Inspired by a famous 50-year-old Life magazine photograph, Saint Mary’s College students attempt to break the "22 bodies in a phone booth"
Inspired by a famous 50-year-old Life magazine photograph, Saint Mary's College students attempt to break the "22 bodies in a phone booth" record Wednesday, March 25, 2009 on their Moraga, Calif. campus. It was the on this day in 1959 that Orinda photographer Joe Munroe snapped the famous image that has made Life's magazine's photos of the century. (Karl Mondon)

MORAGA — If phone booths had feelings, the one at Saint Mary's College would have been wondering Wednesday what it had done to deserve the abuse.

Hundreds gathered on the Moraga campus to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic Life magazine photo of Saint Mary's students piling into a phone booth. The image, taken by Orinda resident Joe Munroe, came to embody the carefree college atmosphere of the 1950s, an era that also gave birth to goldfish swallowing and Volkswagen stuffing.

Several former students who became intimate with the phone booth in 1959 watched Wednesday as a new generation — some of whom likely have never been in a phone booth — clambered into a glass box on the school's chapel lawn. Paramedics stood by as the occasional groan rose from the bottom of the pile.

All were unscathed, even after several attempts to fit more than 22 students — the 1959 mark — into the booth.

The box, however, was a bit bent out of shape over the ordeal.

With camera lenses focused all around, Ray Motta seemed to be having the time of his life. The Benicia pharmacist, whose face was the only one visible in the 1959 photo, darted back and forth through the crowd as two groups of students attempted to break the campus record.

"See how they've got all the small ones now?" he said, pointing to a line of petite participants. "They could break it."

Henry Darmstadt, a friend of Motta's, saw a flaw in the students' engineering.

"See, that big guy shouldn't be on the bottom," he said, shortly before more than a dozen students tumbled out of the enclosure.

Although hundreds of students were on the lawn, many seemed not to know what to make of the 1950s stunt. Junior Derrick Montalvo and his friend looked amused as they snapped photos with a cell phone.

"It's something to do," Montalvo said.