Alex Taylor, Contributing Writer
On Oct. 19, in an event described by some as the advent of the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse, or a further attack by the University of Oklahoma Sooners, “Big Tex,” the icon of the State Fair of Texas, burnt to a wire frame and shirtsleeves as onlookers who had come to celebrate the statue’s 60th birthday became witnesses of its incineration.
While an investigation as to the cause of the fire has not yet begun, officials think that there was likely an electrical short within Big Tex that led to his immolation.
The giant cowboy statue, whose existence is perhaps news in itself to many students, had been a part of the Texas State Fair and Texas culture for decades.
The origins of the statue date back to 1949 in Kerens, Texas, a small town southeast of Dallas. Howell Brister, manager of the Kerens Chamber of Commerce, decided to erect a 49-foot Santa Claus statue in order to increase sales at Christmastime. The statue stood for two holiday seasons in the town, drawing international attention. In 1951, the current president of the State Fair purchased the skeletal frame of the Santa of Kerens, paid artist Jack Bridges to create a cowboy from its remains, and Big Tex was born.
From that point on, Big Tex became the patron saint, so to speak, of the State Fair of Texas, and he has appeared there annually since 1952. His first voice box was installed in 1953, and a swinging jaw gave him the appearance of natural speech. He had several medical operations throughout his life, including plastic surgery in 1952 to straighten his nose, a skeletal reconstruction in 1997 that allowed him to wave at passersby, and joint addition in 2000 that allowed his neck to turn. Artists added shades of gray to his hair and wrinkles to his hands and face for his 50th birthday in 2002, when he received a giant birthday cake and a card from the AARP.
Though the Oct. 19 burning has been the worst damage done to Big Tex, vandalism and weather have done a number to the statue in the past. His clothes were torn up by Hurricane Carla in 1961, and in 1970, his specially crafted, size 97, 150-pound shirt was stolen before it reached the State Fair.
Despite the scale of the damage done to the statue, state fair officials have said that Big Tex will be back next year, bigger than ever. While Texans mourn the passing of the original icon, they also look to the bright future where the icon of the State Fair will return, even larger and more influential.
Sophomore Jerick Johnson has attended the State Fair annually since he moved to Texas with his family when he was five years old. Johnson believes that Big Tex embodies something of the iconic Texas spirit, and is not surprised at all that Tex will be making a comeback in 2013.
“I was initially shocked and was on the verge of tears,” Johnson said. “[Seeing] such a statue when you’re little inspires you to do better things. Then I remembered how Texas works. Somehow I knew that they would rebuild Big Tex bigger and better and that inspires me to no end.”