Mr. Ball is caught throwing “The Odyssey” into the fire while sipping on a Natty Light. Photo: Darren Rosing

“It was a dark, dark day,” lamented junior Raina Moseley. “I truly have no words. Even when I saw the footage with my own eyes, I still couldn’t believe it. I stand with students and bibliophiles around the world. Those disgusting beasts must be held accountable!”

The “footage” that Moseley refers to is a three-hour iMovie production of librarians Matt Ball and Marty Hamburger at a secret midnight book burning. The clips were emailed to the Upper School News & Announcements Google group by an unidentifiable account late in the evening on Mar. 30. The caption line reads: “Cabal.”

Although computer legends Neil DeRosa and Matt Walker are still trying to pinpoint the IP address of the unknown sender, they were successful in uncovering the production date of the attached footage: Jan. 1, 2021. “What a disgusting New Year’s celebration,” said Mr. Walker.

Freshman Aarav Kokane was the first to recognize the infamous Woodruff duo in the video. “Although the shadows in the footage made it hard to pick up exact facial features, that maniacal grin on Mr. Ball’s face confirmed my earlier suspicions that it was them,” said Kokane. “It was also easy to detect Mr. Hamburger’s form at the part in the video where he ignites the flame thrower. The incendiary glow from the fire-gun directly highlighted Hamburger’s menacing posture. I’m haunted!”

The first 30 minutes of footage seem innocent, as Ball and Hamburger stack several books atop an unlit hearth. Viewers can make out the cover of Orwell’s “1984″ atop the pile. Actions in the footage take a sinister turn, however, after the pile reaches a seemingly satisfactory size. Once the duo stops adding more books to the tower (a pile of nearly 75 books total), the pair draw nearer to their creation and hold hands.

At this point in the audio, viewers can barely hear traces of a repeated phrase, in a language largely not understood. Senior Latin expert Harley Ryan has since identified the uttered Latin words to be: Omnes libri necesse est mori. In English, “All books must die.” 

The pair continue repeating this line at an increasingly higher volume, until their originally soft whispers erupt as roars. All the while, the hatred in their eyes grows. “I’ve only ever known Matt [Ball] as a tender man,” said upper school English chairperson Marsha Durlin. “He is sweet, loving. I was aghast at this video. The crescendoing frequency of the Latin words mirrored his developing transformation into beast. There’s only one way to describe the Matt [Ball] of that film: bloodthirsty… And not even for blood, but for paper, for joy, for education… He should hang!” 

After a disturbing segment of film wherein the duo holds hands, dance around the pile of literature and repeat the Latin chant of terror, the book burning commences in the most thrilling of manners. Viewers witness Mr. Ball pour gallons of lighter fluid atop the book pile as Mr. Hamburger reaches for his M2 flamethrower, the same model of weapon used by American troops in Vietnam.

It only takes a single flame for the stack of books to completely ignite in ignominy. The remainder of the footage features Mr. Ball and Mr. Hamburger sitting on the ground roughly 20 feet from the bonfire. They watch the flames and throw back cans of Natural Light reduced-calorie lagers. Right before the video ends, viewers can see the two clink their cans together for a celebratory “Cheers!” 

Since the video’s arrival in Pace inboxes last week, the community is filled with more questions than answers. Neither Mr. Ball nor Mr. Hamburger has returned to school since the evening of Mar. 30, and according to school authorities, neither has responded to phone or text messages.

The community is also left to question the intent of the book burning. How could two librarians and outspoken lovers of reading destroy any work of literature? Where did this bonfire take place? For how long has this eerie escapade been happening? And – in response to the email subject line’s being “Cabal” and the fact that nobody has stepped forward to claim ownership of the footage – were they working alone?

Head of School Fred Assaf has reportedly hired outside help to answer some of these questions. In an email to the entire Pace community, Mr. Assaf promised that more information will come soon. 

But for now: hold on to your books, tell them you love them, and read as much as you can. You never know when an aggressive Marty Hamburger will destroy the novels you hold so dearly. Reach out to upper school counselor Sara Eden if you need help. As Mr. Assaf said in his email, “the school will overcome this tragedy.” 


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