The EPA demands that an impact statement be filed before it is lit. The local airport routes landing airplanes around it. Its intense, radiating heat evaporates falling raindrops well before they hit the ground and repels all but the boldest spectators. It’s the homecoming bonfire at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and it’s massive.
Stepping back, the fire illuminates those who’ve come to see it, casting them in glowing silhouette.
It’s only when you move back far enough to get the licking flames fully in the frame that you see this fire’s enormity.
The flames are so bright that the surrounding trees are lit as during the daytime.
My first bonfire was my freshman year at Rose, in 1985. We swiped railroad ties from rail yards all over west-central Indiana. I feel sure now that the railroads knew what we were up to and gave tacit approval. You can’t steal this many ties without attracting attention! Today, I’m told, the ties are purchased and trucked in. We also used to pilfer the outhouse that is always placed atop the structure. I’m sure the last outhouse within a hundred miles was filched 20 years ago. Today’s outhouses must be purpose-built.
I went to all four bonfires during my time at Rose, and maybe one or two more while I lived in Terre Haute in the several years that followed. It wasn’t until my sons were teenagers that I went back — I wanted to spark their interest in higher education. What better way to start than to share one of the most audacious events at any school anywhere.
This year, I took my youngest son, now 16, and my girlfriend and her 14-year-old son. That young man just started high school — and has engineering aspirations and aptitudes. He’s right up Rose-Hulman’s alley!