For the first time since 2013, Cannon Green overflowed with students and alumni lining Nassau Hall and filling the steps of Whig and Clio Halls in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the bonfire.
Traditionally, the bonfire occurs when Princeton football defeats Harvard and Yale in the same season. The most recent bonfires occurred in 2012 and 2013.
Princeton football was crowned Ivy League Champion for the 12th time in University history. Although Princeton has shared the title eight times, most recently with Yale in 2006, Harvard in 2014, and Penn in 2016, this year’s uncontested title is the first since 1995, and the fourth uncontested Ivy League Championship in University history. Additionally, with 10 wins and zero losses, this is Princeton football’s first undefeated season since 1964.
Kerry Farlie ’19 said that the bonfire was “an amazing experience to be a part of before graduating.”
“Every year I’ve been here, they’ve beaten the first team they’ve played and lost to the second,” she said. “It was really exciting that this happened in my last year and we got to be a part of the experience and have our class year join the tradition.”
Students and faculty began setting up the bonfire Sunday at 10 a.m., spray painting wood panels and stacking them to create the pyre. Atop the wooden panels was an outhouse with “59–43” and “29–21” — the scores of the Yale and Harvard games, respectively — painted on the sides, as well as a Yale stuffed bulldog and Harvard stuffed bear in the front.
Some notable pallets said “Harvard Pees Sitting Down,” “Puck Fenn,” and “In Lovett We Trust,” which was a reference to the University football team’s starting quarterback and captain John Lovett ’19.
There was also a pallet that called Harvard and Yale “safety schools” and one made to resemble the cover of the pre-read, “Speak Freely,” a reference to the “yeet ur copy of speak freely into the bonfire” event circulated to the “Princeton Memes for Preppy AF Teens” Facebook group.
“Going here automatically breeds you to believe you’re better than Harvard and Yale,” Farlie said.
Pooja Parmar ’22 said that, from one angle, as flames engulfed the Harvard bear, it looked like its intestines were falling out and burning; a bit of a graphic sight. She also saw the Yale flag blowing around and burning up. However, she felt that the overall excitement stemmed from far more than the “Big Three” rivalry.
“Since we haven’t been undefeated since 1964, I just thought the symbolism of it was more impactful than just Yale and Harvard getting blown up,” she said.
Farlie also felt the “Fire Safety Last a Lifetime” pallet, an ironic reference to how the University advertises fire safety on campus, was particularly funny.
Around 7 p.m., spectators began arriving on Cannon Green and loudspeakers started playing fire-themed music, including songs such as Alicia Keys’s “Girl on Fire” and the Jonas Brothers’ “Burnin’ Up.”
Nassau Hall’s bell began to ring at approximately 7:25 p.m., tolling the beginning of the speeches. Speakers included Undergraduate Student Government (USG) president Rachel Yee ’19, Vice President for Campus Life W. Rochelle Calhoun, senior class president Chris Umanzor ’19, Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan ’91, football coach Bob Surace ’90, team captains John Lovett ’19, Mark Fossati ’19, Kurt Holuba ’19, and Tom Johnson ’19, former team captain Phil Bhaya ’14, and assistant women’s varsity soccer coach Alison Nabatoff ’13.
The football team was not the only athletic organization celebrated at the bonfire. Different speakers pointed out that men’s and women’s soccer, men’s cross country, and men’s water polo were also crowned Ivy League champions this year.
From the moment the speeches began, spectators became antsy. Calhoun’s speech could hardly be heard over the chants of “Light it up!” When Umanzor finished his speech and introduced Marcoux Samaan, the crowd erupted in boos and chanted, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” Many people in the crowd chanted “Light that sh*t!” throughout the speeches.
“I was about to leave, honestly,” said Jae Sim ’22, who was made impatient by the length of the pre-bonfire build-up.
“Once it [the bonfire] started, I kind of forgot about it [the build-up],” he added, however, saying that his experience was, overall, very positive.
After a final speech and traditional Princeton locomotive cheer from Nabatoff, the football team captains lit the flame. The flame initially grew slowly, underwhelming many observers. However, once the Princeton Fire Department took over the task and began fanning the flames, the whole pyre was engulfed.
“It just took a while to get blazing, but once it started it was well worth the wait,” said Alexandra Wilson ’20, a residential college advisor with three advisees (‘zees’) on the football team.
Wilson is a former assistant chief copy editor with The Daily Princetonian.
Wilson noted the intensity of the bonfire itself, and described it as “bright as day and hot as hell.”
Football player Uchenna Ndukwe ’22 said that he liked celebrating with his teammates.
“It was nice to be with the whole team, enjoying a lot of hard work,” he said.
Zeytun West ’22 said that the bonfire reaffirmed her feeling of a strong University community.
West is a photographer for the ‘Prince.’
“Even though I have never been to a football game, I was still really happy for the football team, and I was like, ‘Wow. This is my team. This is my school,’” she said.
According to West, the music added to her school spirit, noting that the University band played “Princeton Forward March” and “Old Nassau.”
West and Christian Kelling ’19 also saw one student throw his copy of University Pre-read “Speak Freely” toward the bonfire, narrowly missing the flames.
The student could not be identified for comment about the incident. It is unknown whether the incident was inspired by the “yeet ur copy of speak freely into the bonfire” Facebook event.
Towards the end of the fire, Kelling overheard the student talking to his friends about “yeeting” his “Speak Freely” into the fire. The student’s friends, Kelling said, tried to talk him out of it. However, the student was set on throwing in his book.
“It’s something you do because you’re not supposed to do it. That was his motivation,” Kelling said.
As Kelling described, the student ran up to the fence and threw his book toward the fire, yelling out “yeet” while he threw it.
The book, according to Kelling, landed in the gravel surrounding the fire.
West said she heard one firefighter say “What is that?” before a second firefighter picked up the book and put it away.
On the throw’s inaccuracy, West said, “Maybe it was the wind. I don’t know. Maybe they were just not a good thrower.”
When West saw the book flying toward the fire, she was disappointed that a student would consider ruining the event for the rest of the student body.
“Everyone was actually kind of disappointed someone threw ‘Speak Freely’ into there because there had been an email saying that the fire would be shut down if anyone threw objects in,” she said.
The event was put on by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and USG, with help from the Department of Athletics, the Department of Public Safety, Princeton’s First Responders, Campus Dining, and Facilities.
The story has been corrected to provide accurate information about Princeton’s football season. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error.