Historian William Turner weaves tale of Bell Witch

Spectators come back year after year to hear Christian County Historian William Turner tell the story of the Bell Witch.

Head to the edge of town as the sun sets and turn onto the narrow road that curves alongside the cemetery.

Drive past headstones that mark 200 years of Hopkinsville’s history.

Cross the river, park the car and walk to the clearing where a bonfire crackles and hisses.

Take a seat in your lawn chair beside a catalpa tree.

It’s getting dark now, and there’s an old witch’s story to be told. 

william turner tells bell witch story
Christian County Historian William T. Turner stands beside a bonfire Saturday at Jeffers Bend, where he told the story of the Bell Witch. He’s been sharing the supernatural tale for more than 50 years. (Photo by Jennifer P. Brown, Hoptown Chronicle)

If you happened to be at Jeffers Bend on Saturday, you know I’m describing the lead-up to the evening’s main draw — a chance to hear historian William T. Turner tell the Bell Witch story. 

Spoiler alert: Many of the people who came out Saturday had heard William tell this story more than a few times before. Some of them heard it as a child and now bring their children to hear the story. They know the legend of the John Bell family near present-day Adams, Tennessee, where an evil spirit called Kate was said to have tormented the farmer and his teenage daughter from 1817 to 1821. They know, and they keep coming back because William has a storyteller’s flair for involving the audience in the tale. They are part of the story. 

After all, a tale of the supernatural means the main character could travel through time and space from the early 1800s to present-day Hopkinsville. On a night like Saturday, the Bell Witch might be lurking in the shadows behind one of those catalpa trees.

A few actors in period clothing tiptoed through the rows of lawn chairs and poked audience members just as William shouted a line from his story. Alissa Keller, who runs the local museums, shared the spotlight beside the bonfire with William. 

“It is all true? Is it partly true? Or is it just a fantastic story?” William asked his audience.

“I’ll let you be the decider of that. But I suggest tonight, or better still on Halloween night, when you go to bed and you pull up the (covers) to chase away the winter’s chills, be careful. It could be Kate the Bell Witch, and she may be coming to see YOU!”

Historian William Turner weaves tale of Bell Witch

Jennifer P. Brown

Jennifer P. Brown is the founder and editor of Hoptown Chronicle. You can reach her at editor@hoptownchronicle.org.

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