Situated on the polo fields of Texas A & M University, the Bonfire Memorial was created to memorialize twelve students who were killed when the structure being built for the university’s annual Bonfire collapsed in 1999. Located on the site where the collapse occurred, the memorial also honors those injured in the accident, while commemorating the ninety years of the Bonfire’s history and the school spirit embodied in the longstanding Bonfire tradition.
The Memorial itself is a wonderful tribute to the tradition that our daughter loved so much and to our children’s memories. We are grateful for the care and attention to detail that you put into its design and construction. We also are grateful to Overland Partners for the compassionate, kind way we were always treated throughout the past seven years.
Seeking to create a monument in which every element has symbolic meaning, the Overland team plotted out the memorial into distinct sections arranged like a procession, with each area having its own meaning and purpose. Visitors to the memorial begin at Tradition Plaza, an arrival area where they are greeted by a stone wall engraved with the epic poem, “The Last Corps Trip,” which was traditionally recited before the lighting of each year’s Bonfire. The poem describes St. Peter greeting Aggies at Heaven’s gate and is uncannily prophetic of the tragedy.
The second section, History Walk, is a long walkway that functions as a timeline made up of eighty-nine blocks of granite, with a notch cut into each stone at a point that is 11/12ths of its width, to represent November, the 11th month of the year and the time of the event. At nighttime, the notches are illuminated to represent the lighting of the Bonfire. For historical accuracy, blocks representing 1955, 1982, and 1996 include plaques memorializing students killed on Bonfire-related accidents in those years. To mark the year 1963, a low black slab with the year inscribed on it was substituted because President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November of that year, and the Bonfire stack was respectfully disassembled log by log.
At the end of the timeline is the Spirit Ring, composed of twenty-seven granite blocks, each representing one of the injured survivors, and connected by twelve sixteen-foot-tall portals, each dedicated to a student who died and positioned in alignment with the student’s home town. 170 feet in diameter, the dimension of the fence that was traditionally constructed around the Bonfire, the ring symbolizes school spirit by referring to class rings, which are an intrinsic part of the Aggie culture, and to the crowds of students who gathered around the fence each year to watch the Bonfire. To pay tribute to the injured, each granite block houses a bronze plaque, but these plaques were left blank to honor the larger group of everyone injured during the Bonfire’s ninety-year history.
For the interior of the portals, the Overland team chose bronze instead of granite, since the material has a warmer, softer touch to it and is thus more appropriate for remembering the human presence of those being memorialized. With the aid of bronze artists, the interiors of the portals were embellished with medallions engraved with portraits of each of the deceased, accompanied by their signatures and their own thoughts or remembrances of them written by others.
The final element in the memorial is a black granite marker. Located on the exact place of the Bonfire stack’s Centerpole, it is engraved with the date and time that the pole collapsed (11-18-1999 2:42 a.m.), in the innermost area accessible only through one of the portals.
- TSA Honor Award for Design 2006
- AIA San Antonio Honor Award for Design 2005
- International Excellence in Masonry MCAA 2005
- Texas Masonry Council Golden Trowel Award 2005
- Guy Nordensen, Reading Structures: 39 Projects and Built Works, Lars Müller Publishers, 2016
- Texas Monthly, ”Aggie Muster,” November 2009
- Umran Magazine, “Bonfire Memorial,” March 2005
- The Dallas Morning News, “A&M Chooses Memorial Design,” March 2002