I wrote a little bit about John Murrell’s thumb for Pith.

Tomorrow I have many feelings about the Bell Witch, so it’s basically a week of me pooping on Nashville’s most beloved legends.

But here’s the thing I am becoming more convinced of. Oftentimes the legend of something obscures or erases a much more interesting bunch of facts. See Robert Johnson and the legend of him selling his soul to the Devil for very minor regional talent vs. Robert Johnson traveling the country and having a bunch of friends and working really hard to develop his talent.

Or the Mystic Clan, which obscures the bizarre summer of 1835.

As for the Bell Witch…

While I am a firm believer in some kinds of psychic phenomenon (which I am convinced have a scientific explanation we just haven’t discovered yet)–like your mom having a sudden feeling that you’re in trouble or the kinds of conversations the Butcher and I have where something at work can remind me of something that happened twenty-five years ago and I come home and ask “Hey, do you remember that guy with the green shirt who did that weird thing?” and he’ll know exactly which guy in a green shirt I’m talking about and what the weird thing was.–I think most psychics are scam artists. Because I think being psychic is like having a gut feeling or a moment of intuition. You can’t make it happen and it’s not some constant state of being on.

Someone who can make it happen all the time is cheating.

And when you’re cheating to accuse dead people of molesting a girl? That really pisses me off.

Here’s the thing that I didn’t get into at Pith, mostly because I didn’t feel on as firm a footing scholarship-wise as I did about my point about the story treating this spirit the way Victorians would have treated and understood the spirit and not like people in the 1810s and 20s would have, the Red River community was very small and people’s windows were open for a great portion of the year. If Betsy Bell was being molested, there’s a good chance people would have known. Not a perfect chance but a good chance. If Betsy Bell’s molestation had somehow led to the Bell Witch phenomenon, people would have made that connection back then.

If Betsy Bell had been the true focus of a poltergeist, during that time, it would have made her very hard to marry off. If Betsy Bell had been molested and people knew about it, it would have been practically impossible to marry her off. Public knowledge of molestation ruined women’s lives. If Betsy Bell had a poltergeist who told secrets (which this one supposedly did) and was molested (and people knew about it, which it seems likely they would have, if the first one were true), she could not have gotten married.

The fact that Betsy Bell married tells me that the story as we know it, as well as the story as this psychic is trying to sell books on, is not true.

It pisses me off, both at the level of accusing people of a horrendous crime with nothing more than the word of a psychic, and at the level of utterly misunderstanding how that accusation would have ruined Betsy Bell’s life so utterly and completely.

As hard as it is for victims these days to come forward, there’s been such a profound shift in how we understand this crime that it’s almost impossible to wrap our heads around.

I mean, not to be flip, but I’d like to hear some explanation for how Betsy Bell, if she was molested, was able to, back in her own day, keep this mostly secret and not see herself as fallen and ruined, let alone how she’s now come to the conclusion that she’s fine, it’s the fuckers who molested her who are the problem.

That’s something I, as a 21st century woman, firmly believe. But I find it hard to believe an early 19th century woman from a religious home on the frontier would have not experienced this as something profoundly shameful and ruinous that she had caused to happen to herself.

I don’t know. It just feels like making light of how terrible that would have been for Betsy, had it happened, how profoundly different her life would have gone, if it was true and enough people knew about it for it to make its way down to us somehow.

Confederate Things

1. I argue we should stop providing racists cover.

2. I talk about how Nathan Bedford Forrest was always a man and a myth and how the man came to resent not being able to escape the myth. And here we are, still mythologizing him.

3. Coates makes the point that I have been wrestling with for years–that Confederates, actual Confederates, hated the “states-rights” origin story for the Civil War and were pissed that Southerners were rewriting what they did and why to make it more acceptable. Confederates got that their grandchildren were ashamed of them, even as their grandchildren and great grandchildren and so on mask that shame in veneration.

Those Darlins “Be Your Bro”

During the Vandy rape trial, witness after witness has described seeing the victim in some state of distress–the roommate saw her being raped on down to the people who just saw her passed out in the hall, undressed, sick and injured–and doing nothing. Just getting out of the way.

Over and over, the students describe why they didn’t call the police or why they helped in the cover-up. Two words keep coming up–1. “afraid,” which I get. I can imagine being afraid. But 2. “brother.” These guys, these alleged rapists, were their “brothers.” They didn’t want to stand against them.

We joke “bros before hos” and Those Darlins sing all about how they “wanna be your bro.” And most of the time, it is funny. Being your friend is awesome. You seeing me only as something to “stick it in” is not that fun. Ha ha ha.

And then something like this will happen to illuminate just how far the distance between bro and something to stick it in is. What woman doesn’t want to be your bro if it means I get help, even when I’m in the wrong, if it means I get your concern, even to the detriment of the people I’ve hurt? Being your fucking bro is awesome.

I don’t know. I suspect I might have, in college, been the kind of person who would have seen something wrong and not really recognized my obligation to help. But I don’t know. Someone passed out? Someone I knew? I feel like I might not have been the right kind of help, I think I would have tried.

But you don’t know, do you? Not until you’re in those circumstances. Maybe it’s not about identifying with the people doing the terrible things as it is trying to avoid being lumped in with the the kind of people this stuff can happen to.

Anyway, I wrote about it some more over at Pith.


I really find it weird that I upset people. Well, maybe I don’t find it that weird. I guess I just thought that provoking people would, you know, involve deliberately trying to upset people, rather than just saying what I think.

I don’t think that the things I think are that special or weird. I don’t experience myself as some weirdo, I guess.

So, it’s weird. I mean, I know I’m in a minority in Tennessee, but I don’t think it’s a minority of one.

But anyway, I just can’t see how standing against a swingers club is a good thing.

Trying to Find the Person-Shaped Absences

I need to remember this for my next chapter–the thought I had when I woke up this morning. The kind of history that I’m trying to write for Nashville is, in some parts, a history of holes–where you look at the people we do have information about and try to figure out what that would mean for the person we don’t.

Today at Pith, I talk about Mary Overton–a woman with two prominent husbands, a really significantly historical father, and a prominent family. You look at everything you know about the people you know about and see if you can discern from all that the life of the woman central to all of them.

And, of course, it’s hard. It’s deliberately hard. The people whose histories are so hard to come by–women, minorities–their lives are hard to come by on purpose. Names left out, chances to write their own stories denied.

Anyway. It’s sad and frustrating.

Informal History Week at Pith

I have a post on the thing I found in Ron Ramsey’s office. I will have a post on our chances of digging up Timothy Demonbreun. And, you guys! I spent all afternoon at Traveller’s Rest, sitting in the office where the old kitchen used to be, talking about history and Overtons and I got to ask if everyone was given an Overton upon their arrival at Nashville and they laughed.

And more importantly, even though I did not get to buy one–Traveller’s Rest has pie birds! In the gift shop.

Plus, I got to introduce Traveller’s Rest to Ben & Sue Allen’s The Thing, which, you may recall, from my incessant babbling about it, has many Overton connections–from Ben’s cousins to the Baxters’ friendship/enemyship with Dickinson.

And the other cool thing–Okay, I’ll just be honest that I learned many cool things–that I learned was that Mrs. Overton’s first husband was Andrew Jackson’s personal physician (a job with real security), hence how she ended up with a kid named Andrew Jackson May.

Plus, plus, I’m going to the TSLA at the end of the month to read to them about the fictional feud they fictionally had with the state museum over The Wolf’s Bane. I am so tickled.

I do feel a little bad for insisting the Butcher walk the dog this morning, because he was being so obnoxious yesterday after a week of very little getting-out-and-walking-around, and now it’s raining.

But pie birds!

Doing Nothing Wrong

I wrote about the Radnor Lake Rambo for Pith today. And I’ve been thinking a lot about how, if his crusade is not about publicly escalating his one-man terror-fest until he works up the guts to shoot someone, it’s about demanding the right to be thought of as harmless, no matter what social cues he’s giving off.

You see this come up in other situations, where men get mad when they know they’re just being nice guys by doing something–say following a girl home (to make sure she makes it), or offering to buy a woman a drink after she’s made it clear she no longer wants to talk to you–that sets off the “this guy is trouble” red flag. Like they’re really pissed that they’re not being thought of as harmless.

There are other instances, but you get the gist. And people try to make the argument that, hey, you might be harmless, but you’re doing this red-flag activity and we are not psychic so we have no way of knowing if the guy on campus with a gun is a good guy or a bad guy or if the guy following us home is a good guy or a rapist or if the woman flirting with our partners is friendly or has ill-intentions.

But you can’t indulge in mildly bad, scary behavior and still be treated like you’re harmless. That’s a really weird thing to ask of the world.


I would have loved writing papers in college so much more if I’d been able to say back then things like “He eventually realized he’d shit the bed on his historical legacy and it wasn’t going to come clean.”

If you’ve ever seen a young Southern white guy who loves Forrest talking about him, you’ve probably come as close as you’re going to come to seeing the equivalent of the Beauty & the Beast dynamic in a straight guy. “Oh, Nathan, he’s not so bad. I understand him, even if no one else does. Only I can soothe his tortured soul. If I hang out and talk about Nate a lot, my other friends get weirded out, but I love him and I just wish they could see in him what I do. Hell, I only wish Nate-eee-poo could see in himself what I see there.” They can redeem the monster, through true love and books.

Anyway, here.

Wicked Smart?

Oh, you guys, just when I’m like “What am I doing with my life? Do the things I do even matter?” I read this:

For some years I’ve been a fan of Betsy Phillip’s writing, she’s wicked smart and has a razor sharp style and calls out BS for what it is. I’m sure some readers get a little uncomfortable with her honesty and her views since she doesn’t shrink away from tough issues. Her work at Pith In The Wind has been a must-read.

That is really lovely. I don’t feel very brave, but that paragraph makes me sound really bad-ass.

Times Like This

On the one hand, I’m going to be so happy when the Butcher’s car is fixed. Because this waking up at a quarter to six when I’m used to waking up at twenty after is doing me in. It doesn’t seem like it should be that big a deal, but it seems like I’m missing some crucial last part of a sleep cycle or something.

But on the other hand, I like having a half an hour a day where we just talk about shit. Not that we don’t do that at home, but… well, no, not really. We’re watching TV or each doing our own thing.

Anyway, I wrote this thing for Pith. What I’m mulling over is that we tell history like it is just one great person popping up, island after island, like Hawaii in metaphorical terms. But you can’t look too closely at any particular person without seeing all the ways they’re tired to the people who came before them.

Rock City Marches

Yesterday, K. hooked me up with a guy who could play all the Rock City Marches I had. It was amazing to be sitting in a room, the three of us, listening to music we weren’t sure anyone had heard in decades.

I really love the feeling of going into the TSLA and finding things and knowing that I might be seeing something that no one has seen in years. But this experience of turning around and sharing it with others is also really amazing.

But, yes, as I say in my post, I ended up apparently a Rock City march short. But on Twitter, a guy from the State Museum offered to see if he could track down their copy.

How is this my life? I honestly don’t know. I have all these incredibly interesting people I know who all are happy to help me feed my curiosity. I don’t even know why. But it’s pretty awesome. My hope is that it’s awesome for them, too.

A Shift

I’ve been around at the other place long enough now that people, finally, hunt me down to tell me things they think I should think about. Like my opinion matters. Or carries any weight. It’s weird, considering how futile it feels to try to get people to change their minds.

I don’t know. Mostly I just think it’s weird. Like, why now, after all this time, am I worth hunting down?

Maybe it’s just the problem with the media pool shrinking. Everyone still in the water stands out.


My Andrew Jackson thing is not coming together how I’d like.

But I wrote about hostage-taking for Pith. I fully expect, since Ramsey appears to be saying that he’s holding out on medicaid expansion because fuck hospitals, this will become a bigger story. It’s fucking evil. Genuine political disagreements I get. Holding hostages because your feelings are hurt? We’re a state, not the fucking mob.

Nashville Scene-ing It Up

I wrote a piece about Joe Carr.. You can tell I was thinking hard yesterday about conspiracy theories and how they work.

And in the actual paper, not on the blog, I wrote a story about Nashville’s first real Thanksgiving and what took us so long to get around to it.

And J.R. Lind’s story about spiced round has convinced me to serve it this Christmas to my family. Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha. I am trying to learn how one serves it, but that hardly matters. When reviving a dying tradition, ruin it! That’s what I always say. (Note: that is not what I always say. Obviously, what I always say is “When reviving a dying tradition, add the Devil and some fool who fucks him.” But that’s not how I want to spend Christmas with my family.)

Tearing Down Buildings

In an unintended, but now hilarious to me, coincidence, my story, “Beyond, Behind, Below“–about what happens when you fuck with a dude’s ancient wreck of a cabin–is out the same day I argue we should tear down the United Methodist Publishing House building and not feel bad about it for even a second.

Anyway, check out the whole issue of Betwixt. There’s some really great stuff in there.

And then feel free to come back and tell me if you like the story.