Monday, July 16, 2012

Discovering the Bonfire and Noise Parade

By Jessica Giles

71 foot bonfire from Homecoming '67
“The falling leaves, the crisp night air, the cheering from the grandstand and the blazing fire - these things tell us - fall is here.” This quote was taken from the Class of 1954’s yearbook. What intrigued me about this quote was “the blazing fire” as that is what my search was all about.

In planning for Homecoming 2012, we wanted to showcase a few of the traditional events as segments in our monthly alumni eNews, particularly the Noise Parade and Bonfire. So here I am, only five months in to my employment at Pacific, and I am writing about a tradition I have never experienced.

This is where my search begins.

Of course I’ve already been told the essentials of the Noise Parade and Bonfire, but to just write about that is not much of an article. I wanted to dig deep, get to the roots, and find where, when and how this tradition began.

I started my search by talking to a few members of the University community. Steve Klein, Director of University Center and Student Activities, took me a little bit deeper with his stories of outhouses being at the top of the bonfire which was created by the freshman and ownership of the Noise Parade belonging to the Greeks. Jeri Dobbs ’58 shared his memories of the multiple days spent “engineering” the bonfire, how it blazed two to three stories high, and when it was lit, it was “the most spectacular thing seen.”

These conversations fed my desire to know more about the traditions. I spent days researching yearbooks and archived copies of The Index in hope to find the answers to my questions. What I found was inspiring, but what I didn’t find was a little disappointing.

What I can tell you about the tradition of the Bonfire and Noise Parade is this:
    Queen Virginia lights the bonfire during Homecoming '69
  • The first yearbook to mention the Bonfire was in 1912 and the first index reference to a Parade and Bonfire was in 1909.
  • The Noise Parade and Bonfire was held the night before football games.
  • The football team and coaches gave speeches around the fire getting the crowd amped for the game the next day.
  • The freshman did indeed build the fires, back then they were referred to as “frosh” or “rooks” and the Bonfire was sometimes called the “Rook Bonfire.”
  • In the beginning, the Noise Parade was led by the marching band with crowds following behind them through the town singing and chanting Pacific spirit.
  • There was some sort of “serpentine” or “serpent” involved in the Noise Parade for some of the years. It led the parade in some way.
  • Competition between opposing teams often meant for a prematurely lit bonfire which often led students to burning a creation of the opposing team’s mascot in the bonfire.
  • The Homecoming queen would often light the bonfire.
  • The first reference to Greeks in the Noise Parade was in 1926; however it was referenced as a separate parade from the actual Noise Parade.
  • The first year to recognize an award for best entry in the Noise Parade was in 1934 and was given to the Gamma Sigma Fraternity.
  • Each year the bonfire was reportedly bigger than the year before, however in 1967 the bonfire reached a height of 71 feet, which was the tallest one I found record of.
The Alpha Zeta fraternity at Noise Parade in '46
What I can’t tell you about the tradition is this:
  • When the first Noise Parade and Bonfire was.
  • Why the responsibility of building the bonfire was left to the freshman.
  • When the Noise Parade was taken over as a Greek event.
  • What exactly the serpentine was and when that tradition started and ended.
  • If the 1967 bonfire was truly the tallest in history.
  • Plus a whole bunch more…
When I sat down to write my article for the Alumni eNews, I realized I don’t really have an article to write. With so many holes still in my story, what I would have written would have been from imagination rather than facts. Not to say that wouldn’t have been interesting. What I don’t know is what wasn’t documented on paper, but instead stored in the memories of Pacific’s alumni. 

So what do you remember about this tradition? Can you help fill in any of my blanks? I would love to hear more about this long lived tradition and hopefully fill in some of the gaps. We can add your memories to the Memory Books given out during the weekend. To fill out a memory book form visit

I hope to hear these stories and more at Homecoming 2012, September 28-30. Join us in celebration. Registration will be available soon at

Giles is the Associate Director of Alumni Relations at Pacific University. Originally from St. Pete, Florida, Giles moved to Oregon to pursue a degree in Marketing and Advertising Management from Portland State University where she graduated in 2009. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, home projects and planning her wedding in spring of 2013.

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