My Travel Memories: The Bell Witch Cave

I have very little hipster cred, so I’m going take the opportunity to do the hipster thing here and say that I knew about the Bell Witch before it was cool. In 1989, my folks and I were driving from Chicago to visit our family in Florida (remember them?). As we passed into Tennessee, we passed a sign that said, “See the Bell Witch Cave” or words to that effect. My folks were always up for a cave (and for a good supernatural story). So, long before An American Haunting, or Bell Witch: The Movie, we heard the story from the current owners of the cave.

I was looking through the photo album of this trip and saw pictures of a cave. “I wonder if that was the Bell Witch Cave. It would be about the right timing for that.” So I searched for ‘Bell Witch Cave’ on Google Images and saw a (considerably less overexposed) shot of this same location on someone else’s website. So I can say with about 90% certainty that this is, in fact, a picture of the Bell Witch Cave.

According to the legend, in the early 19th century, the family of a farmer named John Bell began to experience something that was generally thought of as supernatural. He, his family, and visitors to his home, heard voices. Sometimes it was the voice of a woman, at other times it was the voices of other people. It was reported that the voices, at one point, began repeating the words of two church services taking place simultaneously in two different churches miles from the Bell home.

The entity claimed to be “Kate Batts’s witch.” Kate Batts was a neighbor that the Bells had had problems with over some kind of economic transaction, either the purchase of land or of slaves. Given the time period that this story took place in, my money’s on the latter. At any rate, the apparition was given the name “Kate” and would apparently respond to that name.

In the end, “Kate,” presumably the spirit and not the neighbor (though in my memory, it seemed that the man telling the story was unclear on this point), fled to the cave.  There are several legends of her interacting with people in the cave.

Do I believe in the Bell Witch? I try to keep an open mind about things like ghosts, because I have seen some things that seem unexplainable (and on several occasions I was by myself, so they couldn’t have been practical jokes or anything of that nature). But I do wonder if the Bell Witch was real or was an attempt to slander a neighbor who had a grievance.

Next up: Stone Mountain, Atlanta. I may have to see if there are any public domain photos of the park because I don’t have a single one in my collection.

My Travel Memories: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

From where I sit right now, I think that this post finishes the 1977 and before parts of my travel memories (though I reserve the right to go back to some of these destinations if I find more photo albums that have more destinations in them). If all goes as planned, we will be back around October 28 for my travel memories of 1979, which I actually have both active memories and documentation of. It doesn’t look like we took a vacation in 1978. We moved that summer and I went to Girl Scout camp that year.  What with the move and everything, we might not have had time and energy to travel.


Within the Appalachian Mountains is an area called the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Within the Blue Ridge Mountains  is an area called the Great Smoky Mountains.  And within the Great Smoky Mountains is Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Great Smoky Mountains get their name from what amounts to clouds that hang around near the mountain.  There is a lot of water vapor already in the air, and as a result, transpiration, the evaporation of water from the leaves, tends to clump together in clouds that drape the mountains in gray fog. I really wish that we had used our cameras more during my childhood.  We stayed in a hotel in the Smokies once and the “smoke” around the mountain across the street the next morning was one of the most beautiful things I can remember from my childhood travels.

The highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains, Clingman’s Dome, is 6,600 feet in elevation.  On Clingman’s Dome is an observation tower that can let the visitor see up to 100 miles.  The top of the tower is accessed by a ramp, but the half-mile path up to the tower is too steep to be used by wheelchair users.  Much of the park is accessible by car, and there is one path that was made especially to be wheelchair accessible.  That path is just south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center on Newfound Gap Road.

Unfortunately, the mountains are smokier than ever, due to smog. As the eastern United States increases in population, and the population of the United States remains car-dependent and the area remains powered by coal-fired power plants, the smog has increased. One statistic I found says that visibility in the mountains has decreased by 60% in the last 60 years (I think that’s a coincidence and not a linear progression.  At least I hope it’s not, otherwise, by 2060 there will be no visibility at all). In recent years, attempts have been made to improve air quality, and it is working, but it is working slowly and so if you have asthma, check the air quality before attempting strenuous climbs, and always keep your inhaler with you.

And smog is not the only threat that the mountains are facing.  The trees at higher elevations are being killed by pests called adelgids.  The park rangers are attempting to save the trees, but the intervention, which includes and includes spraying the trees with soap and using beetles that eat the adelgids, is slow going.   They have had some success in recent years, but over 90% of the Fraser fir have died in recent decades, which is devastating to the ecosystem (and probably doesn’t help with the smog problem).

Well, that was cheerful.  I do have wonderful memories of the Great Smoky Mountains, and that is probably why I worry so much about threats such as these.  Hopefully the forestry people (arborists and whatever else) can find solutions and someday the Great Smoky Mountains will once again resemble the mountains I remember from my childhood.

My Travel Memories: Trips to North Carolina

Several times during my childhood, we went to visit my grandfather at his cabin in the mountains of North Carolina.  I found the Smoky Mountains to be breathtakingly beautiful, a feeling that comes over me every time I return (which my son and I did in 2013).  I also don’t know if this is cause and effect or just my own personality, but I also now gravitate towards temperate rain forests.  If I am ever able to retire, I may well end up in the Smoky Mountains for the Pacific Northwest or, if I am truly financially independent and can go anywhere I want, somewhere abroad such as Ireland or Cornwall.

Looking through our old photo albums (I’m now up to 3,511 pictures scanned in, which is about to become 3,512), I so far have only found two places that we stopped on our way from Chicago to North Carolina.

One of these was the Knoxville Zoo.  As fate would have it, my now-ex-husband (maybe I should give him a pseudonym) and I attempted to go to the Knoxville Zoo in 1992, but the zoo looked like it was closed when we were there.  There didn’t even look to be anyone in the ticket booth.  I don’t think I’d ever seen a zoo that was closed before or since.  The San Antonio Zoo is open 365 days a year.  They have to feed the animals anyway, so they might as well take in a few dollars from visitors.  And lots of people do go to the zoo that day.  Upon digging farther, I see that the Knoxville Zoo is not open on Christmas.  Perhaps this is because Knoxville is in the Bible Belt?

I don’t remember the Knoxville Zoo.  We have photos of it and one has a note saying that I was particularly fond of the bears there, so I know that I must have been there, but other than that, I’ve got nothing.  Perhaps if they had looked to be open on our 1992 visit and we’d gone in, I would have been hit by some kind of sense memories.  While researching this part of the post, it looks like they’ve since remodeled, so even if I returned today, I doubt that I’d see anything that I recognize.  As it is, as with the next two items, I hardly have enough to base an entire blog post on.  One can rent wheelchairs at the zoo, and one TripAdvisor review from 2012 says that the zoo is wheelchair accessible, but nowhere that I can find on the official site does it say whether the zoo is wheelchair accessible.

We also stopped in Gatlinburg on our way in or out on every visit.  This is the only way I know for certain the years we went to North Carolina.  My dad and I would always take the ski lift and then purchase the automatic photo of us that is taken on the way up.  I know that at least one time we stayed in a local hotel while we were there.  all I remembered was the name of the motel — the Dogwood Motel — but until I started my photo-scanning project I didn’t know that it had been in Gatlinburg.  And I do mean “had been,” Google Street View doesn’t show anything in that location anymore, not even a newer motel.

As to things we did while we were in North Carolina, we at some point, went to an amusement park called Frontier Land, which was organized around, just as the name implied, a western theme.  The park was in Cherokee, on or near the tribal lands.  From what I can tell, the park was on the site where the Harrah’s Casino is today.  All I remember of Frontier Land was a train ride and a roller coaster called, I believe, the Mad Mouse.

We also spent time in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on every visit and we went to the Biltmore Estate at least once in my childhood (Alex and I also went to the Biltmore Estate in 2013).  I remember enough of those, though, to base an entire blog post on my memories, which will follow in (if things go as scheduled) another six and twelve days.

My Travel Memories: Rock City, Lookout Mountain, Georgia

I have divided my travel into two eras:  Before 1977 and Starting with 1977.  The Before 1977 era is the era when my family and I traveled pretty much exclusively to South Florida and North Carolina, nearly always by car, rather than by plane.  Even though we started traveling other places starting with 1977, I still have traveled between my home and South Florida many times since then.  Four of these trips were by car, and the others were by plane.

I am currently trying (going from memory and with very little documentation) to stick to destinations that I first visited in the Before 1977 era. I may be mistaken about this next one, which is Rock City.  Rock City, is apparently technically “Rock City Gardens,” though I have never heard anyone use that term.  Rock City is both on and in Lookout Mountain, since Lookout Mountain is both a mountain and a town on the mountain.  The town is on the Georgia side of the border between Georgia and Tennessee, but it looks to me like the actual park is on the Tennessee side of the line. Continue reading “My Travel Memories: Rock City, Lookout Mountain, Georgia”