The History of Doc Benton
With Halloween approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to explore the history of Dartmouth’s most famous — and to my knowledge, only — urban (rural?) legend: Doc Benton. For those of you who need a quick recap, Doc Benton is the main character in the spooky story that gets told to all exhausted freshman arriving at the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge after their First-Year Trips — shoutout to D50!
The plot of the story, in broad strokes, begins with a wealthy doctor from New Hampshire in the 1800s. Unfortunately, the doctor becomes an insane white-haired killer after finding out that the key to immortality is murdering people near Mt. Moosilauke. The story has been an oral tradition at the Lodge for decades, and as such, it has deliberately never been completely written down in a Dartmouth publication. This means that the story is never the same twice. That being said, the Rauner Special Collections has an entire folder devoted to Doc Benton in the vertical files section. Here’s the history I was able to find in his file.
Doc Benton: Origins of the Urban Legend
The tradition of telling the story goes as far back as the Tip-Top Lodge that burned down in 1908. In Reaching that Peak: 75 Years of the Dartmouth Outing Club, Landon Rockwell ‘35 references Doc Benton’s origin around some odd noises emanating from the old summit lodge.
“The Summit House had been built and renovated in Topsy-like* stages. The house on the whole reflected this and so did its parts,” Rockwell wrote. “But these structural eccentricities along with strange nocturnal noises produced by the wind sometimes needed explanation.”
In fact, according to the book, Doc Benton received some blame for the fiery fate of that lodge.
*If you were curious as I was what Topsy-like means, it’s actually a reference to a character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin named Topsy, a slave girl who, since she didn’t know her mother or father, suspects she grew up literally out of nothing. Topsy-like is an old timey reference to describe something that had been created out of itself without any grand oversight. Progress!
Brent Butler ‘07, former H-Croo chief, told The Mirror in 2008 that the story was mostly about the scare factor.
“The emphasis at that time was to tell it to lull the freshman to sleep then scare them by screaming.”
According to Reaching the Peak, experienced storytellers would load a small cannon with shotgun shells and shoot it off in the middle of story, presumably at the story’s most tense parts.
Doc Benton: One-Time Villain on a Network TV Show
Though Doc Benton remains a mostly Dartmouth-centric legend, there have been times where the legend has escaped the confines of the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. The most prominent example is the time Doc Benton was the villain-of-the-week on the CW show “Supernatural.”
Supernatural is a show about brothers Sam and Dean, played by Abercrombie and Fitch supermodels, who fight supernatural creatures and make smoldering goo-goo eyes as reaction GIF fodder for Tumblr. Doc Benton’s arc begins and ends in episode 3.15, “Time is on my Side.”
Watching this episode, it was interesting to see what parts of Doc Benton I recognized and where the legend went off the rails. Spoiler alert — the show went off the rails frequently.
In the show, Doc Benton is set up to be a cross between Dr. Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s Monster. He’s still a doctor from 1800s New Hampshire with white hair obsessed with immortality. In the show, however, the secret to his immortality is that, whenever one of his organs dies out, he chloroforms someone, surgically removes the organ he needs from the unconscious victim and swaps out his dying organ with their fresh one. I’ll admit the show’s explanation for how Doc Benton has stayed alive for so many years is better than Moosilauke’s, which essentially boils down to murder plus ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Here are the top four Doc Benton moments from the show:
1. After Sam discovers Doc Benton likes abandoned cabins near rivers (according to Sam, it’s where he likes to dump the “bile and intestines and fecal matter” of his victims once he’s harvested their organs), he drives up to Doc Benton’s cabin. Immediately upon entering it, Sam sees a body whose heart has obviously been surgically removed. Sam then solemnly checks the pulse of man with a hole in his chest as if it would win him an Emmy.
2. Sam then goes to check the pulse of a girl with maggots crawling on her arm. One jump scare later and the girl is alive. Doc Benton bursts in and Sam runs away with maggots-on-arm girl to his car. Doc Benton then headbutts Sam’s driver-side window and slams Sam into the steering wheel several times like a professional wrestler. Sam drives away, but not before running Doc Benton over with his car. Benton gets up, adjusts his head into place and inexplicably starts weeping blood — this is never addressed. COMMERCIAL BREAK.
3. Doc Benton chloroforms Sam, takes him back to his cabin and plans to scoop Sam’s eyes out with what appears to be an antique ice cream scooper. Sam’s brother Dean has other plans, and comes in to stabs Doc Benton in the heart with a knife. Doc Benton laughs and says, in a vaguely southern accent, “A knife? What part of immortal don’t you understand?” Dean reveals he dipped the knife in Doc Benton’s bottle of chloroform, and Doc Benton passes out almost immediately. Apparently a stab wound can’t affect Doc Benton, but a chloroformed stab wound can, which is pretty questionable science even for a show titled “Supernatural.”.
4. Next scene, Doc Benton finds himself in a refrigerator. The camera zooms out to show that the rusty refrigerator has been chained shut and thrown into a pit dug by the two brothers. Dean says a witty one liner, and that’s the end of Doc Benton’s arc.
Doc Benton: The Ballad?
The last piece of the Doc Benton legend I could find was a song written about him by the now defunct band Jodi Explodi. The song covers the basic Doc Benton story — “eyes as black as night/hair angelic white...searching for eterniteeee” — but then covers some unexplored territory.
Flying ax electrifying,
fast like ninja terrifying.
Sharp like eagle's beak or talon,
about as funny as Jimmy Fallon.
Angry Gods on Mount Olympus,
the strength of fifty OJ Simpsons.
Skies will fall and seas will swell;
fiery death-doom snakepit HELL!!!
Once this article is published, I hope that future versions of the Doc Benton story will include his strength measured in OJ Simpsons and his love-hate relationship with chloroform.