If you were in Building 149 of the Martinos Center on any given Halloween in the past decade, you might have come across a possibly startling scene: a nine-foot, anthropomorphic volcano wandering the halls; a moth-man with large, glowing eyes posing for photos; or maybe just a huge globule of gluten kicking back with friends. If you happened to see one of these, or some other, similar tableau, don’t be alarmed. Your eyes were not, in fact, deceiving you.
Since joining the Center in 2008, a certain biomedical researcher and Halloween aficionado – let’s call him the Masked Scientist – has shared his unabashed love of the holiday with his colleagues here, crafting ever-more elaborate costumes and often debuting them in Building 149 before heading off to Salem, Cambridge or downtown Boston to celebrate with friends. He has called on his extensive engineering background, not to mention his boundless imagination, in designing and constructing the costumes, employing sculpting and 3D-printing skills and incorporating an array of mechanical and electrical elements. The results, as you might imagine, have never been anything less than astounding.
The Masked Scientist declined to meet for an in-person interview but he agreed to answer a question or two from the safety of his secret lair, a subterranean laboratory done up in the Gothic style. The first of these: Why does he do it? What compels him, year after year, to devote extraordinary amounts of time and energy to the presumably dying art of hand-tooling costumes with lots of tiny, moving pieces. Ultimately, I wanted to know, what keeps him going?
“That’s simple,” came the reply, written on parchment in an ornate, Old English script. “Every time I’m confronted with another seemingly insurmountable project-related challenge, or another astronomical expense for supplies and hardware, or just the prospect of losing weeks of sleep and the stress of leading a double life (scientist by day, Halloween fanatic by night), I just have to remind myself of three simple words to make it all okay … ‘Dude, it’s Halloween.’”
‘Dude, it’s Halloween,’ indeed. To be sure, for many of us in the Center, the Masked Scientist’s big Halloween reveal, wherein he emerges from his lair in full regalia for the very first time, is the highlight of the holiday. It’s a wildly emotional experience, filled with excitement for the unveiling of the Masked Scientist’s costume, joy in seeing his creativity and engineering prowess in full bloom, and sheer exhilaration in not knowing until the very last minute whether he’s managed to pull it off.
So it has been especially difficult to come to terms with the fact that the Masked Scientist is leaving the Center at the end of this year – that is, tomorrow, December 31 – moving across town to join the Biomedical Engineering faculty at Northeastern University. We’re thrilled for him, of course, and we wish him all the best in this new and surely bracing adventure. But at the same time, we recognize that, in taking the job at Northeastern, he is leaving a huge, likely unfillable, goblin-shaped hole in the Center. Halloween here will never be the same.
Which leads me to the next question I submitted to the man holed up in his lair: Will you miss the Center as much as it will miss you? And if so, what will you miss the most?
“There’s no single aspect that I’ll miss the most,” he wrote, in the same, highly embellished script. “But it really makes my heart sing to see how the Center has grown to fully embrace Halloween and honor its cultural significance and indisputable transcendence. Commemorative gatherings are routinely arranged by both individual labs and for the entire Center. Ornate shrines are constructed in the administrative office and by individual investigators. And countless investigators now honor the occasion by donning the ceremonial attire. These and other efforts make the Martinos Center a shining example from which the entire world can both learn and benefit tremendously!”
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that not everyone is a fan. When asked about the Masked Scientist and the love of Halloween he has inscribed in the Center, Abbas Yaseen, a longtime member of the Martinos community, scoffed. “That dude?” he said, darkly. “WHATEVER!!!” He shook his head and returned to boxing up the contents of his office. Yaseen, as it happens, is also leaving the Center tomorrow.
We’ve put together a video celebrating the Masked Scientist’s many costumes over the years. Check it out below.