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Victory pyre warms students in freezing weather

On the first day of the semester with temperatures that failed to reach above freezing, students, faculty, staff and townspeople huddled for warmth around a bonfire on Cannon Green to celebrate the football team’s victory in the Big Three for the second year in a row. While the traditional effigies of the Harvard and Yale mascots were absent from the event, crumpled portraits of John Harvard littered the perimeter of the pyre and at least one paper airplane flew over the outside barrier.

“Through blood, sweat and tears, [the football team] delivered us not one, but two bonfires, plus an Ivy League championship,” Class of 2014 president Luchi Mmegwa said in his opening remarks to kick off the events.

The football team lost 28-24 to Dartmouth on Saturday, although the Tigers clinched a share of their first Ivy League title since 2006 when they defeated Yale the previous weekend, 59-23.

“A raw, cold November night like this puts me in the mood for a bonfire,” President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 said to cheers from the crowd during his opening speech, acknowledging his respect for the football team by adding, “There’s no team on this campus that can bring this University together the way that this team can bring the University together.”

While students appeared to appreciate the warmth of the bonfire, which lit up Cannon Green at 7:40 p.m. and lasted for nearly an hour, this weekend’s weather conditions almost prompted a decision to postpone the event.

Local fire marshals expressed their concern over the heavy wind conditions on campus Sunday, with gusts reaching at least 40 miles per hour at times, according to the National Weather Service. NWS warned that weather conditions were likely to induce the spread of wildfires. However, the winds were forecasted to die down at 6 p.m.

On Saturday evening, USG social chair Carla Javier ’15 posted an announcement on the bonfire Facebook event, explaining that a final decision regarding the date of the bonfire would be made by ODUS the following morning. Early Sunday, Associate Dean of ODUS Thomas Dunne emailed the undergraduate body, stating that the bonfire preparations would continue as scheduled throughout the day, although a final determination would not be made until 5 p.m.

Javier is also a senior writer for The Daily Princetonian.

Late in the afternoon, former University Fire Marshal and current Director of Emergency Management Bob Gregory, in coordination with University officials and other members of the fire department, made the final decision to allow the bonfire to take place.

“The weather cooperated with us, and the wind stopped and was minimized,” Gregory explained.

However, modifications were made to the construction of the bonfire to accommodate potentially windy conditions. According to Gregory, the pier, excluding the outhouse, was 6 feet tall, less than half the height from last year’s event. To compensate, the base of the pyre was wider at 18 feet, according to University Fire Marshall Scott Loh.

While Princeton tradition has in the past featured effigies of mascots John Harvard and the Yale bulldog, the USG and ODUS decided last week that no effigies would be lit this year, citing student concerns. At the bonfire planning meeting held last week, football and athletics representatives decided with ODUS to allow other student-athlete leaders to participate in the ceremony of lighting the bonfire.

In response to these changes, Taylor Dunstan ’15 circulated a petition asking the student body “to bring the football captains into the decision-making conversation about upholding the bonfire tradition of effigies and preserving the torch traditions.”

During his speech before the fire was lit, last year’s football captain Andrew Starks ’13 thanked the student body for their support to petition the changes and added his appreciation for the football team’s hard efforts this season, which he said has had an effect on the entire campus community.

“They’ve broken records and changed the culture around here,” he said.

Current captain Phillip Bhaya ’14 said in an interview that with the team’s preparations for the Dartmouth game, its members had not had the time to think about their opinions on the changes. However, he said he was still satisfied with the entire event.

“It was a great way to go out for my whole class,” he said.

While neither the effigy of John Harvard nor the stuffed bulldog were included, a Harvard flag was draped over the base of the pyre, and wooden cutouts of the letters “H” and “Y” were attached to the outhouse that stood at the top of the pier.

Students were also passing out pictures of John Harvard that they encouraged others to throw into the fire. The pictures were thrown into the perimeter in the form of crumpled balls and paper airplanes throughout the evening, although none reached the actual fire.

And while effigies did not burn in the flames this year, cheers still erupted from the crowd when the structure of the outhouse began to collapse, as the Princeton University Marching Band finished their rendition of “Gangnam Style.”

Eric Jones ’54, who came to celebrate on Sunday, said that while he was a student at the University he witnessed three consecutive bonfires. He noted that in the 1950s, the bonfires were much larger and had significantly less supervision from the local fire department.

He added that effigies were burned on every occasion he attended as a student.

“Of course we burned them,” he said. “We beat Harvard and Yale. They deserved it.”

Some students were not satisfied with the changes made to this year’s event. Max Shackan ’15, who noted that he felt that last year’s bonfire was bigger and hotter, said he did not stay for the entire event, returning to his dorm room halfway through.

Stephanie Marani ’16 also said that the ceremony was similar to the one she witnessed her freshman year, though she did not arrive at Campus Green until it was nearly over.

“I’ve seen it all before,” she said. “But it was still just as exciting.”

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article misstated the title of Bob Gregory. He is the former University Fire Marshal and current Director of Emergency Management. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error.

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