Mount Hermon’s Famous Fire and Football Picture: A Life of It’s Own

The real story behind the infamous Mount Hermon fire and football photograph.

| May 12, 2015

A building fire and a football game going on next to each other on a boarding school campus — for years, a 1965 photo of the Mount Hermon football team playing while a build blazed over their shoulders has been a boarding school legend and, more recently, an internet novelty.

Keeping calm and carrying on as one of your school buildings burns would make our British brethren proud as would having a persistently, legendary event with unclear provenance.

New York Times writer, Sarah Lyall sets the story of the photo's strange incongruity straight in Fire, Football and the Story of a Renowned Photograph. The picture has certainly lived a life of its own. But, it, the fire, and the football game are real.

The photo does seem odd. But, the truth behind it is classic boarding school.

"...The photograph itself has been seen all over the place for years, but usually with no explanation, so little is known about the story behind it. It involves an old prep-school rivalry, a faultily wired science building full of stuffed birds, thousands of potentially firefighter-blocking spectators, a bunch of officials faced with a difficult decision and a parent who had no idea that he was snapping what would become one of the most striking photographs in the history of high school sports.

In an interview, Steven Webster, who at the time was a Mount Hermon science teacher in charge of a one-truck volunteer fire brigade at the school, put to rest the most pressing question: Why wasn’t the game postponed when the building caught fire?

'They wanted to keep everyone in the stands rather than going over and getting in the way of the fire,' said Webster, 76, a marine biologist who went on to become a founder of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

'On the other hand, if you’re not fighting the fire, what else are you going to do? You may as well watch a football game.'”(NYT)

The game between Mount Hermon and Deerfield was apparently a great one. Deerfield won 20-14.