July 01, 2012

Dartmouth's Demon Doctor

Before I get into this week's crazy piece of local lore I want to mention that I'll be the special guest on Spooky Southcoast on Saturday, July 7.

Spooky Southcoast is a radio talk show about the paranormal broadcast on WBSM out of New Bedford every Saturday night at 10:00 p.m. I'm excited to be on the show, so I hope you can tune in. If you don't live near New Bedford you can also hear the stream the show through its website, or upload it afterwards as a podcast.

Now, onto the folklore!

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I recently visited Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. What a beautiful campus and town! Lots of historic buildings, a huge town green, and a very nice downtown.

Here's a quick quiz. Which of these do you associate with an Ivy League school like Dartmouth?

a. Top-notch faculty
b. Historic traditions
c. Preppy clothing
d. An undead madman who hides in the mountains and tries to kill people?
e. All of the above

If we're talking about Dartmouth, the answer is "e. All of the above." I don't know if the other Ivy schools have undead madmen affiliated with them, but I suspect they don't.

Baker Library at Dartmouth


Each year, incoming freshmen at Dartmouth go on an outing to Mt. Moosilauke, where they spend the night in a lodge and learn the strange tale of Dr. Benton.

Thomas Benton was born in the early 1800s in a town near Hanover. The son of a prominent family, Tom was sent to the University of Heidelberg, Germany, to attend medical school. Although Tom excelled as a student he felt like an outsider among the Germans, and formed a close friendship only with one elderly professor.

Although he was kindly there was something strange about the professor. The other faculty members shunned him, and the students whispered about "blasphemous experimentation." But he took Tom under his wing, and the two spent many nights discussing medicine, science, and theology. When the old professor died he left Tom some arcane books and a small locked chest, which Tom brought back to New Hampshire after graduation.

Tom quickly became the most respected doctor in New Hampshire, and could heal any patient who came to him. But in 1816 he learned the limits of his medical skills. His beautiful fiancee, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, came down with typhoid fever. Tom was unable to cure her, and she died in his arms.

The shock was more than he could take. Tom abandoned his home and medical practice, and retreated to a ramshackle cabin on Mt. Moosilauke. The only possessions he brought with him were the books and the small locked chest given to him by his mentor in Heidelberg. You see, the old professor had been working on the secret of eternal life. Tom's fiancee may have died, but Tom was determined to defeat death itself! (Insert your best demented laugh here.)

Weird things began to occur around the mountain. Farm animals were found dead, their corpses unmarked except for a single small wound behind their left ears. The body of a young man was stolen from the undertaker, only to be discovered on Mt. Moosilauke - with a small wound behind its ear. 

Although the locals pitied Tom for his broken heart, they didn't support livestock killing and grave-robbing. A groups of officials trekked up the mountain to confront Tom, but when they reached his cabin it was empty. Tom had run off into the woods, driven mad by grief and by his experimentation. He had discovered the secret of eternal life but at the cost of his sanity!

OK, it's time for another quiz. If you were an immortal madman, which of the following would you do?

a. Throw kidnapped children into ravines
b. Push hikers off cliffs
c. Terrorize, drive insane, and then murder loggers
d. Burn down hotels
e. Frighten Dartmouth students
f. All of the above

The answer, at least in Dr. Benton's case, is "f. All of the above."

Since he is immortal, Dr. Benton has had plenty of time to commit evil acts, which I've only been able to briefly summarize. A full recitation of the legend can take several hours and is best heard late at night on the slopes of Mt. Moosilauke from a member of the Dartmouth Outing Club.

I suspect that Dr. Benton sometimes appears to those tired frightened freshmen, but you may be able to catch a glimpse of him even if you don't do to Dartmouth. Just climb Mt. Moosilauke and look for a man with long white hair and a black cape. He shouldn't be hard to miss. But just be sure you see him before he sees you - and don't get to close to the edge of any cliffs.

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I got my information about Dr. Benton from Joseph Citro's fantastic book Passing Strange: True Tales of New England Hauntings and Horrors, and from resources on the web, including this helpful article in the Dartmouth student paper.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope to research this subject more thoughly, and appreciate this artical on the good (bad?)doctor.