Hopeful Cambridge fire-watchers, their appetites whetted by the conflagrations of the past week, looked up Wednesday night to see white smoke and a red glow high atop William James Hall. Glowing with satisfaction, they knew precisely what to do.
In west the alarms and out came the hook and ladder, rescue squad, and police. But there was no fire at the Soc Rel center, only frustration.
The Fire Department was philosophical. "We could see it was some sort of steam coming off the roof. The Harvard Square Theatre's incinerator did the same thing the other night. People said, 'Oh my heavens!' and then started calling up like mad. We learn, to absorb the complaints."
But at William James Center for the Behavioral Sciences, the problem was analyzed very carefully: "They were testing the air conditioning, and the steam from the roof vent condensed and looked like smoke. The red glow from the airplane warning light on the roof colored the steam. They're still testing the air conditioning and we're still freezing."
Worrying about Cambridge's frayed nerves, James W. Ingraham, Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds in the North Yard Area, offered some solutions: "The atmosphere has to be just right to get the smoke effect, and we might be able to move that signal light away from the vent. Or perhaps the FAA would let us put in a green one."