Local author Rosemary Chaulk seems to have struck a chord with local folks with recent publication of her short novel "Nissitissit Witch," a mysterious tale of a prosperous village that died -- Pepperell's own North Village.
Her original production run supported by Cheryl Pillsbury of A.G. Press sold out in eight weeks, and Chaulk is gearing up with Author House for more production.
"A lot of folks have told us they love it," Chaulk said of her factual-based fictional-charactered tale. "I call it 'factional,' as opposed to non-fiction," she said.
Loosely based on handed-down stories of the witch of North Pepperell, Chaulk's work is based on actual reported occurrences and is full of Native American spirits, witches, American folklore, local settings and environmental issues, spun into a believable plot.
"Was it the curse of a witch that killed residents of North Village or did they die because of a poisoned environment," Chaulk said this week.
In "Nissitissit Witch," Native American spirits live in the mist of the Nissitissit River because it is sacred. When it later became polluted they had to go elsewhere to find "the place of happiness.
"It was the industrial revolution and pollution that killed small villages but," Chaulk added, "I cannot discount things that go bump in the night. There's supposed to be a curse that if you write about North Village you'll die a horrible death."
Chaulk is a self-employed surveyor who has written other books, but this one was a major effort, financially and in time. She's spent $7,000 getting it to press and well over 300 hours of historical research before fabricating the tale. She's lived in Pepperell for three years and in Groton for 28.
"Being a land surveyor, I saw massive pollution in the 1970s. I wanted to write about love of the land and looking for a vehicle to move it," Chaulk said.
She started to write just about the Pepperell witch but found that North Village was at the bottom of a 40,000-acre drainage basin into which ran river pollution.
"I found there had been a shoe maker in the village who made felt. His work was renowned and he used to travel to farms to sell shoes. For that you need mercurous oxide. There was also a velvet shop," Chaulk said. "Velvet must be steamed to set colors. You need a steam closet. In those days all royal colors were toxic, using arsenic and vermilion.
"The green paint of the day was called Sheeles Green, made with copper and arsenic. White paint used white lead," she continued. All bright floral wallpaper was poisonous (arsenic and vermilion). It is rumored that Napoleon's insanity was partly because of his love of green wallpaper," she said.
"News articles Chaulk uncovered talk of people dying in unusual ways. Mercury, lead and vermilion cause heavy metal poisoning and people die psychotic lunatics, she said. "Just as in the phrase 'mad as a hatter.' Hatters used colored felt."
The twist to the story is most people think it was the curse of the North Pepperell witch that lead to strange deaths.
"I had to question why only white women were witches. Why not Native American spirits?" Chaulk said. "Indians were slaughtered when the whites settled this area. In folklore, an Indian chief was killed nearby."
In Nissitissit Witch," the spirit of a Native American chief is a central figure. The main character, Sarah, the witch, is a well-educated Quaker. Pepperell was Puritan at the time, Chaulk said. Puritans hated Quaker women because they felt they could predict the future.
"I'm happy with the way it spun out," she said. "It was consumptive. I started on a Thursday last summer. The next thing I knew it was Tuesday."
Copies of Nissitissit Witch can be found at Ray's Package Store, Big Kahuna Fish Market, McNabb's General Store, and can be purchased through Chaulk's web site (www.rosemarychaulk.com).
Chaulk has a new project in mind that's getting her excited; ghost stories of Pepperell as told by its residents.