Off-campus Texas A & M bonfire brings out thousands
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Tuesday, November 26, 2002
(U-WIRE) COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The first Texas A&M University student-organized bonfire to burn publicly since 1998 was lighted in a field 10 miles northeast of College Station, Texas, Sunday night in a party atmosphere organizers referred to as the “revival of the Aggie Spirit.”
A few thousand former and current Texas A&M students, their spouses, children and pets surrounded the fence around the Unity Project’s central bonfire, which was about 35 feet high and flanked by two smaller stacks. Music blared from a stage to the right of the fires, interrupted only when the flames were lighted in a solemn ceremony and during an impromptu yell practice led by Unity Project members.
At the scheduled time of lighting, buses and cars lined the dirt road to the event. Buses were advertised on the project’s website and transported many spectators to the site, as parking in the adjacent field was limited.
Parking, at $10 per vehicle, and a $1 admission fee, helped fund the project’s nearly $15,000 debt. According to a report from The Associated Press, Unity Project costs were incurred from loans, personal savings and credit card purchases. The group’s leader, Luke Cheatham, said his personal expenses have reached almost $2,000.
Participants signed a release form as they entered.
The bonfire was lighted at 7:45 p.m. after a ritual walk to the bonfire by the group of organizers, the passing of the flame from upper- to lower-classmen and a symbolic circling of the fire. Multiple cameramen and photographers from national media outlets shadowed the group, bringing back images of the 1999 Aggie Bonfire Collapse. Twelve Aggies were killed and 27 others injured when the bonfire fell Nov. 18, 1999, leaving administrators with the task of deciding whether the 90-year tradition should return to the A&M campus.
The Unity Project bonfire is a way of keeping the knowledge of bonfire, and how it’s built, alive, said Cheatham, a senior civil engineering major.
“A few friends of mine sat down to talk and realized after my class graduated, there would not be anyone left on campus who knew how to build a bonfire,” Cheatham said.
Texas A&M did not sponsor the event and has discouraged students and staff from participating in any off-campus bonfires. A memo sent out to student residential advisers suggested they distance themselves from the project. Requirements included not posting bonfire fliers or announcing affiliation with a residence hall when at the project’s cut site.
“They told us not to cross over the line, but didn’t specify what the line was,” Cheatham said. “It was in how they handled it — there definitely was a factor of intimidation.”
Micah Knox, a junior business administration major, said the Unity Project fire would have been better if the Yell Leaders and Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band — typical participants at the campus fire — were there.
“I’ve never seen a bonfire, and I’m excited it’s here, but I think they could have included us (spectators) more,” Knox said.
Lanny Hayes, a senior political science major, said the event turned out “amazing.” Hayes’ right foot was crushed in the 1999 Aggie Bonfire collapse.
“I wasn’t actively involved,” Hayes said, “but I’m a big supporter of Bonfire’s continuation.”