On Ben's Farm

Catch Me If You Can? (They Could and They Did)

UNH was the last of seven colleges where impostor Marvin Hewitt, above, taught.

In 1932, while other 10-year-old boys were reading the Hardy Boys, Marvin Hewitt was perusing books with titles like Functions of a Complex Variable. At age 12, he gave a talk in school on Einstein's theory of relativity, much to the bewilderment of his teacher and classmates. By 17, he was so bored with high school that he dropped out and went to work as a manual laborer.

But in 1945, a want ad for an eighth-grade teaching position at a new military academy caught his eye. He sent in an application that claimed he was a graduate of Temple University, and got the job. Although the academy folded after a year, Hewitt was inspired. Feeling a "compulsion to teach," he assumed the name and credentials of an up-and-coming nuclear physicist and boldly called nearby colleges asking if they needed a physics teacher. Thus began a seven-year masquerade through three colleges, four universities and seven states.

After reading the bizarre story in LIFE magazine, an aircraft company vice president gave Hewitt a job as a satellite design specialist, leading to a happier ending in a LIFE sequel, above.

Hewitt was a competent teacher, and on departmental exams his students performed just as well as those of his colleagues. When he lacked expertise—in the lab, for example—he bluffed his way through. Strange gaps in his knowledge were attributed to the eccentricities of a theoretical physicist.

In 1953, UNH had an opening in the physics department, and soon received the application of Dr. Kenneth P. Yates, a physicist with excellent credentials. "Yates" was hired.

During Hewitt's second semester, however, graduate student Wayne Overman '55G became suspicious. An investigation revealed that the real Yates was blithely pursuing his career in the Midwest, and UNH asked for Hewitt's immediate resignation. Like the other universities, UNH hoped to keep the embarrassing episode quiet, but such a fascinating story naturally leaked out. Local papers carried stories of Hewitt's New Hampshire hoax, and his entire academic escapade appeared in LIFE magazine in the April 12, 1954 issue. Asked later how it felt to be unmasked at UNH, Hewitt replied, "It was a relief."

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