guess all the other poltergeists are just flashes of light and opening of cabinets but Kate Batts was something else entirely.  No, she could rip the covers of the Bell boys’ beds while simultaneously pull the fire out of Betsy Bell’s hair.  And it’s not just the Bell’s that seent it.

They enlisted the help of their neighbors once the hauntings got so bad.  That’a when slick Willy, Richard Powell, gets involved  – who by the way is a teacher in the town.  In the first six pages he describes how, “In keeping with the nature of the revival, she wore a simple linsey-woolsey dress without ribbons or lace, and yet she was exquisite to look upon…She was just shy of thirteen…”

So – Richard, a man of the world from Wisconsin or some shit already has an agenda because he later married Betsy Bell.  The 13 year old.  I’m no spring chicken and I get that older men married MUCH younger girls back then and even now in  most parts of the world.  My grandpa was away in WWII and was dating my grandma probably before she had her first period so whatever. BUT this is where the story gets good.

Kate Batts was definitely a weirdo.  By the time and even by today’s standards.  But was she a witch?  Was she the first american comedian?  Was she just a freak?

I dunno.  But here’s the deal.  She had a lot of “negroes” that she “took care of” and were in her retinue.  She was always begging wool and needles from townsfolk and people already started talking like she was a witch because they thought they were makin voodoo dolls and doing witchcraft.  Kate was married at the time, but her husband fell ill so she was essentially a woman of the world – and we all know that means trouble.  She went to church, but always late and one time sat on some dudes head who was really feeling that ol’ time religion and it really harshed his “jerking exercise.”

So, I do wonder, did the town cry witchcraft because she was different?  Because her slaves were her tribe and she was just a wild lady?  I mean, seriously – did her energy REALLY rip the covers off the Bell kids and pull their hair or was she so despised the family made it all up? Hatfields and McCoys aint got shit on this neighbor feud.

Did she hate John Bell because because she was a wackadoo christian (John Bell was thrown out of the church btw).  Did the joke go too far?  Or did she know something that we don’t know?  I think there’s something in Kate Batts that hated the Bell men but why? Did she think she was pious? Or was she harmed by them?

Do women just act out for no reason? Let’s be real – there was no poltergeist.  So what the hell was going on that it still remains in Tennessean’s collective memories?

There might be an interesting parallel with a recent Nashville Ballet Performance’s interpretation of Lizzie Borden.  In Nashville treasure, Paul Vasterling’s interpretation, Lizzie was being raped by her father and her mother stands by.  She is justified in an almost feminist way when she removes her clothes and murders her family brutally with an ax., shown beautifully thought ballet and lights of course.

Was she a feminist or completely insane?  I just wish I had the answers.  What do y’all think?

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Straight Outta Carthage

advisory

1985 saw the rise of of hip hop and hair metal in the music charts, which terrified mothers across the country. One woman decided to do something about it, and her name was Tipper Gore. Tipper, wife of former VP Al Gore of Carthage, TN; created the Parents Resource Music Center (PRMC) which is responsible for the Parent Advisory stickers on every single CD I ever ordered on Columbia House when I was 11 years old.

She, along with several other women whose husbands were in politics formed their own gang, “the Washington Wives,” and set out on their quest to shelter each man, woman, and child’s ears from offensive lyrics about sex, dope and any other Bible sin.

It started small with the Filthy 15 (Wikipedia) which they coined as “porn rock”:

1 Prince “Darling Nikki”
2 Sheena Easton “Sugar Walls”
3 Judas Priest “Eat Me Alive”
4 Vanity “Strap On ‘Robbie Baby'”
5 Mötley Crüe “Bastard”
6 AC/DC “Let Me Put My Love Into You”
7 Twisted Sister “We’re Not Gonna Take It”
8 Madonna “Dress You Up”
9 W.A.S.P. “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)”
10 Def Leppard “High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night)”
11 Mercyful Fate “Into the Coven”
12 Black Sabbath “Trashed”
13 Mary Jane Girls “In My House”
14 Venom “Possessed”
15 Cyndi Lauper “She Bop”

Before the stickers were put into place, the Senate held a hearing where the “offending” porn rock musicians could come to say their piece. Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, Frank Zappa and John Denver showed up to fight against censorship. But we all know how that turned out…

The Washington Wives couldn’t stop there. They needed real live maryrs and created a modern day witch hunt based on their wacky lore.

As a trippy hippie leftover from the 70’s, Tipper and her girls were also concerned about subliminal messages in songs – especially when played backwards. None more plagued by the witch hunt was Judas Priest, who were blamed for the deaths of two teenagers. The two kids reportedly shot themselves after listening to Judas Priest and the going theory was because there were subliminal messages in the lyrics telling the kids to commit suicide.

Here’s a fun list with videos of all songs with allegedly satanic messaging in them when played backwards:

Here’s To My Sweet Satan: The 15 Creepiest Backwards Messages In Classic Rock

The 80’s were such an interesting time. Cocaine is a hell of a drug…

The Curse of Davis Market

I do a lot of things half-assed; this adventure was no exception.  On a steamy, late July day, my former college roommates and I left Nashville to return to the town of Murfreesboro (20 whole minutes away) where we had all attended Middle Tennessee State University. Our mission: to break the curse of Davis Market.

Davis Market, situated at the crossroads of Main Street and Tennessee Boulevard, is best known as being one of the many veritable “Center(s) of the Universe.”  They sell Boone’s Farm and other fine malt liquors, incense, alien pipes and other terrible shit college kids (and me) love.

davis

Legend has it that once you purchase something from Davis Market, in the Center of the Universe, that Earth’s gravitational pull snares you in to returning to Murfreesboro.  Another variation is that Murfreesboro will “follow” you forever.  Soldiers go away and think they have died in Iraq only to wake up at the VA hospital in Murfreesboro. Expecting mothers with weeks left in pregnancy who are just passing through will spontaneously give birth and have to go to a Murfreesboro Hospital. New construction forces a town to move their cemetery and all the bones end up in Murfreesboro because of one asshole who didn’t break the curse. And the higher you get, the sillier the stories become.

We definitely did not want this to happen to us so we grabbed a shoe, a hammer and some nails.  There are two parts to breaking the curse of Davis Market, neither of which we fully executed.  One is to nail one shoe to a particular tree in “Peck Forest” (the trees between the Admissions Building and Peck Hall), and the other is to pee on the geographical center of Tennessee.  We all brought symbolic shoes but when we got to the tree, one of the boys whined that it would hurt the tree to nail our shoes into it.  We ended up stuffing our shoes into holes in the tree because we are weenies who feel bad for trees.

shoe

We had stopped off at Davis Market on the way to Peck Forest and got some Boone’s Farm so we would be ready to pee when we got to the geographical center of Tennessee. Unfortunately, as soon as we rolled up to the stone marker, some kid comes out of nowhere and just sits down next to us. I’m pretty sure the City just pays her to hang around and act creepy so we asked her to take our picture and left.

center

Keeping in mind that we have come nowhere near breaking the curse of Davis Market, the same four of us were sitting in a bar in Nashville a week later and the notorious MTSU Philosophy professor Principe waltzes through the door.

The curse continues to haunt us and must be overcome.

Tate’s Lane Cemetery and Ghost Railroad

Tates Lane and Pet Cemetery (33)

So, technically the cemetery is called the Mt. Juliet Memorial Gardens, but I don’t know anyone who refers to it by anything other than Tate’s Lane Cemetery.  The main entrance is actually one street down from Tate’s Lane on Caldwell, but it is on the Tate farm original property.

To get to the cemetery, you must first cross the railroad tracks, which at the time when I was in high school, were used infrequently by the 137 mile line of the Nashville & Eastern railroad based out of Lebanon, TN. It was originally a part of Jere Baxter’s Tennessee Central line which went out of business in 1968 and was left abandoned (has  served as the commuter rail from Lebanon to Nashville, the Music City Star since 2006).  It was in the 1960’s where the haunted rails stories began.  Before the railroad was reestablished as the Nashville & Eastern line, stories began to circulate that cars would just die when passing over the tracks on the way into the cemetery, not leaving the driver enough time to get out before the fatal clash with the oncoming train.

Tates Lane and Pet Cemetery (73)

As if the threat of instant death wasn’t enough, the cemetery was, and probably still is, associated with Satanic and Masonic rituals (there are an incredible amount of Masons buried there- just look for the compass, anchors, beehives, clasped hands, crown and cross, double headed eagle, triangle with an eye, father time and a weeping virgin, hand holding heart, keystone with letters HTWSSTKS, a five pointed start, a snake and cross, and pretty much any other symbol on a gravestone).

In the 1990’s, many of the graves were defaced and some stolen.  There were so many problems with people vandalizing a large Jesus statue, that the statue is no longer there, only the platform on which he once stood.

Tates Lane and Pet Cemetery (50)

 

 

 

 

Voodoo Village

Would you believe that there’s a place outside of Memphis where shrunken heads sit atop a spiked fence, a haunted school bus comes ‘alive’ to trap all who enter, and where screams of children echo through the woods?

Yeah, me neither.  However, stories come from somewhere and Voodoo Village is in fact very real.

Located in South Memphis, it is still surrounded by wilderness.  A man named Washington (Wash) Harris shut off his home and community with a fence and a huge iron gate in the 1950’s, allegedly to practice “dark arts.”

People became curious about the property because of the yard art and symbols everywhere.  Story goes that the compound actually did block nosy people from exiting with a school bus and many people have been chased away by machetes or worse.

There is a folk-art temple, named St. Paul’s Spiritual Temple, that is visible from the road covered with voodoo dolls, candles, moons, crosses and Masonic symbols.  Neighbors would talk about ceremonies with large bonfires, speaking in tongues and gulp; the walking dead.  Harris denies practicing voodoo, yet never discloses what is really going on behind the gate.

There are lots of accounts from visitors to the compound on the Facebook page here.  It is made pretty clear that these people just want to be left alone, by any means necessary…

The Minister’s Treehouse

California is home to the Winchester Mystery House. In a shocking example of high-brow mental illness, Sara Winchester (Winchester Guns); obsessed with “evil” spirits that were chasing her, believed that as long as she continued construction on her home that the “evil” could never get her. The results were a 160 room home with doors to nowhere, a staircase that goes down seven steps then up eleven, a seance room, secret passageways, and her eventual (surprisingly natural) death.

But in the Tennessee, land of porches, there is an impressive example of the same type of mania, but with far less money. And where money is weak, religion is strong; leading Minister Horace Burgess to construct what is now known as the Minister’s Tree House after God told him to. Yes, the Lord himself spoke to Minister Burgess and told him that as long as he kept building the structure, that he would never run out of materials.  God kept his promise, and the Minster carried on until 2012 when The State Fire Marshal ordered that building operations halt and the Minister was forced to abandon his life’s work.  Despite petitions from people in the town, the tree house sadly remains ‘closed’ still today.

Under the Divine Duty of Minister Burgess, the tree house reached 97 feet tall, with 80 rooms, all supported by large white oak trees. Between Cookeville and Knoxville, off of I-40 East, on Beehive Lane you can still bear witness to the spectacle; just don’t get caught.

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                Photo By Chuck Sutherland

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