Dartmouth's ghost stories

by Rebecca Flowers | 6/29/17 2:25pm

Most people don’t think of Dartmouth College as a breeding ground for paranormal activity. And compared to other colleges, it isn’t. According to an article written in an issue of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine in 2004 by Joseph A. Citro, who is occasionally referred to as “the Bard of the Bizarre,” Dartmouth has relatively tame ghost stories. A veritable expert on the subject as an author of several supernatural books including “Cursed in New England: Stories of Damned Yankees,” Citro would know. In his article “Ghosts? Not Here!” he writes of an invisible organist at Yale and Victorian phantoms at Harvard. His reasoning for classifying us less than haunted? “Dartmouth’s admission requirements for spectral scholars must be unusually rigorous,” he wrote. Indeed, on my mission to Rauner Library to research the topic, I came up with only a thin file labeled “ghost stories.” However, through my research, I have discovered a small archive of stories haunting enough to entertain us all around a campfire.

Anyone who went on First-Year Trips is familiar with the tale of Doc Benton that was whispered to us under ghoulish lighting just outside the lodge. According to an article in The Dartmouth, the (condensed) story goes as follows: Thomas Benton was born in Benton, New Hampshire in the 18th century. After his tutelage in more populated areas, he returned to his hometown, where he lovingly cared for his community. Ominously, as Joe Hanlon, the previous article’s author, writes, “He never aged a single day.” Eventually his behavior grew more erratic, leading to the failure of his practice, a period of sudden aging and his abrupt removal from town to an old shack. One day, a group of pranksters visited the shack to scare Benton, but instead of a young man, they found a withered hermit crouching over enough bubbling test tubes to make any chemistry professor jealous. Soon after, a cow was found dead with a strange marking: a white pinprick with red swelling. When someone thought to check on Doc Benton a while later, they found him dead. He had the same marking. One night, a family awoke to their six-year-old daughter’s screams. She had been kidnapped. Rescuers chased after a black cloaked figure, only to find it was Doc Benton. To the horror of all, he flung his victim in the air, and she fell to her death on the side of Moosilauke. Years passed, and the legend grew, as the townspeople were sure Doc Benton continued to wander the mountainsides. Finally, a logger was found dead with a strange marking on his neck: a white pinprick with red swelling. It’s been years since his last attack, but they say he still roams the mountains, looking for his next victim.

The legend of Doc Benton is one of the most well-known of the area, but there are also some ghost stories associated with buildings we see every day. One of the most famous on campus is Alpha Theta, which used to be known as Theta Chi fraternity. On February 25, 1934, a carbon monoxide gas leak killed a reported nine brothers. Since then, the site has played host to hauntings, according to a 1997 article published in The Dartmouth. Objects in the house are said to move just out of grasp on their own. In 1992, on the house’s traditional Sink Night ritual, a brother who had never heard of the 1934 tragedy saw seven men dressed in old fashioned suits cheering the new members. The brother could tell that they were not members of the fraternity, and they disappeared after he went to get a drink of water. When he looked the men up in the College’s yearbook, he identified them as the very same ones who had died in the gas leak. Though the house has since been torn down, strange occurences continue at the site, especially in the cellar. Refrigerator contents are sometimes scattered where they shouldn’t be and a woman once saw a neckless head in a window. Citro theorized that the ghosts are “perhaps keeping future tragedies at bay.”

The Panarchy building has a similar legacy of hauntings. In the 19th century, according to legend, a famous Hanover doctor lived at 9 School Street with his schizophrenic daughter. He often locked her in the attic and beat her in response to her ravings, which, in combination with her illness, drove her to kill herself. Today, members of Panarchy have reported sensing a female presence in the attic, and many refuse to live there because of a “feeling of panic”. Panarchy’s basement “Tomb Room” has also been site of haunting. As a 2002 article for The Dartmouth describes it, “the room looks like something out of a bad dream,” with concrete and throne-like chairs etched with initials dating back to the 1930s and an altar splattered with red wax in the center of the room. Though most claim its only use is as a ritual room for members, there have been rumors of goat sacrifices since an alumnus referred to it as the Goat Room.

The mystery surrounding such societies deepens with other incidents reported at Sphinx, including students scaling the sides of the buildings and jumping on the roof. A 1931 furnace fire forced repairs to be made. Some of the rumors have been disproven though, such as the claim that Sphinx has the highest water bill on campus, using water for some undisclosed and sinister purpose. In 2002 Hanover Water Works told the Dartmouth that the society building uses less water than the average Hanover household.

In the archive at Rauner, I also found a report of devil worship in Dartmouth Hall from a late 1990s “Dartmouth Sketches.” On an “uncomfortable night” in Hanover during which a storm raged, some bored students, two of whom were chemists, decided to summon Satan. They smuggled some books on the “black art” from the then-“scanty” library, as well as some chemicals. They loaded their materials into a black cauldron while an innocent freshman read the recipe aloud. After about half an hour, nothing had happened, and the students stalked away in disinterest. Suddenly, there was an explosion, smoke billowed out of the cauldron, and they saw a “small, wizen-faced man” standing in front of them. He had horns, hooves and a barbed tail. Satan, excited by his new lease on life, kicked over the cauldron and crashed through the window, escaping outside. In the years since, when chickens suddenly disappear, cut-up capers are found in the chapel or a disguised figure in a procession walks through town, look only to the devil as the culprit.

There have been many reports of ghostly happenings in Baker Library. On a “Gothic winter’s day,” which seems to be the setting of many of the hauntings in Hanover, a librarian felt chills down her spine and saw two sets of fingers raising a book lift that didn’t yet have a lifting mechanism. A ghost wearing trousers and white socks (and probably more clothing, though it is not reported) appeared, made his way through the lift, and disappeared around a corner. There was another report of a shelf being full then suddenly empty in The Dartmouth in 2002.

Clearly, though the College doesn’t live up to Citro’s standards of hauntings, we do have some demons in our past. The next time you’re walking through Baker, past Dartmouth Hall, in the attic of Panarchy, in the basement of Alpha Theta or on the lawn outside Moosilauke, beware. You never known what might be lurking there.