Episode 22: GONE
The Mountain Mysteries
The Mountain Mystery of Bennington Triangle
In the quiet, peaceful woods around southwestern Vermont, many people believe mysterious, dark forces are responsible for numerous strange occurrences and disappearances. The woodlands around Glastenbury Mountain and the surrounding towns, including Bennington, Woodford, Shaftsbury, and the ghost towns of Somerset and Glastenbury, have long been the locations of unexplained and unsettling events, including a five-year string of unexplained disappearances between 1945 and 1950. These are The Mountain Mysteries, and this is episode 22, GONE. The Mountain Mystery of Bennington Triangle.
The town of Glastenbury was charted in 1761 by land grabbing Benning Wentworth, governor of New Hampshire. Wentworth was quite the character – granting as many towns in then unestablished Vermont as he could, with the intention to provocatively challenge New York, which also claimed the same land. Of course, Wentworth’s grants doubled as a lucrative endeavor, as he made sure to set aside some acreage for himself.
But Wentworth had no idea of the local geography, and simply drew lines on a map. Though Glastenbury tips it’s hat to a legendary place in England, Vermont’s titular community seemed to be ill fated from the very beginning. The rough and forbidding terrain and short growing season didn’t lure any settlement until the 1800s.
Because they had a mountain of wood to burn, the town embraced the lumber and charcoal industry, and began to slowly prosper as it lured settlement and business. Though Glastenbury town itself is a large area, it only contained 2 small settlements near the western border; the logging town of Fayville in the north, and later, the settlement of South Glastenbury. While Fayville is more known by people looking at a map, South Glastenbury is normally what is profiled in every article I’ve read. The two villages were never connected, the mountainous terrain was so steep that roads were never built.
South Glastenbury became the heart of town, and the headquarters of the majority of the charcoal operations, with 12 brick kilns erected along the cleared hillsides. A massive loggers boardinghouse, and company store – the only store in town, were built to serve the village. A few homes, a meetinghouse and a crude one room schoolhouse were also built for the few kids who grew up there. Because South Glastenbury sat at the confluent of two different branches of Bolles Brook, where the headwaters met and began their descent down the mountains, the small village became known as “The Forks”.
Life here was tough. It was a wild town, sort of a last frontier in Vermont. It was the kind of place where men out numbered the women, and the law often didn’t exist.
With a profitable timber industry came demands. People needed to get up into town, and lumber and charcoal needed to get down. The steepest railroad ever built in the United States was constructed as the solution, which started out as a sarcastic suggestion turned into a defiant reality. Starting in Bennington and ending at The Forks, The Bennington-Glastenbury Railroad was formed in 1872, the tracks climbing an astonishing 250 feet per mile at 9 miles long. But depending on a finite resource eventually created the end of the charcoal and logging industry and the mountains were logged until nothing larger than a sapling remained on the slopes.
But the railroad was still around, and they wanted money. The question was, what to do with it? In 1894, the railroad re-billed itself as The Bennington-Woodford Electric Railroad and the town reinvented itself as a tourist destination, using the railroad as a way to bring tourists up into South Glastenbury. The railroad switched over to using more reliable trolley cars instead of traditional rail cars, because they were stronger and more reliable, especially given the elevation they would have to climb.
Much time and money were invested into retransforming the town – turning the brawny old loggers’ boarding house into a hotel and the former company store into a casino. No details were overlooked, and both buildings became showpieces. They wanted Glastenbury to stand out from other summer resorts. After painstaking labor and expenses, the town opened up as vacation destination in the summer of 1897, and had a successful first season.
However, the barren mountains stripped of all their trees, were very prone to flooding and soil erosion. A year later, a devastating flood washed out the tracks, putting an end to the town for good. It’s high elevation and isolation ensured that no one tried to rebuild it, and the buildings fell into ruin under the silence of the mountains.
The population of Glastenbury dwindled down to almost nothing, which later got the attention of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in the 1930s when they learned that all 3 members of the Mattison Family were the entire town, and held every office. Because of this, the state of Vermont disorgonized the town in 1937, the first time the state ever did such an act, and the area was reclaimed by the wilderness.
Shortly after, in 1945, people began disappearing from around Glastenbury with such frequency that the area was dubbed the "Bennington Triangle" by writer and Vermont native Joseph A. Citro.
Native Americans called Glastenbury Mountain, in Vermont’s Green Mountains, “cursed”, and used it strictly for burying their dead. And it turns out, they had good reason to fear the mountain. Over the years there has been between 30- 40 unexplained disappearances of people, people who have never been found. The trails stop part way up the mountain, suggesting that no one ever goes up any farther. When you walk into the forest that blankets the mountain, the silence is deafening. There are no birds singing, no squirrels chattering or crows cawing. In fact, you hear nothing but your own heartbeat, as if the animals know enough to never enter.
Before the famous five-year disappearances, in 1943, Carl Herrick was enjoying a hunting trip with his cousin, Henry, ten miles northeast of Glastenbury town. The two became separated, and Carl never returned. Henry found Carl’s body three days later in a bizarre scene. Carl’s ribs had punctured his lungs, and the postmortem indicated that something had squeezed him to death. Henry reported that there were large bear prints around the corpse. However, experts say a bear would not have squeezed a man to death.
The first to go missing was a 74-year-old hunting guide named Middie Rivers on November 12, 1945. Rivers, who knew the area well, was leading a party of four hunters in the area of Hell Hollow in the southwest woods of Glastenbury. As he was leading the group back to their camp, he got ahead of them and never returned to camp. Initially, the other hunters weren’t concerned as their guide was a skilled woodsman. However, when Rivers didn’t resurface, an extensive search was conducted by 300 concerned locals and U.S. Army soldiers dispatched from Massachusetts’ Fort Devens. Though they combed through the vast wilderness for eight days, the only thing that was found was a rifle cartridge of the same type that Rivers used. There was no evidence of an animal attack, and his body wasn’t found. Even after this exhaustive search, many locals believed that the knowledgeable woodsman would be able to survive and would soon resurface in town. But he never did. Rivers disappeared along the Long Trail Road area and Vermont Route 9.
Twelve months later, 18-year-old college student Paula Welden went hiking on the Long Trail on Sunday, December 1, 1846. Wearing a bright red jacket, several people had seen her go including a store employee in Bennington who had given her directions and an elderly couple who were hiking about 100 yards behind her for a time. There was no concern until the college sophomore failed to show up for her classes at Bennington College the next morning. Afterward, an extensive search was conducted, which included more than 1,000 people searching, aircraft surveillance, the posting of a $5,000 reward, and help from the FBI. The elderly couple who had seen her on the trail said that after she turned a corner on the trail, she seemingly disappeared. During the massive search, no clues to her fate were ever discovered.
Exactly three years after Paula Welden had disappeared, James Tedford went missing on December 1, 1949. A veteran resident of the Bennington Soldiers’ Home, Tedford had been in St. Albans visiting relatives, and was returning home on a bus when he vanished. According to witnesses, Weldon was one of 14 passengers who were on the bus at the last stop before arriving in Bennington. However, when the bus arrived in Bennington, he had seemingly vanished. His belongings were still in the luggage rack and an open bus timetable was on his vacant seat. No one had seen him get off the bus and he didn’t disembark in Bennington. Though the disappearance was investigated, no one had seen anything, nor did they report any suspicious incidents.
On October 12, 1950, an eight-year-old boy named Paul Jepson went missing in the area. Jepson was playing in the cab of a pickup truck in Bennington when his mother left him briefly to tend to her pigs. When she returned, the boy was gone. After looking for the boy in the immediate area, he was reported as missing and hundreds of people assembled in a search party. Bloodhounds were also brought in to search for the boy, which picked up his scent and followed it toward Glastenbury Mountain, but it was lost at a nearby crossroads, suggesting a possible abduction by a motorist. The crossroas were allegedly at the exact spot where Paula Weldon was last seen years before. The boy’s father said that Paul had been talking about visiting the mountains for several days, which was odd for him. Though the area was searched for several days, no clues or remains of the boy were ever found.
Just 16 days later, Frieda Langer went missing on October 28, 1950. She and several other family members were camping in the woods near Glastenbury Mountain. The 53-year-old Langer, along with her cousin, Herbert Elsner, left their family campsite near the Somerset Reservoir to go on a hike. However, when they were just a few hundred yards from their campsite, Langer slipped and fell into a stream, soaking her clothes and shoes. She then asked her cousin to wait as she ran back to the camp to change her clothes. After Elsner waited for a while and Freda didn’t return, he also went back to the camp to see if everything was alright. It wasn’t. Freda hadn’t returned to the camp. Instead, she had seemingly disappeared in broad daylight in the short distance. In the next few weeks, several search parties, which included some 400 people comprised of police, volunteers, firefighters, and soldiers, as well as aircraft, searched for her and turned up nothing. The search was finally called off. Then, seven months later, on May 12, 1951, her body was found near Somerset Reservoir. Oddly enough, this area had been intensely searched given its proximity to where Langer went missing. No cause of death was ever determined due to the advanced state of decomposition. The case remains unsolved.
Langer was the last person of the famous disappearances to vanish and the only one whose body was found.
Though no direct connections have been found that tie these cases together, other than geographic area and time period, some claim these disappearances were the work of a serial killer. Because of the wide ranges of age and gender of the missing persons, it is thought that the possibility of them being victims of a serial killer is unlikely. The only known similarities between the most well-documented cases in the Bennington Triangle are the close proximity of the disappearances, the time of day when most were last seen (between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.), and the time of year when most were last seen (the final three months of the year).
This, combined with a lack of any evidence to offer support for any more prosaic explanation, has led many to speculate on possible paranormal causes, including abduction by UFO occupants, “cross dimensional wormholes”, or attack by the “Bennington Monster.” Local residents have reported strange, unearthly sounds, and strange glowing discs on and above the mountain. Glastenbury mountain, according to Joseph A. Citro, in his book “Passing Strange Tales of New England Hauntings and Horrors”, is “an inaccessible region, remote, full of dark places, jutting outcrops, vast marshlands and quiet pools”.
Although the case of James Tedford (also Tetford), was not a disappearance in the woods, as far as we know, it is still mysterious. Tedford was a veteran of the Second World War. In 1949, he was returning to the Soldiers’ Home in Bennington after a visit with some family in St. Albans. Tedford was traveling by public bus and was just one of 14 passengers that were on board when the bus left St. Albans. When the bus arrived at Bennington, he wasn’t on board. However, his luggage was in the rack, and his personal effects – including an unfolded timetable – remained in his seat. It appeared that Tedford had gotten up out of his place and disembarked without anyone else noticing.
Local authorities were not able to do much apart from question those on board. Every possible witness reiterated the same story; Tedford was on the bus when it departed the previously scheduled stop, but not when it pulled into Bennington.
Some adventurous souls who’ve heard the rumors have set out to explore the trail infamous for the five-year period of disappearances. One such adventurer is Chad Abramovich of the website Obscure Vermont. He reported on a trip taken to the mountain, saying, “Myself and a few friends departed in his pickup truck and drove up the bumpy forest road into a strange clearing in the middle of the hills. Here, underneath summer humidity, we found old cellar holes almost entirely [sic] hidden by tall grasses, beneath the shade of gnarled apple trees.” Shortly after this, Abramovich and his group experienced a sudden, drastic change in the weather. It was a sunny July afternoon when they started, but a torrential thunderstorm quickly appeared. The group was stranded for some time but finally managed to make it back to the flats. When they escaped the downpour, they found that the surrounding area was bone-dry. Locals later confirmed that no thunderstorm had passed through their area.
Robert Singley, a music composition teacher at Bennington College and an experienced hiker, became lost on the mountain in 2008. He took a trail he knew well to nearby Bald Mountain and then used the same trail to go back. However, the well-known trail didn’t lead where it should have. According to Singley, he walked 8 kilometers (5 mi) before realizing that he should have reached his car already. Just as he became concerned, a heavy fog rolled in, and the whole trail became hopelessly dark. He went to a maple tree that he felt called to him from the fog and tried to start a fire. Every stick he reached for turned out to be an animal bone. This would have distressed most people, but Singley was only upset about his fiancée. He imagined she was worried sick. He finally managed to light a fire and huddled by it through the night. In the morning, he found that he had somehow ended up on the other side of the ridge from his car. Luckily, he made it back to tell the tale.
Some blame the paranormal, stating the place is “window” into the unexplained. Some say the area is unstable due to wind patterns that are unusually chaotic and confusing, so people can easily get lost. Some have suggested that the land is cursed because it is the site where all four winds meet. One local Native American legend told of a “man-eating stone.” If someone happened to step on the stone, it would open up and swallow the person whole. This legend is a large reason is it said the Native groups stayed away from the land. Some commenters on blog posts covering the triangle say that there are sinkholes strewn about the mountains, which may explain the legend.
For two centuries, reports suggested that the woods are home to the Bennington Monster, something like Bigfoot. One story indicates that the driver of a stagecoach and its passengers reported a sighting of the hairy beast in the early 1800s. A sudden downpour caused them to pull the coach over, as the road had washed out. While they waited for the rain to stop, the driver noticed enormous footprints in the mud. He went to ask one of the passengers what he thought when the other passengers on board saw a large hairy creature that ‘had no footwear.’ The beast pushed the coach over onto its side and ran away into the woods.
One of the most recent sightings took place in September 2003. Ray Dufresne of Winooski Vermont was driving by Glastenbury Mountain when he saw a large “black thing” by the road. It was well over six feet tall, and was “hairy from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet.” There were several other sightings reported around this time. These reports are out of the book Weird New England.
Another odd character entered Bennington folklore in 1892. A man working at the sawmill in Glastenbury hit another man over the head with a rock and killed the other man. The authorities caught the killer and put him in an insane asylum. However, he escaped. Rumors spread that the killer had gone to live in the mountains and became a hairy deranged Wildman. Some stories say he would, at times, travel down from the wilderness and expose himself to the women in Bennington and Glastenbury towns.
In May of 2018, Ramsey Sampson Ah-Nee, 31, was killed after his plane went down in the woods on Bald Mountain in Woodford. The Federal Aviation Administration said it lost contact with the plane as it was flying over the area about 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Weather did not appear to be a factor when the plane went down. There are those who believe the Bennington triangle has the same power as the Bermuda triangle to cause problems with planes.
In the book Haunted Hikes of Vermont, Author Tim Simard mentions a onetime incident of hearing a ghostly train whistle while hiking along the West Ridge Trail, miles away from both any functional railroad track, and the old rail bed that runs up into South Glastenbury.
There are also a series of inexplicable cairns scattered around the mountain, and no one is quite sure why they exist. There are theories to why they are there. Farmers built them long ago while clearing their pastures, or several passing hikers on the Long Trail built them, to act as beacons in bad weather. But nothing adds up. The cairns were built in high elevations where farming never took place, and most of them are located miles away from the long trail in heavily forested areas.
The weather, cougars, a wild man, or a hairy monster are the main theories behind the Bennington Triangle. Some fringe theorists insist that aliens played a part in the disappearances and talk about UFO sightings or portals to another world.
One guide even encourages hitchhiking from the trail into towns for supplies. It seems like the infamous five years of disappearances have been all but forgotten by the very people who have the most to fear on Glastenbury Mountain. With people unaware of the terrain’s dangers and happily hopping into strangers’ cars, the disappearances may not be over after all.