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Jackson with the book covers of various books.

American writer Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (1948) is studied in nearly every public high school in the U.S. The short story was published on June 26, 1948, in The New Yorker, and generated so much hate mail, that the magazine had parcels sent up to Jackson. Although Jackson lived her adult life struggling with severe anxiety and depression, she is one of America’s premier American Gothic writers. Her stories remain popular, with several adaptations produced. For Halloween, read one—or more—of her stories.

Shirley Hardie Jackson’s stories are dissected and studied, as is her unhappy and albeit short life. Shirley was born on December 14, 1916, in San Francisco. Her relationship with her mother, Geraldine, was acrimonious and strained. Jackson fled to Syracuse University, graduating in 1940. Shortly thereafter, Jackson married Stanley Edgar Hyman, replacing her mother’s verbal abuse with his infidelity. They had 4 children. On August 8, 1965, Jackson died unexpectedly from heart failure at the age of 48. Her journal entries provide much insight into her struggle with mental illness. However, it seemed she may have been turning a new corner and writing in a new genre at the time of her death.

Jackson with her 4 children.

Jackson’s legacy is her writings. She considered herself a “practicing amateur witch” and was curious about witchcraft. Her most well-known novel is probably The Haunting of Hill House (1959) which was made into 2 full-length motion pictures and adapted into the 10-episode Netflix series created by Mike Flanagan in 2018. (Note: Start with the 1963 movie titled The Haunting and work from there.) I’m drawn to 2 lesser-known stories: Hangsaman (1951) and “The Missing Girl” (1957).

Jackson begrudgingly accepted her open marriage to Hyman. His infidelity is notorious; however, there is much speculation that he had numerous affairs with students while employed as a faculty member. He taught at Bennington College in Vermont. Bennington was founded as a liberal arts, all-female college in 1932. In 1969, it became coeducational.

Both stories touch upon the mysterious disappearance of Paula Jean Weldon, a sophomore at Bennington College who went for a hike and never returned. Weldon was born on October 19, 1928 and declared dead as of December 1, 1946. Her body has never been discovered. During the span 1946-1950, at least 4 other people disappeared. In 1992, Joseph A. Citro coined the term “Bennington Triangle” to include these disappearances and other folklore.

Missing Person flyer for Paula Jean Weldon in 1946.

Ghost stories and horror stories are part of our Halloween tradition. This year, read a story you haven’t read before. Start with one of Jackson’s.

Read “The Lottery” here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1948/06/26/the-lottery