In a goofy event that evoked seemingly more carefree times, dozens of Saint Mary’s students jammed into a vintage phone booth on campus nearly 10 times on March 25, attempting to break a record set by SMC students in 1959 in a stunt that made the cover of Life magazine.
On the last try, during which one of the booth’s plexiglass panels popped out, 22 students tied the record that was set 50 years ago and captured in an iconic image by photographer Joe Munroe.
“There was room for more,” said senior Esther Montoya, who was giddy about participating in the Golden Anniversary re-enactment despite being repeatedly shoved inside the booth and squashed by other students who crowded in on top of her. “The guys from 1959 were taunting us, saying ‘you can’t beat us.’ I don’t blame them – I’d want to keep the record too.”
Hundreds of students, faculty members, staff and alumni gathered around the phone booth set up on the Chapel Lawn, along with dozens of media from local and national newspapers and television and radio stations.
About 60 students took turns getting into and out of the booth, while about two dozen alumni from the 1959 era laughed and told stories about their feat, which was inspired by other college pranks at the time.
“I’m overwhelmed to see what I started,” said Paul Kunny ’61.
Munroe, now 92, was also on hand, and recalled that when he snapped the photo that ended up being one of the top images of the 20th century he “didn’t realize at the time the fame that would come of it.”
Asked why the phone booth photo became so popular and well-known, Munroe reflected on the absurdity of the stunt.
“There’s only supposed to be one person in a phone booth,” he said. “People would think ‘what are all these people doing in there?’ Also, there’s a little fearfulness of being jammed into a small space, but (the students) were all having fun.”
Phone booths are anachronistic these days, and most of the students who jammed into the booth admitted that they made their calls on cell phones, not by dropping dimes into a machine. But their unfamiliarity with the devices didn’t dim their enthusiasm for filling one up.
“We thought we’d be a little bit abstract,” said senior Jonathan DeLeon, who was part of a drawing and sculpture class that decided to approach the event as an art project.
“This was a great opportunity to be a living sculpture,” said his classmate, freshman Zhili Li.
Li noted that it was more fun to be part of a living sculpture when she was on the top of the heap, as she was in her first attempt, than on the bottom, on her second try.
“I couldn’t breathe,” she said.
Freshman Bill Jones, looking dazed after crawling out of the booth, said he was on the “very bottom.”
“It felt like a rugby scrum,” he said, shaking his head.
Sophomore Tabitha Crowninshield, who was in the bottom and in the middle, said she felt an adrenaline rush from participating.
“My hands are all shaky,” she said incredulously.
The one thing all the students seemed to have in common was that they had fun, despite being squished, pushed and pulled.
“We should do this every year,” Jones said.
Paul Desrochers ’61 said he was pleased to see the students’ enthusiasm, even though he was one of the alumni who didn’t want his record broken.
“This is a special place and we do special things, and we’re better because of it,” Desrochers said. “It makes me realize that Saint Mary’s still has the core of what we value about the College – that it’s small, it’s enthusiastic. I love this place.”