Back in the spring, I was interviewed by a local paper about horror writers in New England. We have a number of sweet publications out this way like Shroud and the Zombie Bomb comic’s editors are out this way as well as a legacy of authors like Stephen King, Poe and Lovecraft. I don’t really know what it is about this region, but there’s an intangible something about New England that is positively spooky and it inspires a lot of people to turn that invisible quality of dread into something spooky and creative. In the case of Dr. Tom Benton, I have to wonder if H.P. Lovecraft has heard of this guy before he wrote the shorts for Herbert West, Reanimator. They have an awful lot in common.
Depending on who you ask, the local mad scientist turned undying spirit of evil goes a million ways. By some accounts, Dr. Benton lived to be some ridiculous age before one day he suddenly aged decades and took to hiding in the forests of Mt. Moosilauke. It really depends on the person telling the story. Many people, in love with the oral tradition of local legends, the Tom Benton story becomes a morbid riff along the lines of The Aristocrats. Some local storytellers have made an art out of expanding the story to ridiculous conditions but the basic premise of the story is such:
Tom Benton was born in Carver, NH, later changed to Benton in honor of a completely unrelated Benton. He grew up poor but his exceptional record as a student and the town’s need for a doctor brought everyone together to send Benton to medical school in Germany on the condition that when he was finished, he come home and be the town’s physician. At medical school in Heidelberg, Benton continued his educational hot streak and performed admirably. While there, he meets and becomes the protoege of the eccentric Dr. Stockmayer, who is said to be conducting experiments in the pursuit of eternal life and when he dies, he leaves Benton all his stuff so that he might continue his work. Benton winds up finishing school and true to his word, returns home. He has a great reputation around town and is a kick ass doctor but at some point, either his wife dies or he is jilted by his girlfriend and he takes on a dishevelled appearance before disappearing into the mountains where he lives in a shack.
Benton becomes the local bogeyman that parents scare their kids with but when pranksters sneak up on his place, they peek in to find him barely more than a skeleton working intensely over bubbling chemicals. The Mad Doctor of Benton becomes a favorite local spooky story but shit gets real when livestock turns up bearing red welts and pin pricks behind their ears. Graves of the recently deceased were discovered to have been dug up and opened, the bodies missing, later recovered but with the same marking behind the ears. Eventully, Benton disappeared, entirely. His cabin found empty by locals, as though it had not been lived in for some time. The doctor was out, leaving behind not a trace.
It doesn’t end there, though. Beginning in 1825, Benton sightings become a regularity of people working the forests. He is seen as a withered man wearing either a long black coat or a cape. He terrorizes all who come into contact with him and haunts the people of Benton. Residents are horrified to learn that one of the town’s children has gone missing, last seen with a man in a black cape heading in the hills of Mt. Moosilauke. When the search party finally catches up with the mysterious figure, they arrive in time to see him hurl the child off a cliff to her death. He turns to greet the mob and everyone is shocked to find that the culprit is none other than the good doctor.
Periodically, Dr. Benton appears in the region, killing loggers and disrupting the local industry. In 1860, loggers staying at the Prospect House Hotel, renamed to the Tip Top House are found murdered, left only with the tell-tale pin prick wound of Dr. Benton. In the 1970’s, a rock climber was found unconscious by hikers. When he recovered, he recalled being blitze by a figured in a black cape who pushed him over the edge of a cliff. Sightings continue to this day as hikers in the area frequently spot a figure in black either lurking in the mists near the summit or darting through the heavy forest on the way to the top of the mountain.