Legend Has It: Doc Benton

          This month’s urban legend is a gruesome one, so get ready. The name of this legend’s focus may sound familiar to you – he’s been featured on the show Supernatural and its companion comic book. In a small town near the White Mountains of New England, a man searched for the key to immortality – and supposedly he has and continues to go to ghastly lengths to maintain his immortality. Who is Doc Benton? Let’s explore.

The Tale

          There are many iterations of this legend, as it is historically told as a campfire story to scare people – thus, details were added and exaggerated over time to make the tale more terrifying. We will cover the basic and consistent points of the story here.
          Doc Benton was born as Thomas Benton sometime in the 1800s, according to most variations of the legend, though some iterations have him been born as early as the 1700s. He was born in a village in New Hampshire, USA. He was always a smart young man, but his family did not have the means to educate him throughout his life. Eventually, the town needed a doctor and thought Benton had the potential to fill the role – so they essentially crowdfunded his education and sent him to Germany to attend medical school.
          While studying, a man named Professor Stockmeyer took Benton under his wing. There, they studied esoteric subjects such as alchemy and immortality alongside the usual studies. Stockmeyer unfortunately died right before Benton graduated and returned to New Hampshire. Once again isolated, curious, and lacking intellectual stimulation, Benton situated his home out in the woods. Some say this was to hide his experiments and studies from the villages, but others say he just valued his privacy. In all accounts, Benton was a competent doctor and had a good reputation among the village.
          But all that changed one night when something bad happened to Doctor Benton. I know that sounds vague, but this event changes between tellings. Some options include: a family member dying, having his romantic advances rejected, or some sort of mental break. Take your pick. After suffering from this tragedy, he went into his home and refused to leave or see anyone. He began (or intensified) his gruesome experiments in the secluded cabin. The village began experiencing a rash of animal mutilations and deaths, all being found days later with a mark behind the left ear. Soon, the strange phenomena escalated to a corpse being taken from the town undertaker. Bodies were found hidden in the town with the same mark behind
          Hoping Doc Benton, the local intellectual, knew something or could offer some help with the terrifying goings-on. But the cabin had been left to the elements, showing no signs of recent habitation. A search party set out to locate Doc Benton, but he was never found. Throughout the following months, a handful of people claimed to see a tall man with long white hair, wrapped in a cloak. He was often sighted in the woods, dark cloak skulking between tree trunks.

(An artist’s rendering of Doc Benton.
via Rauner Special Collections Library)

The Inception and Encounters

          Most researchers trace the tale of Doc Benton to the 1920s, when the Dartmouth County Outing Club began recounting a chilling tale to their newest and youngest members. From there, the tale spread to other hikers and outdoorsmen, evolving with each telling like a sinister game of telephone. Some claim Doc Benton died in the woods. Some say that he continues to hunt animals and humans that stray within his domain, with many claiming to see dark clothing moving through the woods, or to feel a hand touch them when no one was with them. This led to rumors of his involvement with local crimes. In 1860, a logger was found murdered with a strange injury behind his ear – and around the turn of the century, another man was found with the same mark. Many attributed these deaths to Doc Benton himself.
          Notably, there was one man who seemingly survived an encounter with Doc Benton. At least, so the legend goes. In the 1970s, a man went hiking near the Jobildunk Ravine. When he did not return in a timely manner, a search party was dispatched to search for him. Despite the remoteness of his destination and the rough terrain, the man was found. The man was banged up, with scrapes and bruises, but he was ultimately fine – however, the tale he had to tell was hair-raising. The hiker claimed that he was pushed while climbing a ledge, that he felt a hand touch him. The encounter was quickly attributed to the malevolent Doc Benton. Unfortunately, the hiker’s name is not shared in the retellings of his encounter, so I’m unable to fact check. Take the tale with a grain of salt.

Analysis

          This legend seems to have been born of a few phenomena – namely, a fear of the unnatural and a cautionary tale. On the “fear of the unnatural” side of things, there is this idea that immortality is inherently inhuman. That a human with no “expiration date” (so to speak) is not limited to the same constraints as someone with one. It also tends to lean towards mocking religion to many believers – in their tradition, only Christ is immortal, and anything trying to achieve that is blasphemous (of course, this is just my interpretation. Everyone has their own interpretation of the Bible).
          As for the cautionary tale, it’s a warning told around campfires to prevent people from traipsing through the wilderness on their own. Even if the murders and missing persons were not originally linked to the legend, the act of adding that connective tissue inherently implies that Doc Benton seeks out those who enter the woods on their own. Being alone always makes you vulnerable, especially when the terrain is rough and predators abound.

Sources

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