Mark Frechette, movie actor and bank robber, believed in astrology. His interest in it started before he joined an astrology-obsessed commune, based in the Fort Hill district of Boston, that called itself the Fort Hill Community and eventually answered to “the Lyman Family.” Like all cults, they denied being a cult, despite being led by a despot who proclaimed himself the Second Coming and was tagged the “East Coast Charles Manson” by Rolling Stone magazine in a 60,000-word exposé that appalled his apostles. Here’s how they characterized themselves in a pamphlet published in 1973, the same year Mark Frechette botched a bank heist and feathered a reputation already tarred by Rolling Stone: “We are a group of people between the ages of 16 and 30 who have been experimenting with communal living for seven years now and have come up with some amazing results which we would like to share with you.” The pamphlet advertised the courses they offered to the heathen, including two in astrology: “By studying your own chart, you will learn to make astrology work for you in your relationships with other people by a greater understanding of them, an understanding to which there are no limits.” Mark Frechette would certainly have studied his own chart, but whatever understanding he gained from it, he was captured and died cryptically in prison. His FBI file includes a photocopy of the Lyman Family pamphlet.

Several weeks ago, while at my parents’ house, my mother started talking about her escape from the concentration camp in the former Yugoslavia, post World War II. Most of the stories my mother shared about the camp I’d heard before, many times before, and so it took me a minute before I realized what she’d said. This story was new.