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August 12, 2013

A book 50 years in the making

PEABODY — Standing before the paintings of Marblehead’s J.O.J. Frost, librarian Priscilla Moulton was inspired with the idea for a book.

“At the time, I was working with children and especially children’s picture books. ... I could see (Frost’s paintings) going into a picture book,” she said.

Formerly a Marblehead resident for 50-plus years — she now lives in Peabody’s Brooksby Village — Moulton wanted to tell the story of the town’s fishermen struggling to make a living on the Grand Banks and to tell it in a way that kids could understand. In addition, it was only natural to somehow incorporate Frost’s own recollections of a brief career fishing in the late 1800s. Like the paintings, this material had been stored by the Marblehead Historical Society.

Working at the Lee Mansion, Moulton typed a copy of it on an old portable typewriter. She also recorded the papers of other 19th-century fishermen, again painstakingly typing them.

Once she gathered her research material, she formulated a story, even testing it on receptive fifth-graders at Swampscott’s Hadley School.

Moulton could not use a copy machine for her research, said her daughter and co-author Bethe Moulton. This happened before copy machines were in common use, half a century ago in 1961. But if such obstacles couldn’t stop Priscilla Moulton, something else did. As a young mother with two children, and a librarian in the Swampscott and then the Brookline schools, time got away from her.

“And it was really difficult for me to find a way to configure all these stories,” Moulton said, “... and relate them appropriately to the Frost paintings.”

Six years ago, when Moulton moved to Peabody, her family came across the materials, along with the never-finished book.

“Well, I guess this goes to the trash heap,” she said then.

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