Rhododendron Drive

The Two Best Nights of My Life


IN EARLY 1994, Harvard psychiatrist John Mack published a book called Abduction, based on his study of hundreds of people who claimed to have been taken aboard an alien spacecraft and subjected to strange, often sexual, experiments. Mack took the testimony of his subjects seriously, and his book soared to the best-seller lists.

In my Boston Globe column "Science Musings," I offered a skeptical review of the book, pointing out the similarities between the abduction phenomenon and the witchcraft craze of the Middle Ages. At the end, as a throwaway line, I wrote: “Tell you what, Professor Mack. Pass the word through your abductee contacts. I’ll be waiting on the college quad at midnight a week from tonight. I volunteer myself for alien experiments.”

I was not, of course, serious. But when I arrived on campus the next day, I was greeted by posters: SEE CHET RAYMO ABDUCTED BY ALIENS, NEXT MONDAY, THE QUAD, MIDNIGHT. What was I to do?

On the appointed night, I showed up with an overnight bag containing a toothbrush and a change of underwear. Hundreds of students had gathered, many inebriated and in costume. A landing pad was marked out with lights. WSHL, the College’s radio station, boomed the Stars Wars theme into the sky. Reporters from the local media stood by with notepads and cameras.

As midnight approached, the crowd roared a countdown: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2…

At the stroke of midnight, a clutch of aliens—my engineering students—decked out in aluminum foil, rushed into the throng and carried me away. God knows how long the party lasted. A photo of two revelers, with bobbing antennas, made the Boston Globe.

The following year, a novel of mine was made into a film, Frankie Starlight, starring Matt Dillon, Gabriel Byrne, Anne Parillaud and two remarkable Irish actors as Frankie, Corban Walker and Alan Pentony.

The world premiere was in Dublin, Ireland. Vice President for Student Affairs Lou Saltrelli got it into his head that the U.S. premiere should be at Stonehill. Against all odds, we got the producer to lend a print, and Lou, with administrators Dick Grant, Kathy Conroy and others, set out to make the night one to remember.

The Sally Blair Ames Sports Complex was turned into Hollywood, with a gym-spanning screen, professional projection equipment and searchlights sweeping the sky. Everyone was there—students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends of the College. Seniors were dolled up in black tuxedos and cocktail dresses.

A gala reception preceded the screening, and at a party afterwards the seniors presented me with my own "Academy Award," which I treasure to this day.

The “official” U.S. premiere occurred in New York a few weeks later. I didn’t go, to my family’s dismay. I had already missed a few classes for the Dublin affair and was loath to skip any more. And besides, the boffo night at Stonehill with a campus full of friends meant more to me than anything Broadway could offer.

Professor emeritus Chet Raymo began teaching physics at Stonehill in 1964. He served as an educator and an influential member of the academic community for 37 years before retiring from full-time teaching in 2001.

SHARE YOUR STORY. Submit your 500-word essay about your Stonehill thoughts and memories to klawrence@stonehill.edu.