Skip to main content
Explore URMC
URMC / Labs / Simon Lab / Fire at Harvard 1956


Fire at Harvard 1956

Clock Tower

In the early 1950s the statue of John Harvard and the clocks on Memorial Hall were the iconic symbols of Harvard. There were no other tall buildings near that part of Cambridge, so the four sided clock was visible over much of Cambridge and Boston.

I recently had occasion to research the history of Memorial Hall. In doing so I found that most of the pictures on the internet do not show clocks on the tower, but this picture that I took between 1950 and 1956 clearly shows clocks.


In September of 1956 a fire broke out near the top of the tower. Another graduate student and I took these with a laboratory camera. This picture appears to have been taken from the ground during an early stage of the fire.

Fire trucks

Fire trucks have arrived but as you see they did not have enough pressure to reach the top of the tower. This picture was taken from the roof of Gordon McKay Laboratory. I do not recall who took the pictures. Clearly I did not, since I am in the next one.


We were about a thousand feet from the fire but we could feel the heat on our faces. At this point the fire department was concentrating on protecting the rest of the building. The clocks were gone.