My informant, JC, is my father. He attended Dartmouth College, and was an active member of the Dartmouth Outing Club, or DOC.
Piece of Folklore:
JC: “The most important ritual of the DOC might be the annual ‘Freshman Trips’ orientation in the fall, where student leaders from the DOC take incoming freshmen out into wild places across northern New England for several days, teaching them Dartmouth songs and lore and bonding as a group with no adults around. All of these different trips convene at Dartmouth’s Ravine Lodge on Mount Moosilauke, where the bone-tired freshmen would gather around the fireplace and listen to a shaggy-dog, long, winding ghost story called ‘The Doc Benton Story.’ The story is based on local legend — a 19th-century scientist named Benton becomes obsessed with finding the right alchemy/chemistry that might unleash eternal life. As he’s working on his experiments, he gets married, but his young bride tragically dies. Benton disappears, never to be seen again. But strange things start happening all around Mount Moosilauke; farmers’ animals unexpectedly die. A logger goes to the Dartmouth’s tip-top house atop the mountain and mysteriously dies, with strange marks on his body. Years later, a hiker is separated from his group and disappears. His body is later found, with the same strange marks on his body. Reports surface here and there of a dark cloaked figure haunting the flanks of the mountain — though it would be years after Doc Benton would have died had he lived out his natural life. Anyway… the teller of the tale digresses into the geology of the mountain, the history of the towns around the mountain, the education that Doc Benton received, extraneous family history of his relatives and so on and so on for an hour or more, with the best storytellers stretching it on for almost two hours, until the first-year students are nodding off and struggling to stay awake. And then at the climactic moment in the tale all the upper-class D.O.C. members let out an absolutely blood-curdling scream, terrifying the freshmen.”
The tale of Doc Benton is a classic initiation ritual – It forms an in-joke that all of the people already folded into the subculture are aware of at the new members’ expenses. It works especially well because telling ghost stories around a campfire is also a very common tradition, so the ruse that the freshman are asked to believe in is very believable. Knowing what is coming becomes an easy indicator of who is a part of the subculture and who isn’t. Because of the shared experience of being startled when older members were first hearing it, it also creates a cycle of anticipation and shared experiences, even if they are set apart by a number of years. Additionally, the tale itself is grounded heavily in the land and the area around Mount Moosilauke, as the D.O.C. is, so although it is primarily used to set up the punch line of the scream, it has cultural significance in and of itself too, tying in bits of actual local history and culture into random made-up details.