Doc Benton and the Haunting of Mount Moosilauke

Mount Moosilauke, a favorite of New England hikers, is no exception to the ghost stories that haunt the White Mountains. The story of the sinister Doctor Thomas Benton is well-known thanks to the enthusiastic raconteurs of Dartmouth College Outing Club, who have been telling this spooky tale to first-year students since the 1920s. Like many of the best campfire tales, the story of Doc Benton has evolved over the years, with each teller adding their own flourish to a tale about a man seeking eternal life. Consequently, while the broad strokes of this legend of terror remain the same, the demonic details attributed to Benton grow in every telling.

The Rise of Thomas Benton

The story begins in Benton, New Hampshire, a village in the shadow of Mount Moosilauke. The only child of a poor family, Benton developed a reputation for his quiet demeanor and extraordinary academic skill at an early age. The village needed a doctor and, recognizing Tom’s aptitude, raised money to send him to medical school in Germany.

At the University of Heidelberg, Tom excelled in the classroom but failed to connect with his German-born peers. His only friend was an eccentric professor, with whom he shared an interest in medicine, science, theology, and, most tellingly, the quest for eternal life. The two spent long nights theorizing and conducting experiments. Shortly before graduation, the professor passed away, leaving Tom his research, a collection of arcane books, and a locked chest, which followed Tom back to Benton when he returned to fulfill his duty as the village doctor.

The Fall of Doctor Thomas Benton

In every rendition of this ghost story, Benton’s downfall begins when he returns to the New Hampshire village of his youth. The details for why vary greatly. In some versions, he becomes distraught soon after arriving, learning that his parents died while he was in Germany. In others, he first establishes a renowned medical practice, marries, and has a child, only to be devastated when his wife and child die from contagious disease.

These details aside, every telling of this legend has Benton responding to the loss by withdrawing from the community and retreating to a small shack on the side of Mount Moosilauke. The only possessions he took with him were the books and small chest left to him by his professor. After moving to the cabin, Doctor Benton returned to town occasionally to resupply, but as time went on, his visits became less frequent. Eventually, younger townspeople knew of Doctor Benton as only the strange person—his appearance having shifted from prosperous young doctor to long-haired, crazed-looking hermit—living in the woods.

The Legend of Doc Benton

Many speculate that Benton resumed his search for eternal life while alone on the mountainside. Furthering suspicions, local livestock started showing up dead, the only sign of injury to the animals a small wound behind their ears. The strange happenings escalated when the dead body of a young man was stolen from the undertaker, only to reappear later with a small wound behind his ear as well.

Villagers began to speculate about what Benton was doing in the woods—some thinking he discovered the secret to eternal life but at the cost of his sanity, others believing he simply went mad with grief following the tragic loss of his family. Many were willing to look past the doctor’s peculiar behavior, until finally things took a turn.

One winter evening in the 1820s, a small girl named Mary did not come inside when called for dinner. When Mary’s mother went to get her, she saw a set of adult footprints in the snow leading out of town toward Mount Moosilauke. She summoned the townspeople and together they followed the trail of footprints to Tunnel Brook Ravine. There they observed a shadowy figure in a dark cloak with a long grey beard, recognized by some as Doctor Benton.

With the snow intensifying, the villagers closed in, pushing the doctor toward the steep-walled canyon. Seemingly trapped, Benton, with Mary under his arm, is said to have climbed one of the near-vertical cliffs boxing him in to elude capture. Atop the cliff, the villagers observed Benton throw Mary to her death, before disappearing forever into the escalating snowstorm. When the townspeople collected Mary’s dead body, they observed the tell-tale wound behind her ear.

The Legend Lives On

Although Doc Benton disappeared that fateful evening, he was not gone for good. In 1860, a missing logger on Mount Moosilauke was found dead, the only observable injury a wound behind his ear. Some 40 years later, a railroad worker in the area was found dead, also with a similar mark behind his ear.

Some say that Benton continued to frequent the area thereafter. Mysteriously creaky floors, open windows, and food disappearing from the cupboards at the Prospect House—a stone structure built on Moosilauke’s summit in 1860—have all been attributed to him. Others claimed to see a dark-cloaked figure fleeing the summit, darting behind the large cairns marking the trail trying to avoid detection.

In the 1970s, a search party was deployed when a solo hiker didn’t return from a trip to the remote Jobildunk Ravine. When the hiker was found, he was covered in bumps and bruises, and in shock, but otherwise uninjured. Once safely away from the mountain, the hiker confessed that a hand pushed him while he was climbing on an exposed ledge.

We can only wonder how many people have caught glimpses of Doc Benton over the years—a hand disappearing behind a tree, the tail of a dark cloak moving behind a cairn, and the glimpse of a long grey beard quickly vanishing into the thick forest—only to write them off as tricks of the imagination. Similarly, our minds wander to the question: Ss it Doctor Benton’s spirit haunting the mountain, or is it in fact the doctor himself, having discovered the secret to everlasting life?