Preparations underway for bonfire, other Homecoming events

by Amber Bhutta | 10/10/19 2:10am


A construction crew worked on the Homecoming bonfire Wednesday afternoon.

by Divya Kopalle / The Dartmouth

As Homecoming weekend approaches, preparations and precautions alike are underway. Departments across campus have coordinated with each other and the town of Hanover to bring back previous traditions, introduce new ones and conform to safety standards.

“It’s not just a student event, it’s not just an alumni event and it’s not just a community event,” said vice president for alumni relations Cheryl Bascomb ’82. “It’s all of those things together, which means a lot of communication and planning is involved early on.”

According to conferences and events executive director Ernest Kiefer, such planning was especially important this year as Homecoming will take place earlier than in previous years.

“It’s much more rushed, but the nice thing about this year is that there’s no major changes the way there were last year, so we’re able to follow a sort of template even with the shorter time frame,” Kiefer said. 

As Kiefer and director of student involvement Anna Hall explained, a few additions have been made to the traditional bonfire ceremony even with the earlier time frame, including lighting elements on the buildings near the bonfire, a large cake to commemorate Dartmouth’s 250th anniversary and a photo station on the northeast corner of the Green. Numerous other events will take place over Homecoming weekend, including the annual Late Night Breakfast at Collis and football and women’s rugby games.

“Homecoming is important for the entire community,” Hall said. “Especially for first-years, the bonfire is the primary event — but in addition, there are also other things going on, athletic and otherwise.”

For the bonfire itself, much of the structure will mirror last year’s parameters, according to bonfire build committee co-chair Antonina Zakorchemna ’23. She added that she and her co-chair, Katie Glance ’23, had to familiarize themselves with an 80-page booklet detailing how to build the bonfire before construction began. These guidelines changed drastically last year when the College had to alter the bonfire’s height and structure in response to the town of Hanover’s safety concerns.

“This is the second year of the new bonfire, which means there will be some challenges and things people didn’t figure last year,” Zakorchemna said. 

She noted that faculty members involved with the bonfire spent the summer redesigning it again to overcome these challenges, one of which included a faculty member’s dog eating some of the design drafts. 

“The big concern is that the bonfire, no matter how well it’s designed, burns differently every year,” said Hanover town manager Julia Griffin. “Our goal is to keep the collapse zone clear. We don’t want to see anyone injured or killed.”

Student-assisted bonfire construction started on Tuesday. In addition to the actual bonfire, fences circling the structure have been installed to keep the crowd at a safe distance from the blaze. Continuing a practice that began last year, freshmen will walk one lap around the outer ring constructed around the bonfire rather than running a number of laps corresponding to their graduation year, as was done in years prior.

“Last year’s plan with the laps around the bonfire was a success,” Griffin said. “In working with the College this year, we’ve advised to build off of the same plan.”

As last year’s Homecoming saw no attempts to touch the bonfire, one arrest and fewer Good Sam calls than previous years, both Safety and Security and the Hanover Police Department have taken measures to continue last year’s successes.

“We work in a collaborative effort with the College to try to keep the community safe,” said Hanover Police captain Mark Bodanza. 

As Bodanza explained, the police department will “harden the exterior of the Green,” meaning that no vehicular traffic can enter or exit the area immediately around the Green to ensure the safety of both the drivers and bonfire participants. Hanover Police will also have officers stationed along the path of the parade and the “Freshman Sweep”: the process of collecting freshmen from their dorms and bringing them to the Green.

The Hanover Fire Department and Dartmouth Emergency Medical Services will be stationed around the event as a precautionary measure. According to an email sent to the student body from dean of the College Kathryn Lively, the fire department will extinguish the bonfire if any student enters the inner ring, explaining that “the continuation of the bonfire in future years depends on the entire community’s adherence to the safety plan.” 

Griffin noted that this is the first year the College declared this rule in an official capacity.

“Last year was a really good bonfire,” Griffin said. “Nobody tried to get over the fence to the fire. A new tradition is hopefully emerging from the ashes here, and we hope to see this positive trend continue this year.”