Bourbon, Bar-B-Que and the Bell Witch

John Bell, Jr.

OH GAWD it’s been hot in London. I was in our local grocery store gabbing with a neighbor, blocking the produce aisle, as you do, and we talked and talked and oh, so much fodder upon which to catch up, chat and gossip. But not really, we were just trying to prolong the luxury of air conditioning.

I find it useless to explain the lack of air conditioning in London to those across the pond, or at least those who have never experienced a European summer. “You don’t have central air? Why, just stick an air conditioner in your damn window!”

I moved on to the frozen food section, not that I needed any, and thought about witches, bourbon and barb-b-que, the ingredients of a Southern summer. Cooling off. Sustenance. Mischief.

On the border of Kentucky and Tennessee in Adams, a little enclave in Robertson County, therein lies the setting of the legendary Bell Witch.

Robertson County sits in the bottomland of the Red River.

This is tobacco country where Robertson County is the dark-fired tobacco capital of the world. In late summer the smell of fresh cut tobacco fills the thick, hot air as it hangs to dry in tobacco barns.

As teenagers, with a designated driver, and shamefully, sometimes not, we fuelled up on the only thing a decent Kentucky native would drink late on a Sunday night, the sweet and fiery liquid that is Kentucky bourbon.

I swear we'd find bourbon in our shampoo if they could think of an angle.

Chocolate Bourbon Balls

We went ghost hunting after midnight. Driving through the Bell farm back roads where no streetlights shone the way, our headlights beamed through coal black darkness. With flashlights, we studied the tombstones of the John Bell family, plantation owners and slaveholders, who were haunted by Kate, the witch.

We ran around screaming at the slightest provocation, like a screeching owl, or a tap on the shoulder. Our footsteps covered the same ground upon which General Andrew Jackson and his men had stopped for an overnight visit with John Bell.

The soldiers were terrified with the witch’s antics and begged to leave. It was noted that Jackson dropped to the ground laughing and said "By the eternal, boys, I never saw so much fun in all my life. This beats fighting the British."


Bell House 1909

We stumbled upon the cave on the Bell farm. A bat flew out of the mouth of the cave and one of our crew wet her pants in sheer terror.

This fright night stuff makes one ravenous, onward then to raid a parent’s refrigerator, which reliably contained some sort of leftover bar-b-que. Bar-b-que in the South is the actual food, not the act of grilling. “Let’s go eat some bar-b-que.”

Kentucky barb-b-que restaurants don’t want you to forget where you are: Old South Bar-b-que, Good Ole Boys and Old Hickory, to name a few. And for the nostalgically romantic there’s Moonlite Bar-b-Que, Shady Rest and Good Old Days. My personal favorite sauce:

I think it was the display of the “real lump wood charcoal” and HP Barbecue Sauce at the hot end of Waitrose that woke me from this dream of summer Southern nights.

1 comment:

  1. The first time I hit London a zillion moons ago, it was also hot hot and it seemed very bizarre, this no air conditioning along with drinks served with no ice.

    Your teenage memories brought back some of my own. For us northerners, it was strictly scotch on the rocks and considering we too in those days never had "designated drivers," it's truly amazing so many of us made it out of those years alive.