Where the Sagebrush Grows: A History of USU Homecoming: A Homecoming Beacon
A Homecoming Beacon
In 1947, inspired by other high school and colleges in Utah, student body president Norman Jones and university president Daryl Chase discussed the possibility of installing a A on the mountainside made of whitewashed rock. However, Chase was not in favor of the idea since it was his opinion that such letters were too tacky for USU. Not wanting to give up on having an A on the mountainside, Jones joines forces with some of his brothers from the Sigma Chi Fraternity, Frank Little and Rolf Nelson, and made an agreement with a local property owner. They then built a 200 foot tall and 150 foot wide outline of a block A on the mountain above River Heights. On November 8, 1947, the A was lit for the first time as part of the Homecoming celebration. The following Monday, the Executvie Council of the Student Association (ASUSU) voted to make it an annual Homecoming tradition.
To light the A, students filled tin cans with diesel fuel and used rolled up gunny sacks as wicks. When the right time came to light the A, a few students started at the top of the A and turned over the fuel-soaked gunny sacks. Others followed behind them, lighting the gunny sacks with railroad fuses or flares. This created a roaring bonfire that lasted for two to three hours. The tradition survived for more than 40 years, occurring twice a year for both Homecoming and A Day.
For most of the life of the tradition, it was a boys-only parrty with plenty of beer and a raucous atmosphere. Until the 1907s when homes were built on the River Heights bench, no one was disturbed by the partying, but eventually the nearby residents began to complain. Every few years, the local fire marshal tried to shut down the party for safety concerns, but he was never very successful.
In 1993, the tradition ended abruptly when Robert Harris purchased the property that had been used for the event and called for a stop to the parties. The year before this tradition ended, the party had become a dry, coed event.
Today, a private citizen has established their own tradition of lighting an "A" on the mountainside. They have replaced the bonfire version with one made out of electric lights. Current USU students are able to see the "A" on the hillside during their important events, from their first homecoming to their graduation.