I looked up one day and realized that I had collected a pretty fair amount of material on the Rice bonfire. I’ve never had either the time or a reason to piece the story together but I do have the beginnings–really the middle–of a narrative. I don’t know when it started or when it ended but I can tell that it existed intermittently from as early as 1929. Sometimes it was a homecoming event; sometimes it was held before the football game with A&M.
Here’s the first image I have, from the fall of 1929:
This piece from the fall of 1944 indicates that World War II brought a temporary end to the practice, although I must say that I’m with the Dean on this and would have shut it down forever had I the power to do so. (I believe, by the way, that this Dean was Hugh Scott Cameron.) I was especially charmed by the first sentence. The students’ notion of “always” tends to mean “as far back as the current seniors’ freshman year.”
I can pick it up again in 1954, with this photo from the scrapbook of cheerleader Carolyn Dearmond. Note it’s moved to a very different location:
More to come next week–I don’t really know how many posts this will take. As always, your input is most welcome.
Bonus: Here we go.
My freshman year we had a bonfire the night before the A&M game (Homecoming) in 1981, but I don’t remember having one after that.
Good idea to scrap that tradition! When you examine the poor engineering of the 1929 and 1954 structures and take into account the twelve Aggies lost in the 1999 collapse (plus three Aggies lost in prior years which is not well known), this tradition made as much sense as skydiving off the Hanszen Tower.
Are you implying that we can light the stage on fire after commencement? I’m in.
What an enchanting idea!
It would be interesting to know how the Rice bonfire tradition stopped, restarted, and changed over the years. We had them during my years on campus, and while they weren’t anywhere near the size of the Aggie stack (or even the stacks pictured above), they were certainly the biggest, hottest fires this Florida boy had ever been around.
This article (http://archive.thedailycougar.com/vol65/64/news/news2.html) indicates that Bonfire was canceled due to a burn ban in ’99, and I don’t believe we had them again after the A&M tragedy.
During my years we had a homecoming bonfire each year. This was before the A&M game each year except for 1958 when Army came to town. If you look at aerial photos from the 50 and 60s you can sometimes see a dark, circular spot on the ground in the area now covered by Alice Pratt Brown Hall. I believe this spot to be the remains of the previous fall’s bonfire.