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Aggie bonfire one of A&M's oldest rituals

Nov. 19, 1999

By BECKY OBERG

Staff Writer

Bonfire is a 90-year-old tradition and one of the most popular activities at Texas A&M University. It started in 1909 as a way to rally students for the game against the University of Texas. It attracts several thousand spectators each year.

'Bonfire's one of the most beloved Aggie traditions,' said Alicen Swift, a Houston senior at A&M and editor of the yearbook, Aggieland.

Swift said the residence halls and Corps of Cadets, as well as a group of juniors and seniors called the Red Pots, are responsible for building the bonfire.

'It's like their child,' said Sam Pereira, a Houston senior and Aggieland photographer.

The structure, designed to twist inward and collapse on itself as it burns, was about 40 feet high when it collapsed around 2:30 a.m. Thursday.

Student crews, cranes and tractors build the structure. Logs are wired to each other and piled in six stacks. Swift said four stacks were up when the structure collapsed.

This is the third time a collapse has occurred. One was in 1958, and wet ground caused another collapse in 1994. Both times there were no fatalities, and the pile was rebuilt and ignited.

Pereira said some professional engineering contractors from the community supervise the building of the pyramid. An estimated 6,000 to 8,000 logs, donated by land owners who need land cleared, are wired together and piled up.

In 1909, bonfire was built out of trash. Lumber from dorm construction was stolen for bonfire in 1912. When a farmer's log barn was stolen for bonfire in 1935, the administration decided to take control. The first university-sponsored all-log bonfire was in 1943.

The largest Bonfire was in 1969, when the structure was 109 feet, 10 inches tall. Size was limited to 55 feet tall and 45 feet wide in 1960.

Over the years, University of Texas students have made several attempts to start the fire early. In 1933 and 1948 they dropped firebombs from an airplane. In 1956 they planted explosives. None of these attempts succeeded. Now they light red candles to 'put a hex on the Aggies.'

According to the UT Web page, the rally for this year was cancelled due to the accident, and a Unity Gathering was scheduled in its place. T-shirt proceeds for the event will go toward a memorial fund at A&M. The UT Tower will be darkened Monday evening in memory of the victims of the accident.

Swift said the bonfire was cancelled this year. The last time bonfire was cancelled was 1963, when it was cancelled because of President John F. Kennedy's assassination.