A first-timer’s guide to the Princeton bonfire

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The 1985 bonfire, pictured on PAW’s Dec. 18, 1985, cover.

When the Tiger football team lights up Cannon Green on Nov. 17, it will be Princeton’s first celebratory conflagration since 2006 — and the first bonfire for every undergraduate on campus. We’ve combed through the PAW archives to provide a little advice.

 

Tip No. 1: Don’t jinx it.

This no longer applies for 2012, but it is worth mentioning for the future. When Princeton beat Harvard in 2005, the campus was beginning to sense the end of a 11-year bonfire drought. Jim Consolloy, then the University’s grounds manager, feared that after a dry autumn, the century-old white ash trees that surround Cannon Green might be at risk, so he made arrangements to soak the trees in advance. Yale put his fears to rest with a comeback victory at Princeton Stadium. A year later, Princeton managed to sweep the Big Three and light the bonfire; the trees were not harmed.

 

Tip No. 2: Be patient.

Student pranksters started the 1951 bonfire a bit early — actually, a day early. Half of the wood burned before the fire was put out, and the pile had to be rebuilt hours before the big event. PAW On the Campus columnist Geoffrey L. Tickner ’52 blamed both the students and the proctors charged with protecting the wood. “With the woodpile unguarded,” Tickner wrote, “their skullduggery was easy.”

 

Tip No. 3: Show up on time.

In 1988, captain Jason Garrett ’89 was expected to light the bonfire, but when the time came, the star quarterback was nowhere to be found. (PAW reported that he’d been in the weight room.) Garrett’s center, Bob Surace ’90, did the job in his absence. Surace will be back on Cannon Green Saturday, this time as the Tigers’ head coach.

 

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Dean Francis R. B. Godolphin ’24 inspects decorations before the 1949 bonfire. (Photo: PAW Archives/ J. Wayman Williams ’47)

Tip No. 4: Don’t be afraid of a little potty humor.

The celebration is called the Big Three bonfire, and in the eyes of Princeton students (on this day at least) Harvard and Yale are both No. 2. Hence the H and Y toilets at right, from 1949, and the outhouse that topped the pyre in 2006.

 

Tip No. 5: Have fun!

History tells us that there are great runs of Princeton football dominance — six consecutive bonfires from 1947 through 1952 — and frustrating dry spells, too. You can’t predict when the next bonfire is coming, so enjoy the warmth and camaraderie of one of Princeton’s revered traditions.

 

For more bonfire photos from the University Archives, visit the Mudd Manuscript Library Blog.

 

Video: The 2006 Big Three Bonfire

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