Stonework Plays Role in Paying Tribute
to Aggie Tradition
New Memorial is Reminder of the
Tragedy That Took the Lives of 12 Young Men and Women.
Tragedy struck in College Station and Texas A&M University
on Nov. 18, 1999.
That's when 11 students and one former student were killed
and 27 injured after a 59-ft.-tall bonfire stack of 5,000
The bonfire was more than just a stack of wood; it was a
symbol of Texas A&M tradition and spirit, where students
joined forces in preparing for battle against the school's
biggest rival, the University of Texas.
And now, as plans are still in the works for future school-sanctioned
bonfires with tighter controls, the university is working
on a memorial to remember the fallen.
The $4 million project broke ground in July 2003. Madison
Construction Corp. of Bryan was awarded the contract in September
of that year and began work in October. Waco-based Brazos
Masonry is responsible for the stone work.
Between March 2001 and March 2002, the school held a national
design competition for a bonfire memorial. The competition
was open to artists, landscape architects, architects, planners,
engineers, designers and students and judged by a committee
that included injured students and family members of the deceased.
Other objectives included capturing the unique Aggie spirit
and teamwork that the bonfire fostered and reflecting on the
90-year history of the bonfire as one of the great traditions
of Texas A&M.
The winning design came from Overland Partners of San Antonio,
whose portfolio includes the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower
Center in Austin and the Clear Channel Communications Corporate
Headquarters in San Antonio. Overland's design team included
several Aggies, including project leader Bob Shemwell, class
"The Bonfire Memorial was a project that transcended
school boundaries," Shemwell said. "We had University
of Texas graduates involved who were just as interested."
After considering several locations, it was agreed that the
memorial would be built on the polo field, the site of the
bonfire from 1992-1999.
Overland's design begins with Traditions Plaza, which consists
of two vertical planes to separate the commotion of the outside
world from the intimate experience of the memorial. The lower
wall will allow a view of the memorial ring in the distance.
The inside of the higher wall will display lines of "The
Last Corps Trip," a poem traditionally recited prior
to the lighting of each year's bonfire.
P+3 has been charged with taking $100 million in projects
from inception to completion.
At the end of Traditions Plaza, a granite timeline runs along
a walkway called History Walk extending due north. It is initially
marked with the year 1909, the year the first bonfire was
built, and consists of 89 granite stones to represent each
year the bonfire has been a part of Texas A&M.
There is a break in the timeline in 1963, the year John F.
Kennedy was assassinated and the only year the bonfire did
not burn. The walkway connects the plaza to the memorial's
Surrounding the site of the 1999 bonfire, Spirit Ring consists
of 12 granite portals, each oriented in the direction of the
hometowns of the fallen men and women. Twenty-seven granite
panels connect these portals to complete the circle. Bronze
panels connect the stone forms, representing the injured.
Stepping into one of the portals, visitors symbolically fill
the void left by the fallen, embodying the underlying team
spirit of Texas A&M.
Bronze sculptured gateways within each portal reflect on
the life of each individual represented. Each piece was created
with information from the families and interpreted by sculptor
Erik Christianson and the Overland Partners team.
The center of the ring is marked by a bronze marker located
where the 1999 center pole stood and inscribed with the date
and time of the collapse.
The biggest challenge the team faced was locating the granite
needed for the walls, walkway and portals. Ultimately, PBI
of Houston was able to provide for the extraordinary amount
Special sizes and cuts, coupled with the backlogs facing
North American quarries, sent the firm to China to find the
The 12 portals each measured 1 ft. by 6 ft. by 20 ft. and
weighed nearly 18 tons. None of the North American quarries
could meet the size requirements.
The stones forming the Spirit Ring each needed to be butt-jointed,
necessitating convex curves in both directions. Each of the
89 stones forming the History Walk is equipped with a small
LCD light fixture buried deep within that will provide subtle
lighting at night. The stones required special notch and reveal
cuts in order to accommodate the fixtures.
Shemwell praised PBI and the Chinese quarry for their creativity
in providing first-rate product at the right price.
"A year from now, we probably would not have been able
to do the project," Shemwell added.
The project is scheduled for completion in October and a
Nov. 18 dedication will be held on the fifth anniversary of