‘An enduring appeal’ Bennington celebrates Shirley Jackson Day

Shirley Jackson's former home in North Bennington. Vermont Country File photo

By Bob Audette, Vermont Country

BENNINGTON — When folks mention the name of writer Shirley Jackson, what often comes to mind is “The Lottery” or “The Haunting of Hill House.”

“The Lottery,” published in The New Yorker in 1948 and written while she was living with her family in North Bennington, tells the story of a fictional small American community and a lottery the town holds each year. What is the winner’s reward? The winner gets stoned to death to ensure a good harvest and purge the town of bad omens.

Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) wrote “The Haunting of Hill House” from her home in North Bennington, where she lived with her husband, Bennington College faculty member and literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman. ILLUSTRATION BY MICHELLE MAHER

“Setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village [was meant] to shock the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives,” Jackson wrote in a column published in the San Francisco Chronicle a month after the story was published.

In 1960, Jackson recounted how she received hundreds of letters following the publication, the majority of it hate mail.

A year before that comment, in 1959, Jackson published what many consider to be one of the best, if not the best, ghost stories ever written. “The Haunting of Hill House,” which some say is based on Jennings Hall on the campus of Bennington College, is about a house apparently haunted by malevolent spirits that attempt to possess one of the characters.


For many years after her early death in 1965 (she was only 49), Jackson’s star dimmed, seemingly forgotten in the era of modern horror.

But in 2015, The New Yorker published a pair of her previously unpublished short stories, sparking a new interest in the writer.

In 2016, Ruth Franklin published a biography, “Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life” and two years later, a Netflix aired a miniseries based on “The Haunting of Hill House.”

For many years, Jackson fans have made a pilgrimage to Bennington on or around June 27, the date the lottery is drawn in the eponymous short story.

From right to left: Local authors Michael Thomas Ford, Chandler Klang Smith, Karen Heuler and Paul Park attend a past Shirley Jackson Day in North Bennington. This year’s Shirley Jackson Day is June 24. Vermont Country File photo

About 15 years ago, Tom Fels helped to organize the first Shirley Jackson Day.

“As a schoolmate of Jackson’s children, and visitor to their house, I was aware that we had a treasure to share”

Tom Fels, in a Bennington Banner interview in 2018.

Like so many things, the annual pilgrimage went on a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year, John G. McCullough Free Library in North Bennington is celebrating Shirley Jackson Day on June 24.

“Tom had been leading this event for years when he suggested this would make a great library program,” said Jennie Rozycki, director of the library.

Rozycki had taken over the event prior to the pandemic, and even held it virtually for a couple of years.

This year she is looking forward to a whole slate of activities with real, live people in attendance.

“Usually some of Shirley’s children are in attendance as are authors who are nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award or jurors of the award,” she said. “We get together and read from Jackson’s work, and talk about what it means in our lives. It’s a really lovely evening.”

And while that might sound a bit weird, reading from disturbing yet fascinating books such as “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” there are essays that are just as important, if not more important, to her fans.

In “Life Among the Savages” and “Raising Demons,” Jackson writes about barely controlled, but loving, chaos, as she raises four children in two rambling houses in North Bennington.

In one of those houses, at 66 Main St., Wendy June Marie has been baking scones since 2022 for locals and intrepid travelers searching for Jackson.

“We’ve had some experiences that we can’t explain,” she said about the house Jackson lived in with her family for 12 years and where she wrote “The Haunting of Hill House.”

“If they’re are spirits here, they must be friendly, because they’ve never given us any sort of problem.”

The house has been in the family of her partner, Stuart Aldrich, since 1969, and Wendy June Marie, a former English and history teacher sells her products most weekends, directly from the building’s front porch.

“‘Life Among the Savages’ was the first Jackson book I read in the house,” she said. “I wanted to know what kind of secrets there are about living here. But what I found instead was a really wonderful collection of stories about her family, which was just so incredibly heartwarming.”

Wendy June Marie said Jackson had a talent for doing deep dives into her characters and that talent shows in her essays on family life.

“I am so glad that I’ve gotten to know her because she has a realism that is important for folks to be able to grasp and understand. It’s not really that she was a horror writer, really, she was a writer of psychological thrillers, in which she messes with your mind.”

Since moving into the house, Wendy’s gotten used to folks knocking on the front door, wanderers looking for traces of Jackson on walking tours of North Bennington.

She’s named her bakery moonscones, all lower case, she points out, because Jackson often wrote, as revealed in “The Letters of Shirley Jackson,” published in 2021, in all lower case.

“So my moonscones is a nod to Shirley”

Wendy June Marie

Wendy June Marie said she’ll make extra scones for Shirley Jackson Day on June 24, and is thinking maybe she’ll make some blackberry scones, another nod to the former occupant of 66 Main St. 

“In ‘We’ve Always Lived in the Castle,’ she writes quite a bit about blackberries,” she said.

Bennington Banner photo
The John G. McCullough Free Library, The Left Bank, and the Shirley Jackson Awards Committee proudly present this year’s Shirley Jackson Day Celebration on Saturday, June 24th.
(The Left Bank: 5 Bank Street, North Bennington)

Library director Jennie Rozycki said there is no stereotypical Shirley Jackson fan, other than a common interest in good writing that is engaging and sometimes humorous.

“There’s an enduring appeal for her writing,” she said, adding, “I am someone who has had a long fondness for her. It warms my heart to see the resurgence of interest in her work.”

She said it’s not a surprise that Jackson was influenced by the town she lived in for 17 years.

“A lot of writers are influenced by where they’re living,” she said, “but nothing would have prevented her from being a writer no matter where she might have been, though the flavor would have been different had she been somewhere else.”

For more details on the day’s events, visit the Facebook page of John G. McCullough Free Library.

Bob Audette has been writing for the Brattleboro Reformer for close to 15 years. When he’s not working or hanging out with his 6-year-old son, he can often be found on one of the many trails leading to the summit of Mount Monadnock, in southern New Hampshire.

Vermont Country magazine

Vermont Country has a hyperlocal focus on the Green Mountain lifestyle, its personalities, events, attractions and culture. The magazine appears six times a year, designed to complement the state and four-season living. VtCo magazine is a Southern Vermont publication of Vermont News & Media.

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