For today’s American Culture and History lesson, we’re going to hear the Story of the Burning Man, an annual event that attracts over 70,000 free-spirited people to Nevada’s desert.

Onto the topic of the day: Burning Man. On June 21, 1986 a wooden man eight feet tall burned on Baker Beach in San Francisco. Two young men Larry Harvey and Jerry James thought it would be an interesting way to welcome the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. They gathered a bunch of old lumber, shaped it like a man and got about 12 friends to carry it down to the beach. When they got there they threw some gasoline on it and let it burn. According to Jerry “when it flamed up it was like a second sun brought down to this earth. It was just . . . it transfixed us.”.

The fire drew the attention of others on the beach and in no time the small group had tripled to thirty five people. Although they were all strangers, there was nothing strange about the encounter. Good vibes were in the air. So when out of nowhere a man appeared with his pants on his head and began playing the guitar everyone broke into song and danced around the flames.

So that simple story has been told again and again, not just because the simple act of burning a wooden man had created such a strong sense of community among strangers. That beach burning was the beginning of the Burning Man gathering, an annual event in the middle of the Nevada desert that now attracts over 70,000 free-spirited people, talented artists, musicians and more.

As the years passed, the Burning Man grew and so did the crowds. According to Larry, they hadn’t even considered burning the man out of the venue or even asking the city for permission. “We were illegal going down to the beach to burn this thing”.

Burning Man - Matador Network

Burning Man Installation. Photo Credit: Matador Network.

American Culture and History Lesson

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