Tommy Mulry ’16
One of the relatively forgotten traditions of The Bonfire comes not the day of, but rather in the preceding week leading up to the event. The tradition of Mr. Blain’s email about The Bonfire has become a staple of pranking new students year in and year out. Annually, Mr. Blain conjures up some ridiculous reason as to why the Bonfire has been cancelled. From moments in which he blamed himself because he had “been out by The Bonfire reading poetry by candlelight and accidently set the bonfire ablaze Thursday night and burned it down” to placing the blame on others, as was the case when “Obama’s new fire regulations prohibited The Bonfire from happening.”
To the common viewer, these explanations can be easily seen for the absolute absurdity that they are. However, these emails are targeted at a very specific audience at Woodberry. The 3rd formers and other New Boys are consistently swindled by the creative thinking of Mr. Blain. In order to cause the most dramatic effect, Mr. Blain says that he often “refers to some current event that is already on people’s minds.” New boys, who are eager to stay filled in on the world around them, are the most affected and are easily lured into taking the bait.
Drawing from current events gives lots of flexibility over ways to manipulate the current news into these preposterous stories. For example, one event Mr. Blain specifically referenced was second hand smoke and his email occurred around the time when it was first being recognized as a real problem in the US. Mr. Blain took the idea and ran with it, creating a story that “there were such things as tobacco logs” and they had been put in the bonfire. As a result, “we would be forced to cancel the bonfire because of the dangers of secondhand smoke produced by tobacco logs.”
Looking back now, one ponders how anyone could fall for these tall tales, but almost every year, Mr. Blain says he’ll get the occasional student who “called their parents in a panic to complain that the bonfire was canceled and tell their parents not to come on Friday night.” However, he claims that most parents will realize that the email was just a simple prank before any real harm could be done. Mr. Blain helps in the process by making the emails “increasingly ridiculous as you read along, in the hopes that if the New Boys do not realize that they are reading a joke, then their parents will.” These emails have become an iconic symbol of Bonfire week and, although they are far from the mainstage idea, they would be sorely missed if one did not appear.
Any Old Boy will say that they always enjoy seeing the looks on the faces of the New Boys during the short period in which they actually think The Bonfire is cancelled. However, all of this thinking about these emails prompted me to ask Mr. Blain why he began the tradition in the first place. He told me, “one of the great benefits of working at Woodberry is that you never have to entirely surrender your high school self. Sometimes, it is fun just to be silly and sophomoric, and I have no trouble being either.” It seems as though Mr. Blain has found his perfect niche in the week. His humorous emails fit in as a way to help counterbalance the intensity arising as the school prepares for The Game.