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One-time campus visitor burns at State Fair

By Mark Smith
Posted on October 23, 2012 | News,Showcase | Comments Off on One-time campus visitor burns at State Fair
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Big Tex stands in front of the Hardin Administration Building during Homecoming 1955. (Photo courtesy of ACU Creative Services)

Big Tex fire.2 retouched

Big Tex as seen during the fire on 19 October 2012

The looming mascot of the State Fair of Texas caught ablaze on Friday in Dallas, destroying most of Big Tex, the fair’s icon. The incident occurred 57 years after he left the campus of Abilene Christian College.

In the fall of 1955, Gene Coleman (’58) and a few of his friends were looking to make their newly chartered social club, Galaxy, well-known on campus.

“We wanted to have a big, impressive display, and then someone said something about bringing Big Tex here,” Coleman said. “We looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s see what we can do.'”

Coleman and Glen Wiggins flew to Dallas in October to ask to bring Big Tex to ACC’s 50th anniversary Homecoming, which would begin on Nov. 4. They met with the mayor of Dallas, Robert L. Thornton, who “helped get the ball rolling,” Coleman said.

Big Tex, having just completed his third year in welcoming visitors to the Texas State Fair, was disassembled and moved to Abilene. Train cars took his skeleton, while several tractor-trailers transported Big Tex’s head, 70-gallon cowboy hat, hands and size-70 boots to Abilene.

Jack Bridges, the artist who designed the enormous icon into a cowboy, and a team came to reassemble Big Tex. They set him up just in time for the Homecoming weekend.

“It gave Galaxy and the school good publicity,” Coleman said. “It created a lot of attention for us and made the national news.”

Michelle Coleman Hammond, Gene’s niece, said the story of Big Tex’s trip to ACC has become “family lore”.

The enormous statue stood 52 feet tall, higher than all of the nearby buildings, on the southwest corner of campus.

Coleman said the Galaxy charter class was able to raise enough money for the gigantic statue’s transportation.

“We received donations in Dallas, and lots of discounts,” Coleman said. “The trucks charged us a minimum amount, and the trains didn’t charge us. They saw this was going to be a good thing that would take place.”

It was Big Tex’s last trip outside of the State Fair.

According to a State Fair news release, smoke began billowing from Big Tex’s neck at about 10 a.m. on Friday, during the final weekend of this year’s State Fair. The fire consumed the entire statue and by the time firefighters put out the flames, only Big Tex’s skeleton and hands remained. Investigators believe an electrical short in his right cowboy boot ignited the flame.

However, the Dallas community is banding together to return Big Tex to his former glory. Michael Rawlings, mayor of Dallas, said in a tweet, “We will rebuild Big Tex bigger and better for the 21st Century.”

Errol McKoy, the president of the State Fair, said Big Tex will be ready for the fair next year.

“It was very sad to see him go up in flames,” Coleman said. “But I’m glad he will be able to continue to live on.”

avatar Posted by Mark Smith on Oct 23rd, 2012 and filed under News, Showcase. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.  - This post has been viewed 10003 times.

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