COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Walking into J. Cody’s BBQ in Bryan is like taking a step back in time. Covered from wall to wall are pictures and memorabilia of Texas A&M University. Take an even closer look, you’ll see a lot of the photographs have to deal with Bonfire.
“I took pictures of Bonfire in the early 90’s for several years," said Cody Whitten, the owner. "It was more of a hobby.”
Whitten got inspiration to decorate with pictures of the Aggie tradition when he opened his restaurant in 2001. He became interested in taking pictures because he helped work on Bonfire when he was in school.
“I thought it would be something fun to document and try and sell," Whitten said.
Whitten's pictures take place over three years, 1992, 1993 and 1994. He said each year, something changes with Bonfire and the execution of the build.
“They’ve started dressing it up over the years and making it more like a wedding cake," Whitten said.
From Bonfire’s earliest inception, it was literally a pile of trash set on fire. Then "stack" as the build is called, was turned into the tee-pee formation with logs. Now, stack is a wedding cake formation that has been redesigned over the years.
“Its hard to say what's changed and what's stayed the same as it evolved over time," Whitten said.
Whitten worked with many people while out helping on stack. Some of those lifelong Aggie friends were there the night of November 18, 1999 when Bonfire collapsed. He became emotional as he showed pictures of some of those friends whom he had been side by side with only a couple of years previous to the tragedy.
Whitten said he has not been to Bonfire in years..
“The students are keeping the spirit alive and I applaud them for that," Whitten said.
One thing he said he does know is the off-campus group putting on Bonfire today is smaller, but safer.
“We’ve improved upon, made decisions to help and handle any possible problem that could come up in the future," said Ashton Vara, a senior red pot and head stack for 2019 Student Bonfire.
The structure of the current wedding cake style of bonfire was re-engineered for the off-campus group after the 1999 collapse.
“What they would do is they’d actually build their bottom layer, and then they would build on top of that for their second and then top of that for their third," Vara said. The Student Bonfire group has redesigned it for safety reasons. They build from the inside out, with the tallest logs the first to go up, the second tier the next tallest and so on.
“Every single log that we have touches the ground," Vara said. "We still look the same whenever burn comes around but we’re structured totally different.”
One thing the Student Bonfire tries to keep the same is the spirit of the tradition.
“This undying flame that we have as Aggies- it's not burning out anytime soon and we have students out here that are willing to keep that going," Vara said.
PART 1 OF BONFIRE SERIES: BONFIRE: A look back at more than a century of the Aggie tradition
PART 2 OF BONFIRE SERIES: