INTERVIEW — TAPE #11, SIDE #1
Q: Mark Gordon Russell (interviewer)
M: Maxine Mc Wethy
M: Well, Bill always kidded him about that, “Michael, take time to smell the roses.”
Q: Oh, so he was just kidding. That didn’t have any hidden meaning.
M: When they left, Twyla and I came in here and we were still crying about them all leaving. Michael hollered, “I FORGOT TO TELL YOU TO TELL BILL TO TAKE TIME TO SMELL THE ROSES.” (“I’M ALL EGG”) We even cried more.
Q: Because that sounds pretty definitive. (laughs) Hokey. Oh God.
Q: It’s good there’s some humor. There is a humorous side to it. There really is.
M: Everybody demands that it has to be a comedy.
Q: A black comedy. Of course, some people think all horror movies are comedies. There really haven’t been very many good horror movies made. It’s hard to do good horror movies. The best ones are the most believable ones.
M: Michael likes to play hide and go seek with us too. He had something hid and he told us to look for it. It was an egg. That’s what it was. And he told us to look for it. And we looked all over this place.
Q: And you kept digging everywhere?
Q: Dig here. Dig there. Did he tell you where to look?
M: He said, “I’LL GIVE YOU A HINT.” And a hanging plant began rocking a little bit. We looked in it and there was an egg. They like to play like that.
Q: That’s funny. That’s something an eight-year-old kid would do.
M: One night, Twyla, Steve and I were here in my living room. I was getting ready to go the store in Tupelo which closes at ten. And the car keys weren’t there. Well, Steve has his car keys on this thing that glows in the dark so he said, “Let’s go in here, turn all the lights out and see if it will glow in the dark so we can find it.” We saw that it was right over there in that corner by the vacuum cleaner. And I grabbed for it and it wasn’t even there. Then, a little later you could see it shining on one of the tables in there. Oh, it was so weird. Twyla said, “Let’s play this again, Michael. It’s fun.”
Q: In terms of the key events, which ones do you think were the most astonishing? If you had to say these were the most important things that happened, which ones would you choose? The visit of the owls comes to mind. What was the most profound experience that happened? Perhaps, some that I would judge as being the most profound, you would not.
M: Between who?
Q: Between you and any of the spirits. Which occurrence made you the most surprised or the happiest? One incident that you said was very emotional was the one when they said that they were leaving. There are so many great scenes that you told me about.
M: That was sad, though. Oh!
Q: It’s sad but then it’s also comical because it wasn’t true. So there’s a comic side. They’re your friends now.
Q: I’m trying to listen — I hear — it’s as if you can almost hear a suggestion of something flying in the air. Let’s see if I can find any other Bell names in here. (reading) “Sometimes they complained of being pricked with pins and were often stricken dumb” — only that was not even — never mind. (“HMMM”)
M: I got stuck with a hat pin that time.
Q: It’s a classic symptom.
M: And there were all those needle pricks in my back. Oh, there’s something else. I said, “Brenda, there’s something itching me to death.” I had Brenda pull my blouse up in here one night. “It’s all over my back.” And she said, “You’ve got blood blisters on your back.” She put her hand right there where there weren’t any and moved her hand. Then, there was one on her hand from my back. How did that get there? That shocked Brenda to death. Aren’t things strange? There are so many things that have happened, though. Like that sauerkraut incident when he said, “YOU WEREN’T SUPPOSED TO SEE THAT.” (laughs)
Q: There’s a lot you’re not supposed to see.
M: He has jerked chairs out from under each other in here. One night, Twyla was sitting where you’re at and one of these chairs flew over there and mashed her hand against the other one.
Q: Well, she’s had a few bruises over the years.
M: And that white desk we had sitting over there in the corner flew out and fell on her one night — that’s what scared everybody so bad.
Q: She’s on pins and needles some of the time. I think she was brave in taking me around to those places. She was sort of surprised too when some of the things were going on. I guess those things don’t happen every night. But she doesn’t challenge it to do something every night. After that night, she didn’t challenge it the next night. That’s for sure.
M: It’s Bill who really gets spooked sometimes by some of the things that happen.
Q: The one that people called the Bell Witch was quoted as having once said, “I AM A SPIRIT; I WAS ONCE VERY HAPPY BUT HAVE BEEN DISTURBED.” But it said a lot of other things. Some people thought it was some kind of Indian spirit.
(TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE: THIS IS FROM THE M. V. INGRAM BOOK.)
M: I told you about that night when my brother-in-law’s sister and her son were out here when that window got broke? Well, her son went outside by himself with a camcorder going. When he came in here and played it in the VCR there was an Indian man. He was tall and had on a checkered red shirt. He had long white hair and it looked like he was reaching for the door handle out there. I have to get that tape.
Q: Is this the tape you were looking for but couldn’t find?
M: No. This is one we’ve got.
Q: Who has it?
M: My brother-in-law taped it.
Q: Was the Indian man just a passer-by or do you think it was more than that?
M: I don’t know. But it looked like he was reaching for the door handle outside. It looked like somebody was coming outside and it seemed like he just turned around and he was gone. That’s on that tape. It was weird.
Q: Michael had such a sweet little laugh when I heard it in the car. I would like to hear that laugh again someday. It was like a child’s. During the time of the Bell Witch, they had ‘witch-killers.’ Of course, none of them had any effect upon the spirit at all. It could keep guns from going off.
M: Oh, there’s another thing. There was a couple from Coalgate up here one night and he had in the car —
Q: Oh ho ho.
M: — a loaded gun. I didn’t hear him but Twyla said Michael told that guy to unload his gun and that he knew about his friend that accidentally got shot. That spooked that guy so he unloaded his gun.
Q: His friend probably did get shot accidentally.
M: Yeah. Michael knew about it.
Q: He can read people’s minds.
M: It shocked that guy because he didn’t think something like that could tell him that one of his friends accidentally got shot.
Q: In other words: ‘I better not mess with this dude.’
M: Anyway, he was missing two cans of beer out there that night. That was the night Michael got drunk. I guess he was laying down there on the floor drunk. You can’t see him. Twyla stepped on him.
Q: At least he said she stepped on him.
M: He screamed and then we went back there and he hollered, “BILL, PUT ME TO BED. I’M DRUNK.”
Q: I guess Bill declined to put him to bed. The other Bell spirit got drunk too. I’m trying to find that part in the book.
M: Oh really? Well, Frieda, Twyla and I went to Coalgate one time. Her husband’s a truck driver but when he’s home he drinks Coke and whiskey. We went to the store for him and bought a fifth of whiskey. Coming home, we began smelling whiskey and Frieda said, “Twyla, check that whiskey bottle.” And the seal had been broken and a little bit of whiskey was gone.
M: I can’t stand smelling the stuff but boy when you smell it you know what it is. So Michael got into that whiskey.
Q: He isn’t the only one. I think this book will refer to the incident I’m looking for. Not all of the accounts do. It involved the other spirits. They would always go to the ‘still house’ and they would always come back drunk and raising a ruckus.
Q: It sounds so crazy you wouldn’t think it was true. But now history is repeating itself even in that respect. I mean spirits can’t get drunk. They don’t even have a tangible form.
M: I didn’t think so.
Q: I’m trying to find that passage in here.
M: You mean in that book he got drunk?
Q: It’s just about the same thing again.
M: I wonder if these are the same spirits.
Q: Well, they have different names but, of course, they would, wouldn’t they? The spirit loved Mrs. Bell, John’s wife. When she was sick, he brought her hazelnuts and grapes. They appeared from nowhere and fell onto her bed. He also sang her ‘sweet songs.’ Has this one ever sung any songs?
M: He likes Garth Brooks.
Q: He does? Did he say that? ‘I like Garth Brooks.’
Q: Why does he like Garth Brooks? I guess everyone likes Garth Brooks.
M: “If Tomorrow Never Comes” — he liked that song. (“COME”) Twyla and I started to take off here in the car one time and he put a Bobby Brown rap tape in the cassette player. Oh gosh. I hated that thing but I put up with it. Just to satisfy him. (laughs) He kept playing it. He stuck it in there and played it. Some of that rap music is crude. Rap music drives me nuts.
Q: Well, it all drives me nuts. (laughs) It creates another problem.
M: But I appreciated him bringing Twyla that formula for the baby when they lived in Paden. They were out of milk for her and he brought it. They went to Desireé’s Christmas play and he had two cans of formula sitting on the couch when we got home. Then, he had a cake sitting there. And I think there were two different times when he left a $10 ham for them.
Q: One time this other spirit took a vacation in the area now known as the Bermuda Triangle. It’s ironic that before people even knew about the Bermuda Triangle the spirit remarked that was where he was getting some of the fruits and things he was giving the Bell family and things. Isn’t that surprising? Unfortunately, with some of these accounts, descriptions of what happened are mixed together with the popular conceptions of the time about spiritualism. The incident where Michael told you not to even try recording him as a parallel to an event in the previous century when Betsy went with some children to a near-by forest to gather spring blossoms to decorate for Easter Sunday.
(TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE: THE FOLLOWING IS FROM THE HARRIET PARKS MILLER BOOK AND IS ATTRIBUTED TO BETSY BELL.)
As I reached overhead to break off dogwood boughs for the children, a voice spoke, “BETSY BELL, DON’T BREAK A FLOWER; IF YOU DO, YOU WILL PAY WELL FOR IT.” I looked and twenty feet across from me across a wagon road running through the woods, I saw, as distinctly as I see you, a ghostly looking woman, dressed in pale green, suspended from the limb of a large red oak tree. She was holding on with both hands, and her frail figure swayed in midair. At first I hoped it was an illusion or distracted vision of mine and I turned away, but when I looked the second time it was the same. I hastened home with the children, all the while watching them to see if they noticed anything unusual but they did not. They wondered why I did not get the flowers we went for, but I evaded giving the real reason.
Q: I think that was the only time a family member saw any kind of obvious apparition.
( . . . )
Q: But this spirit cursed and raved.
( . . . )
M: Did she have any brothers or anything?
Q: There were nine children but one of them, Benjamin, died young. Betsy’s brothers were: Jesse, John Jr., Drewry, Zadok, Richard and Joel. Her older sister, Esther, soon moved out. The slaves had a lot of kids too. And their house was weather-boarded. I’m still looking for the information about the ‘witch family’ that got drunk. It might not be in this book, The Bell Witch: A Mysterious Spirit by Charles Bailey Bell. The most extensive version is the M. V. Ingram book. The author was a journalist whose intention was to “record events of historical fact,” assembling Richard Williams Bell’s memoirs and other corroborative testimony. The mother, Lucy, was stricken with pleurisy.
Q: I’m not quite sure what that is. She was sick when he sang for her and brought her gifts. This later book may not include the drunken spirits incident because it’s off-color. (laughs) Oh God.
Q: The main reason why this account has not been more popular and isn’t generally known is probably because the spirit was said to use a lot of profanity such as ‘nigger,’ which makes things very difficult. Of course, I didn’t include that in my history book or dramatization.
Q: It could only have an abusive effect on people to keep that in.
M: Twyla gets so mad when people come out here and start saying stuff like that. Do you know what nigger means? Have you ever looked it up?
M: It means lazy.
Q: Is that what it means? Oh, niggardly. Right. One time, according to the Miller book, the spirit said, “YOU KNOW, AS I’VE SAID BEFORE, I AM ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING, HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE. JUST NOW I’M THE SPIRIT OF AN EARLY IMMIGRANT; I BROUGHT A LARGE SUM OF MONEY IN SILVER AND GOLD . . .” Richard Williams Bell entitled his memoirs Our Family Trouble and wrote that:
Sister was now subjected to fainting spells, followed by prostration characterized by shortness of breath and smothering sensations, panting as it were for life and becoming entirely exhausted and lifeless, losing her breath for nearly a minute between gasps, and was rendered unconscious. These spells lasted from thirty to forty minutes and passed off suddenly, leaving her perfectly restored after a few minutes in which she recovered from the exhaustion . . . the spells came on at regular hours in the evening, just at the time the witch usually appeared, and immediately after the spells passed off the mysterious voice commenced talking, but never uttered a word during the time of her prostration.
Q: Eventually Betsy’s attacks ended and the spirit was able to talk during the day because at first it was only heard at night.
Q: Your spirit’s evolution is obviously different in many of those respects. Yours didn’t first come only at night, did it?
Q: It came in the day too?
M: Yeah. Then again —
Q: It might have been around a long time before you knew.
M: He told me long ago that they were with us for a long time. Then, he started telling me things about when I was six years old. That was weird.
Q: Well, this one did that too.
Q: That’s why I don’t want to give you too many of the details because people will think, “They just made everything up after reading that old book.” If someone asks you, “Did you read a book about the Bell Witch?” You can honestly say, “No, I didn’t.”
M: No, I didn’t. You better believe I didn’t.
Q: And there’s really nothing to get out of it, really, that would explain what’s going on.
M: I don’t sit and read anyway. Bill sits in this place and reads Western books all the time and I can’t do that. It’s like being in prison.
Q: It’s interesting that this later book doesn’t mention the spirits becoming drunkards. Perhaps, they found that objectionable. The spirit(s) also rescued a boy from a cave once.
M: Oh, really?
(TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE: THE FOLLOWING IS FROM THE CHARLES BAILEY BELL BOOK AND IS ATTRIBUTED TO BETSY BELL.)
One time when we were ‘exploring the cave’ one of the boys in the crowd came to a place where he had to get down on his knees and crawl; suddenly he went into a kind of quicksand deposit and soon became so jammed in he could not get out. His candle was out and no one could get to him; suddenly the big room and all parts of the cave were lit up as from a big lamp. A voice called out, “I’LL GET YOU OUT.” The boy’s legs were seized if by strong hands and he was drawn out with a face full of mud and nearly suffocated. We all agreed not to tell our parents of this nearly fatal accident but that night when the Spirit arrived at the usual neighborhood gathering at our home, it asked the parents of the boy if they had gotten the mud out of the boy’s ears. Then it told him of his predicament in the cave and advised them to put a halter on him the next time so his companions could pull him out if he got stuck again.
M: There was this one time where a gun shot. It scared Michael to death and he went and hid. (laughs)
Q: Scared of what?
M: We were going to Tupelo one night and I said, “Michael, if somebody wants to kidnap us what would you do?” He said, “I’D RUN LIKE HELL.”
M: He probably would.
Q: Yeah, really.
M: Oh my. He was afraid somebody was going to shoot us. Well, they might accidentally. I don’t know. (laughs)
Q: Does he call your name? Does he ever say your name?
M: Yeah. He says, “MAXINE.”
Q: He doesn’t say “Max” or —
M: No. Maxine.
Q: Because the mother in the other Bell case was named Lucy and he would always call her ‘Luce.’
M: Oh really? Well, there’s something different.
Q: People who came to witness the phenomena would hear the voices of family members perfectly imitated. (“DAMN”)
(TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE: THE FOLLOWING EXAMPLE IS FROM THE CHARLES BAILEY BELL BOOK.)
A gentleman from England visited at the Bell home, remaining several months with the expressed determination (made known only to John Jr.) of solving this mystery . . . the Spirit told him of his thoughts and that he was a sensible man to have remained, making no fuss and not saying the foolish things others had. It told him he was puzzled over the things he had seen and heard, and it would now give him another to think about. It told him within two or three hours he would hear from home as usual (the Spirit had kept him informed as to what was going on at his home in England all this time, which the Englishman always learned was true when he received letters from his home) and asked him what he should tell the home folks; that it would convey any message to them he wished; this it had never done before.
The Englishman said, “Tell them that in my opinion, never since the world was created have men seen and heard the marvelous things I have witnessed during the past three months.”
Within three hours a voice began repeating astonishment at what was being told them, and another voice exclaimed incredulously, “Why, that is brother’s voice; where are you, brother?”
The Englishman told John Bell and John Jr., who were the only other persons present, that the voices were his mother’s and brother’s. (The Spirit had given a perfect imitation of their voices.)
The Spirit then gave their return message in the voice of the mother, “Tell him not to stay any longer; he has heard and seen enough, and we do not want any more visits like that here.”
The Englishman knew his mother’s voice yet, to prove conclusively that it was she, he wrote John Jr. as soon as he arrived home that all that had been said was correct and that all who believed it were amazed but few people believed it could actually have happened.
Q: This could be the same one.
Q: (laughs) It’s possible.
M: That’s what I was thinking a while ago. (“COULD BE”) When we asked him why he picked us, he said, “BECAUSE YOU WERE THE ONLY ONES UP THAT TIME OF MORNING.”
Q: That doesn’t make —
M: Didn’t make much sense.
Q: It isn’t a very satisfactory answer, is it? What year did Mr. Bell come into the picture? When did you marry him?
M: I married him in ’56.
Q: And you really didn’t become aware of the spirit until 1990?
M: In 1990.
Q: And you divorced him in what year?
M: I divorced him in ’73 and then I married Bill in ’77. Bill had a brother that lived here in Centrahoma and he died about three years ago. Carlton was a provider for him.
Q: That’s the strangest thing in terms of parallels — that Bill isn’t a Bell. In this case, who was being — if that’s what’s going on — (“MADE IN HEAVEN”)
M: We knew Carlton was dying so we took him over there all the time. (“MAYO CLINIC”)
Q: How was Carlton’s health before the cancer? Did he ever have any other conditions?
Q: If they could do anything, they could — you know? It’s hard to figure out. In the earlier Bell case, the father was having problems, the mother had pleurisy for a while and the daughter had the weird fainting spells. Could the father and daughter’s conditions be linked to the spirit? The pleurisy might not have been linked. I mean that isn’t quite as obvious.
M: I’ve had pleurisy.
Q: You have?
M: Yeah. In my lungs. Boy that hurts too. It got my — ahh.
Q: Were you bedridden for a while?
M: Oh, not really. In fact, I’ve had it several times.
Q: If you are, maybe you’ll be getting gifts.
Q: Well, they might bring you something while you’re in bed.
M: I haven’t got one yet. (laughs) I didn’t get one while I had it. Well, he has brought me gifts. He brought me that Trouble perfume.
Q: That shows that he likes you.
M: Yeah. Twyla, Desireé and I were driving to Coalgate one time and he said. “I GOT DESIREÉ SOMETHING.” We asked him where it was and he said, “UNDER THE SEAT.” Twyla reached under there and felt it. She said, “Oh, it’s a stuffed toy.” And she brought it out and it was a new pair of mountain shoes he got for Desireé. I think he stole it out of the store.
(TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE: THE FOLLOWING IS FROM OUR FAMILY TROUBLE BY RICHARD WILLIAMS BELL.)
Q: What John Bell complained of was “a curious sensational feeling in his mouth, a stiffness of the tongue and something like a stick crosswise, punching each side of his jaws.”
Q: At first it didn’t recur very often. Then: As the phenomena developed, this affliction increased, his tongue swelling from the sides and pressing against his jaws so that he could neither talk or eat for ten or fifteen hours. In the meanwhile the witch manifested a pernicious dislike for father, using the most vile and malignant epithets toward him, declaring that it would torment ‘Old Jack Bell’ to the end of his life. As father’s trouble increased, Elizabeth was gradually relieved from her severe spells and soon recovered entirely from the affliction and never had another symptom of the kind. But father was seized with another malady that caused him much trouble and suffering. This was contortions of the face, a twitching and dancing of his flesh, which laid him up for the time. These spells gradually increased and undoubtedly carried him to his grave . . .