Lizzy Weal '17
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age - H.P. Lovecraft
One of the first things you learn when you come to Bennington is that there is something deeply wrong with this part of the world. Orientation forces you into a room with a dozen other sweaty, impressionable freshmen where you are subjected to five or ten made-up ghost stories about the baby that lives at the end of the world and has the ability to run at inhumanly fast speeds, or the various suicides in seemingly almost every house on campus. Most of these are obviously untrue, many in an offensively transparent way. The one exception to this rule is the story of Paula Welden, and the larger legacy of the Bennington Triangle within which her disappearance took place.
Paula Welden was a freshman at Bennington in 1946 – rumor has it that she lived in Dewey – who disappeared after telling her roommate she was going on a walk on the Long Trail. Local authorities and residents searched for her for several weeks and found absolutely nothing. Rumors abound surrounding what actually happened to her: she ran away with her boyfriend; she became a recluse in the mountains; she was murdered by a local serial killer. The only thing that has ever been established with any certainty in this disappearance is that Paula Welden disappeared, it seems, completely into thin air.
Paula was not the only Bennington resident to vanish in this region. Between 1945 and 1950, six local residents disappeared somewhere within what is now federally designated as the Green Mountain National Forest in southern Vermont, including an eight-year-old boy, Paul Jepson, who disappeared from his mother’s truck within the few minutes that she left him there to tend to their pigs. These disappearances resulted in the area encompassed by Bennington, Somerset, and Shaftsbury becoming known as the “Bennington Triangle.” According to legend, all six of those who disappeared in the Triangle were wearing red at the time; keep this in mind the next time you decide to walk along the Long Trail.
At the epicenter of this national forest is Glastenbury Mountain, which is less than ten miles away from Bennington College campus as the crow flies but actually takes more than an hour to drive to because of the sheer density and wildness of the surrounding forest. Glastenbury Mountain has become, in many ways, a myth, in large part because its past is shrouded in rumors about Native Americans, serial killers, and the convergence of numerous paranormal forces. Here is what is certain: in the early 1800’s, settlers began to arrive in the newly charted town of Glastenbury, which included the disconnected villages of Fayville, a logging settlement, to the north, and South Glastenbury, a charcoal settlement, further south. A railroad was built in the late 1800’s to accommodate the needs of the few Glastenbury residents, but the logging and charcoal industries quickly vanished, leaving behind an expensive railroad system that now had no purpose but collecting rust. This led the residents to transform Glastenbury into a very successful summer tourist attraction in 1897. By 1898, massive erosion led to mudslides and the destruction of almost all the infrastructure, and by the following year Glastenbury was no more. In the 1930’s, only 3 residents remained, and by 1937 the state of Vermont disorganized it, returning it to the forest.
The full story is, of course, much more disturbing than this simple historical timeline. According to a handful of different sources, Glastenbury was aggressively avoided by the various native groups except as a site to bury the dead. This specifically included the local Algonquin, Mohegan, and Micmac tribal populations who lived in and around the contemporary Bennington Triangle area. I have never been able to pin down any primary sources to back this claim up, and I personally think most of this myth is a relic of the fetishization of Native American mythology for settler-colonial kicks; why would you bury your dead relatives on a mountain that was collectively regarded as cursed? Despite this underlying white weirdness, there is one part of the story that actually holds up to scrutiny. Supposedly, one of the central reasons these various groups were so militant in their avoidance of the cursed Glastenbury was because of the convergence of the four winds. The general impression that I have gotten from my reading is that in most other places, the established wind patterns have an impact on the surrounding environment, specifically the direction in which vegetation slants or the shape that ice floes takes over time. Glastenbury, however, is totally anomalous because there are no definitive wind patterns; as a result, there are no consistent natural markers, and numerous hikers and hunters in the modern era have corroborated that Glastenbury is extremely easy to get lost on and therefore somewhere to avoid.
Centuries later, during what one could call the perverse heyday of 19th century Glastenbury, numerous inexplicable events took place that cemented the town’s eerie legacy. In 1867, numerous residents began to report of someone, or something, that became known as the Glastenbury wild man. This wild man was a rumored misanthropic madman who would descend from his cave dwellings in the mountains near Somerset to terrorize the women of Bennington and Glastenbury by pulling back his coat and exposing the entirely naked body that lay beneath while he wildly brandished a pistol for effect. In 1892, Henry McDowell murdered John Crawley by beating him in the skull with a rock until it shattered. After fleeing Vermont and travelling several hundred miles to Connecticut, he turned himself into local authorities and promptly confessed to the murder. His confession was part testimony to the killing, part incoherent, drawn-out ramblings about demonic voices in his head that spoke incessantly and had compelled him to murder John Crawley. He was quickly committed to the Vermont State Asylum once authorities deemed him legally insane, but somehow he escaped the mental institution, most likely by hiding out on a train carrying coal out of Waterbury where the asylum was located. He was never seen again, and many believe that he lived out his days in the wilderness of Vermont, with some arguing that he still lives in the Vermont mountains terrorizing local residents at the impossibly old age of 120.
Numerous local historians have drawn connections between this specific variation of Henry McDowell’s myth to the demonic Doctor Benton, who is rumored to live in the White Mountains of neighboring New Hampshire. According to legend, the doctor was born near Hanover, but was sent to Germany to attend medical school but returned to his home state, where he quickly became known as the most skilled doctor in the local region. Tragically, his beautiful fiancee fell dangerously ill with a typhoid fever that even he could not cure. According to legend, she died in his arms. Her death broke him, and caused him to flee into the New Hampshire wilderness, determined to trick death itself and become immortal. Soon after, farm animals then locals began to crop up dead, with no signs of violence save for a small wound behind the left ear. From here the story devolved into a complex series of myths that center on Doctor Benton finally achieving his dream of immortality and became a being of pure evil in the process who to this day terrorizes hikers, drives loggers suicidally mad, and stalks Dartmouth students on long orientation hikes, who even when they are alone will supposedly begin to be followed by a disembodied pair of footsteps in the snow that get faster and faster until they appear right next to them.
One can imagine Paula Welden meeting Henry McDowell on the day that she decided to go for a walk out on the Long Trail. Maybe McDowell also descended into animalistic cannibalism, and he plucked Paul Jepson from his mother’s truck to eat later.
In this vein, there are numerous rumors of a Bennington Monster that is said to have attacked a stagecoach passing through Woodford on present day Route 9 in the middle of a torrential rainstorm. The stagecoach was knocked over and the passengers stranded in pitch, freezing darkness, when suddenly the driver spotted a trail of enormous footsteps leading away into the brush. He followed them for a time until a pair of enormous yellow eyes peered back at him from the light cast by his lamp. Whatever was attached to these eyes was roughly eight feet tall and covered in hair, and roared at the driver until it bounded away through the rain. Perhaps Henry McDowell, much like Doc Benton, really did fully transform into an immortal, cannibalistic creature that now terrorizes and kidnaps unsuspecting local residents.
Five years after Henry McDowell’s mythic disappearance, John Harbour was shot in the exact same town where he had escaped from Vermont asylum that held him, Waterbury. Harbour’s murder took place under extremely questionable circumstances. Harbour had been out hunting with his brother and family friend, who were some distance away from him when they heard a gunshot followed by John Harbour screaming that he’d been shot. They ran in the direction of the shout but could not find him until late the next morning. At 11 am on a frozen November morning, the two men discovered John Harbour’s body beneath a fallen cedar tree, his legs splayed and his rifle fully loaded next to him. Yet something was seriously wrong: Harbour’s corpse had been moved several yards away from where a huge amount of blood suggested he had been shot and bled to death. The case has never been solved.
Theories abound surrounding the general spookiness of the Bennington Triangle, most of which involve extensive references to the paranormal, particularly in relation to the nearby Massachusetts Bridgewater Triangle, which has a very similar history of unexplained events and disappearances. There is rumored to be a sort of man-eating stone that the aforementioned native populations believed gobbled up unsuspecting passersby, who came into contact with it and were never seen again afterwards. UFO sightings are of particular significance, and many people believe that the six Bennington Triangle disappearances were actually alien abductions. Numerous witnesses have reported seeing column or silo-like lights while hiking in the wilderness of the Bennington Triangle as recently as 1984. Though it sounds utterly corny, cryptozoologist are still extremely preoccupied with Bigfoot, and many people have reported Bigfoot sightings while hiking along the Appalachian trail portion that runs through the former town of Glastenbury through Bennington’s long trail. Moreover, John A. Kell proposed the “window area” concept wherein certain places and regions serve as a sort of thin, extremely porous gateway between our universe and millions of others, and his theoretical conceptions apply overwhelmingly to the various occurrences that have taken place within the Bennington Triangle. If you have ever heard me rant about my theory on why Bennington is so exceptionally freaking paranormal, you probably have some sense of why this particular concept is so appealing to me. Essentially, the window area theory argues that people simply “fall through” space/time in these various areas because they have a hazy relationship with physical reality. The window area theory seems to be almost entirely in line with the ancient native conviction that Glastenbury was cursed, and that the only way to mitigate the terrifying implications of this curse was to physically avoid it all together.
Because I am a masochist, I actually visited Glastenbury over my junior year fall term long weekend. Paralyzed with boredom, I decided to make the hour-something trip up through Somerset to figure out what was so terrifying about Glastenbury, which I had been researching obsessively. When I left Bennington, it was maybe 55 degrees, brisk but not cold. When I arrived in Somerset maybe 45 minutes later, however, it began to dump snow, as if it were early January and not the height of leaf-peeping season. Inexplicably undeterred, I made the extremely sharp, blind left turn to the mountain, which had no trail head nor any other real indication that there was any kind of mountain nearby. My 1997 Grand Prix was possibly the worst choice of vehicle for the terrain: the path was half gravel and half just foot-deep potholes, and there was almost zero visibility because of the huge clouds of dirt my tires kicked up. There was no one else on the road for roughly five miles. At this point I passed a cemetery, which I thought was odd this far out on a mountain that seemed to attract minimal patronage, but I drove past it. Within a couple of minutes, a man dressed in hunting gear with a rifle slung over his back appeared in my vision. This would have been unremarkable – it was, after all, open deer season, and this seemed like somewhere you could find an awful lot of deer – had he not simply been standing and staring directly at my car despite the fact that I was roughly a quarter of a mile away at this point. As I continued to drive past him, he remained in the exact same position, staring still. At one point I rather stupidly tried to smile at him, and he did not smile back, instead making piercing eye contact with me until I had driven entirely past him. He continued to stare at me as I drove away, and I could not bring myself to look in the rear view until I made a turn. After probably 30 minutes of crawling in total five miles up the mountain, I reached what appeared to be a campsite with ten or fifteen tents, but no people. Firepits appeared to have been completely abandoned as if in a hurry. I am sure there was a perfectly good reason as to why it was entirely abandoned, but in that moment it truly seemed as if something pulled right out of a Stephen King novel had taken place: one second they were here, and the next, they had vanished into thin air.
I realized I had made it to the beginning of the ranger access road up the mountain. I decided to scratch that route, and awkwardly turned around and made my way back to Route 9. I turned my radio on, searching for the dulcet tones of Vermont public radio, but kept the volume down in case I came across my hunter friend again and had to keep an ear out for gunshots or something much worse. In due time I came across the cemetery again, this time on my left, and decided to stop and investigate. I left my car running and got out to poke around the various headstones, all of which stated that their various residents had died sometime in the late 1800’s. It started to flurry again and was getting dark, so I got back in my car and turned the radio up. There was still no service, but suddenly – and I am actually freaking myself out writing this staring out my window in Noyes into the pitch black of the soccer field – a trio of voices began emanating from the radio, talking in incomprehensible tones that got louder and louder. Suddenly the voices mutated into various kinds of laughter, a shrill, high-pitched laughing screams that escalated in pitch and general female giggling. I could not turn the radio off. Just as soon as it began, however, it stopped. I slapped the volume button and sped back up the road at 60 miles an hour and got back to Bennington in half the time it had taken me to arrive at the mountain. When I got to work the next week and started comparing notes on Glastenbury experiences with my boss, I was informed that numerous people had had identical experiences with voices coming through the radio and strange lone hunters staring at people and not seeming to have any purpose but to terrify random teenagers just trying to have sex in wooded privacy.
Here is what is certain: Do not go into the Bennington wilderness alone, do not attempt to attract anything that lives out here, and do not, under any circumstances, wander into remote graveyards when it is snowing on and off like a Cormac McCarthy novel. This is a thin and poisonous part of the United States that has nothing but hostility for our presence, and you would be wise to tread carefully in its presence.