McNally: A Showman, Yes, But a Scholar Most of All

McNally: A Showman, Yes, But a Scholar Most of All

For colleagues and students, the word "colorful" barely described Prof. Emeritus Raymond McNally (History), often known for sporting a stylish black cape when he lectured on one of his favorite subjects, Count Dracula.

Raymond McNally.
But while McNally, who died on Oct. 3 at age 71 of complications from cancer, did not resist the notoriety that came with his research into classic horror tales, colleagues remembered him most of all as a diligent and dedicated researcher.

"He was not a scholar who locked himself into an ivory tower," University Historian Thomas H. O'Connor said. "Sometimes his showmanship overshadowed his scholarship, but he was a serious, methodical academic who did much to develop Boston College's history program on Russia and Eastern Europe."

A funeral Mass was celebrated on Oct. 7 in St. Ignatius Church for McNally. He was buried in Newton Cemetery.

McNally and his long-time collaborator, Prof. Emeritus Radu Florescu (History), began cultivating their reputations as BC's "Professors of Horror" with their 1972 best-seller In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires. The book, which was updated in 1994, delved into the real-life figure behind the Dracula legend, Vlad the Impaler, who ruled parts of Romania in the mid-15th century and who was notorious for his cruel and macabre ways of asserting his authority - such as dipping bread into the blood of his impaled victims and consuming it.

"We were the first to link the mythical vampire with the actual historical personality," McNally said in 1979.

In 1996, McNally released the CD-ROM "Dracula: Truth or Terror," in which an animated miniature version of himself provided commentary on the "undead." When the user clicked on the McNally-like figure, a stake would be driven through his heart.

In November 1997, McNally organized a major international conference at BC on Dracula and his creator, 19th-century novelist Bram Stoker.

One of McNally and Florescu's most recent books was In Search of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, published in 2000, which recounted the legend of William Deacon Brodie, who allegedly terrorized Edinburgh, Scotland, while posing as an upstanding citizen, and is thought to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's famous tale of Jekyll and Hyde.

Interviewed by the Chronicle last year, McNally attributed the success of his and Florescu's works to the theory that "people enjoy horror under controlled conditions."

"If you take imaginary horror in small doses," he said, "you can always close the book or turn away from the screen."

McNally also taught courses on Russian, Soviet and Eastern European history and culture. He was instrumental in establishing a Balkan Studies Program at BC, which offered courses in history, politics, culture and languages of the Balkan region, including a class he and Florescu taught, Ethnic Problems in Russia and the Balkans.

A native of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, McNally joined the Boston College faculty in 1958 and retired in 2001.

McNally leaves his wife, Carol (Maymon); two sons, Michael of Chalfont, Pa., and Patrick of Newton; three daughters, Katherine of Larchmont, NY, Brigitte of Hull and Tara of Holland; a sister, Doris Shell of Cleveland; and several grandchildren.

-Sean Smith


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