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Paula Jean Welden (born 1928, missing since 1 December 1946) was a Bennington College, Vermontmarker, USA, sophomore whose disappearance while walking on Vermont's Long Trail hiking route remains an unsolved mystery.

Background

Paula Welden was the eldest of four daughters of the well-known industrial engineer, architect, and designer William Archibald Welden (1900-1970) and his wife Jean (1897-1976), née Douglas, of Brookdale Road, Stamford, Connecticut. Employed by the Revere Copper and Brass Company, W. Archibald Welden was the designer of many familiar household utensils, as well as stylish cocktail shakers and other objects.

Bennington College

Welden hitched a ride from State Route 67A near the entrance of the Bennington College grounds in North Benningtonmarker to a point on State Route 9 near the Furnace Bridge between downtown Bennington and Woodford Hollow. She was later seen walking in the direction of Mt. Glastenbury on the Long Trail (the present Long Trail Road/Harbour Road) in the vicinity of the Fay Fuller Camp, and along the way she asked a group for directions to the Long Trail and Mt. Glastenbury. It is presumed that she must have continued her Long Trail walk along the Bolles Brook Valley, although there are no known confirmed sightings of her past the Fay Fuller Camp.

The Long Trail

Welden was known to have had considerable prior knowledge about this part of the Long Trail and the Mt. Glastenbury area in general. She was an avid hiker and amateur botanist, and she had previously hiked that section of the Long Trail, both with friends and on her own. Thus, there would have been no reason for her to ask for directions about the Long Trail, unless she for some reason wanted to draw attention to being there.

This has led to speculation that she might have had a secret, prearranged assignation with a person somewhere on the Long Trail between the Fay Fuller Camp and Mt. Glastenbury. The fact that she was underdressed for the inclement weather that late Sunday afternoon has also intensified the theory that she did not expect to brave the elements for a long time before possibly finding refuge in a car or a log cabin as a prelude to starting a new life somewhere else.

Welden was said to have told a college friend some time before her vanishing that she wanted to be less dependent on people and that there would soon be a "new" Paula. Prior to her disappearance she had been preoccupied for some time and had refused to return home for the 1946 Thanksgiving holidays, instead opting to stay on at Bennington College. On the Saturday night before the day of her vanishing she had been in unusually high spirits, according to her college friends.

Following her disappearance, repeated searches of the Long Trail section between Vermont State Route 9 at Woodford Hollow, a few miles east of Bennington, and Glastenbury Mountainmarker some ten miles further north, revealed no clues.

Other cases

In the same general area where Welden disappeared, at least another four unexplained vanishings are supposed to have taken place between 1942 and 1950. Some of these cases are not, however, entirely substantiated by facts.

Due to the strangeness of these events, Vermont broadcaster and author Joseph A. Citro dubbed the wilderness area northeast of Bennington "the Bennington Triangle" – a reference to unexplained disappearances in the Bermuda Trianglemarker.

Literary linkages

Author Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) was inspired by Welden's vanishing when she wrote her novel Hangsaman (1951), as indicated by Jackson's papers in the Library of Congress. At the time of Welden's disappearance in 1946, Shirley Jackson was living in North Bennington, Vermont, where her husband was employed at Bennington College. Jackson's short story. "The Missing Girl," included in Just An Ordinary Day (the 1996 collection of her previously unpublished/uncollected short stories), references the Welden case. Legends of Glastenbury Mountain are echoed in "The Whisperer in Darkness" by H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937).

The novelist Donna Tartt, a Bennington student in 1982-86, began writing her first novel, The Secret History, during her second year at the college. The 1992 bestseller, set at a college similar to Bennington, tells of a group of students who murder a fellow student while he is hiking near the college.

References


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