Every night at exactly 8:30 p.m., several windows on the south-facing side of the Sciences Library suddenly light up to form a shining smiley face.
Atop the SciLi, a twin pair of LED lights twinkle for a minute and, across the river, patients at the Hasbro Children’s Hospital signal back with their own handheld flashlights.
The SciLi’s transformation is part of a nightly tradition that involves much of the Providence skyline, as buildings across Downtown and the East Side flash their lights to bid goodnight to the patients at the hospital in South Providence.
The Good Night Lights tradition was started more than a decade ago by Steve Brosnihan, the hospital’s resident cartoonist.
In 2010, Brosnihan began beaming a handheld flashlight towards the hospital on his commute home to say goodnight to a patient he often visited — reminding the patient that “I would remain connected to him even though I was outside the hospital,” Brosnihan said.
What started as a gesture for one patient soon became a nightly tradition, as Brosnihan “made it a habit” to bid goodnight to all of the hospital’s patients after he left.
In 2015, Brosnihan decided to extend an invitation to buildings and businesses across Providence to join his nightly ritual — and many agreed.
Today, dozens of buildings participate in the tradition, along with individuals who gather outside the hospital, Brosnihan told The Herald. Boats passing through the harbor will also often beam their lights or blow their horns, he added.
According to Brosnihan, Good Night Lights has been “extremely well received” by patients, their families and the hospital’s staff. Reactions range from “amusement” among the youngest patients to “true emotional reactions” from older patients and families when they first witness the city light up in support.
The SciLi’s smiling face
Due to its prominent position on College Hill, the SciLi was one of the first buildings that Brosnihan invited to join in on the tradition. When the SciLi first began to participate in the nightly ritual, security staff would ascend the tower each night to beam a flashlight from the top floors of the building.
But the following year, the library upgraded its lighting by installing a pair of LED lights that flash each night.
According to Katie Silberman, director of community relations in the University’s Office of Government and Community Relations, the University is “so pleased to be involved.”
“It's important (for) Brown to be a good neighbor in Providence, and I think Good Night Lights really represents the best of Providence,” Silberman said. She noted that the University is already involved in the city’s health care landscape, so Brown’s participation is a “natural fit.”
Silberman said that she herself has attended several Good Night Lights events and recalled that it was “a really touching sight to see Rhode Islanders taking care of each other in this way.”
Today, several University buildings — including those connected to the Warren Alpert Medical School and the School of Public Health — also participate in the tradition. And a few years ago, Brosnihan worked with the SciLi to install timed flood lights on the windows which light up into a smiling face for children to see each night.
Brosnihan said the children at the hospital “can’t believe what they see” at the SciLi and are “tickled by the idea that a building is actually smiling at them.”
Madeleine Tremblay ’23 is currently working with Brosnihan to add a nose to the SciLi’s nightly smile. She met Brosnihan as a volunteer at Hasbro earlier this year, and together they coordinated a plan for Tremblay and her friends to begin ascending to the upper floors of the SciLi and using flashlights to form a nose. Tremblay hopes to pass down this tradition so it continues beyond her time at the University.
At first, “I didn't really understand how impactful (the lights) could be,” Tremblay said. But once Brosnihan invited her to witness the display from the hospital, Tremblay recalled understanding how it felt like “the whole city or a lot of people in Providence are thinking about you.”
Bringing light from the community
In addition to the nightly displays, Brosnihan organizes special nights throughout the year in collaboration with local businesses. This includes special holiday displays that have featured the Stanley Tree Service and a Rhode Island Jeep club that brought hundreds of Jeeps decorated with holiday lights to wish the Hasbro patients goodnight.
Last week, Brosnihan invited AAA to drive their tow trucks to the hospital and flash their lights. As a result, a dozen trucks from local AAA branches and tow truck companies were parked under an overpass facing the hospital and, accompanied by employees and their families, flashed their lights at the hospital in a sea of yellow and white. The trucks then paraded around the hospital and honked their horns before heading home.
Marilyn O’Malley, the AAA East Providence branch manager, told The Herald that accepting Brosnihan’s invitation was a no-brainer: “These little kids didn't deserve to be (at Hasbro), and now they're here, so why not say goodnight to them?”
For Mike Avile, a AAA lead roadside technician, showing up for Good Night Lights is a distinctly personal experience. “My son passed away at Hasbro a little less than a year ago,” he said, and “we used to look out the window every single night and watch the Good Night Lights.”
Recent additions to Good Night Lights
When Good Night Lights first became a public event, it attracted local and national media coverage. But many Providence residents are no longer aware that the city’s skyline still shines each night, according to Brosnihan.
In recent years, Good Night Lights has continued to expand even beyond the automatic and human-controlled light displays that typically twinkle across the city.
Today, over 80 reflective tape designs — ranging from a dinosaur to Hello Kitty — have been installed on nearby buildings, and can be activated “anytime after dark by a kid with a flashlight.” Brosnihan has partnered with Rhode Island schools and organizations to create these “magical” art pieces, providing “another way for the community to contribute to this project.”
Good Night Lights also receives support from the Tomorrow Fund for Children with Cancer, which works to “ease the traumatic financial and emotional stress of childhood cancer” for Rhode Island children and their families, according to the organization’s website. The fund has an account that supports the purchases of flashlights, flood lights, reflective tape and other equipment, as well as the maintenance of existing automated lighting displays, Brosnihan said.
As for the future, Brosnihan hopes to continue partnering with local businesses and organizations to host special events and expand the initiative’s reach.
“The larger the project grows, the more support the patients and staff feel,” Brosnihan said. “It delights me every time there’s an addition."
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Katie Silberman's title. The Herald regrets the error.
Sam Levine is a University News editor from Brooklyn, New York overseeing the staff and student labor and on-campus activism beats. He is a junior concentrating in International and Public Affairs.