© Courtesy of Anne Ramsey Cuvelier (house), courtesy of JPL-Caltech/UCLA/NASA (cosmos), courtesy of the family of John E. Mack (Mack).
Anne Ramsey Cuvelier’s Victorian mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, where, once a year, alien experiencers gather and exchange stories. Inset, John Edward Mack at Harvard University, where he earned his medical degree in 1955.
If you're abducted by alien beings, are you physically absent?
This happens to be an important issue for the media-shy people gathered one afternoon last July on the porch of Anne Ramsey Cuvelier's blue Victorian inn on Narragansett Bay, in Rhode Island, once called "the most elegantly finished house ever built in Newport." Co-designed in 1869 by a cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson's, it has been in Cuvelier's family since 1895, when her great-grandfather bought it as a summer getaway from his winter home blocks away, just as the Gilded Age cottages of the Vanderbilts and Astors began springing up across the island, redefining palatial extravagance. Still imposing with its butternut woodwork, ebony trimmings, and four-story paneled atrium frescoed in the Pompeian style, the harborside mansion turned B&B seemed a fittingly baroque setting for the group of reluctant guests Cuvelier describes as "not a club anyone wants to belong to."
She had gathered them to compare experiences as, well, "experiencers," a term they prefer to "abductees," and to socialize free of stigma among peers. Cuvelier, an elegant and garrulous woman in her 70s, isn't one of them. But she remembers as a teen in the 1940s hearing her father, Rear Admiral Donald James Ramsey, a World War II hero, muttering about strange flying craft that hovered and streaked off at unimaginable speed, and she's been an avid ufologist ever since. "I want to get information out so these people don't have to suffer," she says. "Nobody believes you. You go through these frightening experiences, and then you go through the ridicule."
So, for a week each summer for almost two decades, she's been turning away paying guests at her family's Sanford-Covell Villa Marina, on the cobblestoned waterfront in Newport, to host these intimate gatherings of seemingly ordinary folk with extraordinary stories, along with the occasional sympathetic medical professional and scientist and other brave or foolhardy souls not afraid to be labeled nuts for indulging a fascination with the mystery. I had been invited as a journalist with a special interest who has been talking to some of them for several years.
Perched on a wicker settee was Linda Cortile, a mythic figure in the canons of abduction literature, whom I'd come to know by her real name, Linda Napolitano. A stylish young grandmother in a green T-shirt, black shorts, and a charcoal baseball cap, she had agreed to meet me months before at Manhattan's South Street Seaport to point at her 12th-floor window overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge, where, she says, one night in 1989 three small beings levitated her "like an angel" into a hovering craft in view of horrified witnesses, including, it was said, a mysterious world figure who might have been abducted with her. "If I was hallucinating," she told me, "then the witnesses saw my hallucination. That sounds crazier than the whole abduction phenomenon."