History of Bonfire and the Bonfire Memorial
From its inception as a scrap heap to the more familiar and impressive stack of vertical logs, the Texas Aggie Bonfire symbolized every Aggie’s “burning desire” to beat the University of Texas in football. Attracting between 30,000 and 70,000 people each year to watch it burn, Bonfire became a symbol of the deep and unique camaraderie that is the Aggie Spirit.
In preparation for the much-anticipated annual football game against “t.u.”, as Aggies refer to their rival, the student-built Texas Aggie Bonfire would burn after Yell Practice. The lighting ceremony included the playing of “The Spirit of Aggieland” by the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band and the traditional reading of “The Last Corps Trip” poem. An outhouse, known as the “t.u. tea room” or “t.u. frat house” was built by sophomores in the Aggie band and sat atop the completed Bonfire. Aggie lore has it that if the Bonfire stood until after midnight, they would win the game.
Since the initial Bonfire in 1909, Texas A&M students have banded together each year to build and burn the Bonfire, and in the process helped it to evolve into the largest in the world. Bonfire burned each year through 1998, with the exception of 1963. That year Bonfire was built but torn down in a tribute to President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Texas A&M Head Yell Leader Mike Marlowe said, “It is the most we have and the least we can give.”
In 1967, responsibility for Bonfire construction was transferred from the Yell Leaders to “Red Pots,” students specifically chosen to plan and construct the stack. The safety helmets or “pots” worn by Bonfire construction workers were painted various colors to designate the hierarchy of responsibilities.
In 1955, Bonfire was moved from Simpson Drill Field in front of the Memorial Student Center to Duncan Field, behind the Corps of Cadets area, where it was held for 37 years. The 1992 Bonfire marked the first year Bonfire was built in its final home on the Polo Fields.
The second time in A&M’s history that Bonfire did not burn was almost exactly 92 years after the first Bonfire due to its collapse on November 18th, 1999 at 2:42 a.m. The collapse killed 12 Aggies and injured 27 others.
Five years later, the Bonfire Memorial was dedicated on the exact location of the ’99 Bonfire.