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Letters from alumni about Big Three Bonfire and typo in PAW

November 11, 2003

You may have heard from other Class of ‘98ers…But your From the Archives caption in November 5 is incorrect. Princeton beat Yale and Harvard most recently in 1994 (not 1993) – it was my freshman year and a memorable event.

Jay Victor ’98
Evanston, Ill.

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November 11, 2003

I write in reference to the error in the November 5 issue, in which you stated that the last time there was a bonfire was in 1993. In fact it was in 1994. This type of flawed reporting worries me. It worries me not simply because it is inexact, but all the more for the ease with which one might reproduce the same error.

A cursory glance at a search for "PRINCETON BONFIRE," presuming the the governor was not out on the lawn of Drumthwacket with a rake and matchbox, turned up the usual "about 8,570" results. Not willing to sit too long, what with the many other things you absolutely must do, you glance at the first page. In fact, the third entry talks about, well, see for yourself the bonfire ... The Bonfire. Campus Traditions and Customs. The Bonfire. The Bonfire is one of the most memorable — and sporadic — of all traditional Princeton activiites.

Plus you realize that you are at the source, a Princeton page on the alumni site prepared by the Princetoniana Committee. There hasn't been any more certain a source than that since 1967, when a Goheen aide-de-camp channeled the spirit of Rev. Jonathan Dickinson, who balked at the idea of coeducation. In fact, as a lesson to all of us who remember differently, the site sets us right in its second-to-last line: "The last Bonfire occurred in November, 1993." Kudos, anonymous PAW copywriter. We have confirmed your source, if not identified it.

For those of you with your orange and black in knots, allow me to lessen the emotional toll. I was there too. The fall of 1994. A happy freshman with singed eyebrows. I was the one pushing Dean Malkiel's desk into the pyre. Alright, it was my desk. But we remember the bonfire well enough, even if there are those of us who might not have known on exactly what celestial configuration this public conflagration was based. (For those of you who still don't, we beat Harvard and Yale at football... the oblong-shaped one.)

Now, if we were to forget whether it was November or December, or even if we thought it on a different year, we have our fading, mid-to-late-20s brains to thank. This is the beauty of an oral tradition. The one that go away could be larger than it was. Your putting, better. The amount of grad school misery you suffered, much less. We recognize that four years can often blur together, especially when there's tremendous heat involved. "It was sophomore year. No. Wait. It was freshman year. No. Wait..."

There is a great responsibility in documenting a tradition, especially when your magazine is centered on reporting on how it is preserved or (more often) destroyed. You create a checklist, which serves as a guide for traditions which have sat on the shelf for almost a decade, as well as for those who would seek to reintroduce traditions laid to rest for some reason or other (and bravissimo to that group). After all, like the all-male Princeton, giant fires will eventually be extinguished when another group of women raise their voices — now those running the University — citing such fires as too dangerous... or somehow offensive to the campus Zoroastrian population.

For shame, PAW. Whether or not it was the flimsy web-surfing that doubles as research today, one cannot be sure. In either case, your fact remained unchecked. As the lone connection for many Tigers out there, you bear a unique responsibility in your reporting. Remember: When you document it incorrectly, even down to its dates, you have damaged the very tradition, OUR tradition, which you had hoped to preserve.

A new volunteer for the Princetoniana Committee,
Joshua L. G. Gunsher '98
Philadelphia, Pa.


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November 10, 2003

The caption for the November 5 From the Archives photograph of bonfire fodder says that the last bonfire was in 1993. In fact, the last Cannon Green conflagration ccurred in 1994, when Princeton beat Harvard 18-7 and Yale 19-6.

Elizabeth Greenberg '02
Manalapan, N.J.

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November 6, 2003

As a member of the football team from 1992 to 1996, I would like to bring it to your attention that the last time Princeton beat both Harvard and Yale was in 1994, not 1993. However for some reason, that year we did not have a bonfire. Could you please note this correction in your next issue.

Samuel M. Young Jr. Ph.D. '96
La Jolla, Calif.

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