Monday, October 26, 2009


My folks were in town this past weekend. It also happened to be Dartmouth's homecoming weekend. Being near and dear to our hearts, and my parents' hearts, and being just an hour up the way, we met up in Hanover Friday night to witness the homecoming bonfire. My parents met at the bonfire way back when, and Hilary and I nearly got engaged at the bonfire some years later.

For those that don't know, Dartmouth's Homecoming bonfire is a real piece of work. For the last few decades the design has been more or less standardized around the following (homegrown) design. Traditionally, railroad ties were used (the creosote really lit up), but they're harder to come by, so we instead now order tie-sized green lumber from a mill yard. Like popsicle sticks, the ties are stacked layer upon layer, first in a star shaped base, then a hexagon that closes off the star points, tapering to a square tower that gets topped with numerals for that year's freshman class, who goes most of the grunt work. The interior structure is filled with scrap wood, mostly old shipping pallets. The structure stands about 35 feet tall when complete; flames can easily top 100 feet when in full flare. During the lighting ceremony, things get started with a couple buckets of kerosine and six flares wielded by chosen members of the freshman class. Then they all run around the fire in various states of dress, no matter the weather, while the rest of the college and community urge them on.

Following the collapse of Texas A&M's bonfire while under construction in 1999, Dartmouth changed a few things. The ties above head height now get lifted up using a lull, rather than hoisted up on ropes. Large garden spikes are used to ties some of the upper courses together, to lessen the chance of the structure shearing off to one side (either during construction or when half-burnt). There is a visible police presence both outside and inside the assembled crowd. Highway construction spotlights bath the scenePlywood sheets are now affixed to the outside of the star base, ostensibly to provide a canvas for students to tag, but really to make it difficult for anyone to climb the bonfire after it is first lit (I kid you not, this did happen in the past).

We were joined by my Uncle Tom, who took some great shots:

This year's production.

The assembled crowd gazes in awe of our pagan rituals.

It was chilly, so we put Brynna into her Everest expedition wear.

The Conflagration!


M said...

So Brynna's bonfire -- with "30" on top -- will take place in 2026. I'm jotting it down in my calendar.

Allyson Wendt said...

Looks like a great fire this year! I didn't make it up, but will be there this weekend for the DGALA reunion.

Clara said...

OMG! the 13s are there already? Aieeee! I haven't been out of college that long...