A letter from a reader: McCosh 50's big bang

March 19, 2008:

A recent PAW (Notebook, Oct. 24) featured a commentary on McCosh 50. PAW noted the lecture hall as a locus for significant lectures and personalities. Perhaps this trivia may be of interest.

As a freshman in 1946, I worked as a waiter at the athletic training tables. These were located at that time in Osborn Field House (now the Field Center). This was the corner of Prospect and Olden Street. 

One evening I decided I would attend a lecture in McCosh 50. The lecture was sponsored by the Liberal Union. The feature was the feisty U.S. senator from Florida, Claude Pepper. Pepper was aptly named because of his controversial liberal opinions, as expressed vociferously and expounded in the Senate. He definitely was regarded as the leader of the liberal-left forces in the Senate.

My dorm was Laughlin, on the far side of the campus. As a consequence, after my evening duties at Osborn I opted to go straight to McCosh, rather than go all the way across campus to the room and then walk back. The time was early before the lecture, but all the lights were on. I was the only individual in the lecture hall. My thought was that I would spend the time studying until the audience gathered for Pepper's lecture. I settled in. 

Suddenly the silence of the lecture hall was broken by a loud explosion: "BANG." Needless to say, I was startled and wondered what was going on.  Within a short time there was a second loud "BANG." 

Calmly (?) I surveyed the scene. Smoke emanated from covers over the heating ducts. I recall these adjoined the speaking platform. Investigation disclosed the plot.

The explosions were from two M-50s, those large firecrackers used by the armed services to simulate firepower. Evidently the plot was for the explosions to occur during Claude Pepper's speech. The only problem was that the perpetrator constructed a fuse of insufficient length. The lighted fuse lasted only long enough to scare the hell out of me. This was long ago and I have no idea of the content of the senator's speech, nor do I remember how large the attendance. I do remember there was no further disruption.   

Englewood, N.J.

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