GLASTENBURY — Robert Singley got lost in the Bennington Triangle on Sunday night, but unlike some who were lost before him, the Bennington College music composition teacher lived to tell his story. "Right before I lost the trail, everything like crescendoed into this weird sort of dizzying confusion," Singley said Thursday. "It just suddenly got dark, and then it was like, 'Where am I?' 'What's going on?' I was totally lost."
Singley, 27, went out for a day hike on Sunday off Harbour Road in Woodford Hollow, the exact same place where Paula Welden, a Bennington College sophomore, was last seen some 62 years ago. He was planning to do some composing. He had been working on a string quartet.
After eating lunch on top of Bald Mountain, he walked a short distance along the ridge line north toward Glastenbury, turned back, checked out the White Rocks to the west and then started heading back east toward his car. He walked for four or five miles. He should have been at his car within three miles. "I swear I was walking on the right trail," he said.
That's when the fog rolled in and it started getting dark. Singley, wearing heavy boots, long shorts, a long-sleeve shirt with a wool sweater and rain jacket, a winter hat and mittens on the cold, rainy night, pulled his head lamp from his pack. It was broken.
He had no compass, no GPS, no map, not even a watch.
Unable to locate the trail, Singley found refuge under a large maple. "I was kind of like drawn to it in the night," he said. "It was really expelling a weird sort of — I don't know — a really weird haunting energy — whatever that means."
An experienced hiker, Singley stayed calm and tried to get some rest. However, he was too cold and wet to fall asleep. He started to work on a fire, but he kept stumbling upon large animal bones in his blind search for wood. He finally came across some dry birch and was able to start a fire with matches and pages of a composition book he had in his pack.
The night was "eerily quiet," other than the loon-like call of a lone fisher cat. He started worrying, but only about his fiancée worrying about him. At this point, she had already called police, but the search was suspended until morning due to dark, foggy conditions. The sun would come up eventually, he thought, and then he would find his way.
Once it was light enough, Singley, disoriented from the previous night, attempted to walk back toward his car. After three or four miles, he reached a wilderness sign. He was near the Goddard Shelter, almost at the peak of Glastenbury Mountain.
"I thought I was camped about a quarter-mile from my car," he said, "and, instead, I woke up totally on the other end of this ridge, literally six or seven miles away from where I thought I was. It didn't make any logical sense at all."
Singley started walking back. He passed the maple, but then the trail seemed, "completely foreign," like he had never been there before. Downed trees crossed the trail; the pines looked different. "It was stuff I couldn't have missed," he said.
A short while later, at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, he was found by Vermont State Police. However, his morning location still remains a mystery to him. "Either I took a side trail, which doesn't really make sense," he said, "or something weird happened."
The Bennington Triangle, often referring to the Glastenbury area but including areas of Bennington, Woodford and Somerset, has long been a place of unexplained events, mysterious vanishings and supposed paranormal activity.
Joseph Citro, a Vermont author, first used the term in a radio interview in 1992. He has since popularized it by writing books on the subject. As has writer Joseph Durwin, formerly of Pittsfield, Mass., who had a blog, "These Mysterious Hills," dedicated to documenting the area's folklore.
According to Citro, Glastenbury has been a place surrounded by a mysterious aura since its founding in 1761 by Benning Wentworth, the colonial-era governor of New Hampshire. "Since precolonial times, there have been strange tales of mysterious lights, untraceable sounds and unidentifiable odors," Citro wrote in his 1996 book, "Passing Strange: True Tales of New England Hauntings and Horrors."
Native Americans wouldn't settle there, he wrote, using it as a burial ground instead. They believed it was cursed because the "four winds" met there. They passed down stories of "an enchanted stone" that used to swallow men, according to an article by Davy Russell in "X-Project Paranormal Magazine."
It has also been a place of reported UFO sightings and has been rumored to be the home of Big Foot or the Bennington Monster. It has been said the town's graveyard glows at night. And more recently, in the 1940s and '50s, the Triangle became known for several unsolved missing person incidents, including Welden's on Dec. 1, 1946, which received national attention. "When things of that nature occur in a small area," Citro said Thursday, "people start to think in sort of spooky ways."
Citro said his books do not necessarily reflect his own beliefs.
Glastenbury, which thrived as a logging town in the 19th century, was unincorporated by the state in 1937. It was stripped of its local government, because it had only seven residents. Today it has six, leading many to consider it a "ghost town."
Rickey Harrington, the town's supervisor, whose family has lived in the area since the 18th century, said he has never noticed anything unusual. "I've heard the stories about Big Foot and the Bennington Triangle," he said Thursday, "but I've snowmobiled up and down that mountain, and I've never seen anything funny, never seen any odd-looking things."
Local historian Tyler Resch, author of, "Glastenbury: The History of a Vermont Ghost Town," also does not believe any "supernatural, paranormal, weird, extraterrestrial, psychic or otherwise unexplained" events have happened in the area. "Almost all of this is undocumented nonsense and serves to enhance the royalties of writers (like Citro)," he wrote in his recently published book.
He said Friday the area is so big (Glastenbury alone is roughly 26,000 acres), he's surprised more people don't get lost and are never heard from again.
Resch believes Middie Rivers, a 74-year-old hunting and fishing guide, is the only documented case of a disappearance in Glastenbury. "There is no evidence that (Welden) ever set foot in the town of Glastenbury," he wrote.
He wrote that writers have stretched the facts to "fit the supernatural ghost town scenario."
Rivers was last seen on Nov. 12, 1945. After leading a group of four hunters up the mountain, he got ahead on the way back and, despite extensive searches, was never seen or heard from again. The 18-year-old Welden's whereabouts are still unknown as well.
Three years to the day after her disappearance, James Tetford, an elderly Bennington man, boarded a bus in St. Albans after visiting relatives but never arrived in Bennington. Witnesses saw him the stop before Bennington, but he never got off the bus, according to Citro.
On Columbus Day in 1950, an 8-year-old Bennington boy, Paul Jepson, was waiting for his mother in their pickup. Jepson's parents were farmers and took care of the town dump. While his mother went to go deal with some pigs, Jepson vanished. Like the others, his disappearance remains a mystery. "Local legend holds that the dogs lost (his) scent at the exact spot where (Welden) was last seen," Citro wrote.
A local woman, Freida Langer, 53, also went missing in the woods, in October 1950. Her body was found seven months later in "gruesome condition" in tall grasses near a flood dam of the Somerset Reservoir, according to Citro.
There have also been reports of three Massachusetts hunters vanishing in the Glastenbury area in 1949, and a report that a 13-year-old named Melvin Hills disappeared in Bennington in 1942.
People have speculated, especially in Welden's case, that the disappearances have been the result of a serial killer, people wanting to run away or elaborate suicide attempts. Harrington sided more with this camp on Thursday. "I don't think it was supernatural things that caused their demise," he said.
As for Singley, he said he's "open-minded" after his overnight experience. "My main preoccupation (music) is trying to work with the soul," he said, "and science doesn't really offer too many explanations for that."
Citro said Singley's survival doesn't diminish the mystery of the mountain. Components of it actually help reinforce it, he said.
Even Harrington, who many might see as the voice of reason in all this, wasn't willing to take his chances.
"I'm not going to spend a night up there," he said. "I'm not that brave a soul."
Contact John D. Waller at email@example.com