Burning Man 1988

By 1988 the man was around forty feet, approximately the same size as the current man without the base. The design of the third effigy was the basis for the one still in use today.

In 1988 a third, often overlooked, participant joined the crew: Mike Acker. Mike was Jerry’s business partner in Acker & James Construction at that point, and assisted in the Build of the ‘88 and ‘89 Man. The relationship with Larry Harvey was beginning to show strain by this point. Jerry noted:

When we started to discuss the design of the man, Larry became surprisingly aggressive and was antagonistic towards some of Mike’s suggestions. He tried to control the build much more than he had before. As Mike and I worked, he’d mostly stand, hands on hips, telling us what to do, or fiddle around over some minor detail, cussing the tools as he worked. Actually, I was accustomed to Larry wanting to have his way. If I arrived at his apartment to pick him up and he was on the phone, he’d stay on it. He’d take forever to get ready. He’d forget where he put his cigarettes or lighter or sunglasses. To be around Larry was to accommodate him.

Jerry James wrote about the construction:

We fabricated the legs, torso, body, arms and head separately, and planned on transporting them to the beach and assembling them there. The arms were hinged so that they could be raised once the figure was standing. Larry made some bamboo lanterns and copper strips that would act as wind chimes, all of which would later be located in the pelvis. Mike made a tube filled with fireworks that would be placed inside the head. We stapled burlap inside the lumber frame that would hold newspaper and soak up the kerosene that we would use to ignite it. The thing got so big we had to build parts of it on the sidewalk. Sometimes the torso or a leg would be on sawhorses, other times the whole figure was assembled across it. That spring, as we spent every weekend for months working on the figure, we began to call it the Burning Man.

1988 Poster for Burning Man

1988 Poster for Burning Man

By 1988 Larry was nearly obsessed with the annual event. Irritated that some had compared the beach burn to the movie Wicker Man, Larry decided he needed to create a name for the event: Burning Man. So in 1988, the event was first officially advertised as “Burning Man.” Jerry’s girlfriend Maria created a poster for the event.

Logistics of building and raising the man grew along with his stature. The first attempt to raise the Man on Baker Beach failed when the pulley being used to raise the man popped out of the sand and the Man came crashing down (see video below). The plan was to lift him in the way a tall extension ladder is lifted at a construction site - one person “foots” one end of the ladder and another lifts the opposite end while walking towards the “footer.” The crowd were to lift up the Man’s shoulders until they could lift no higher and then a pulley system would lift him the rest of the way into the vertical position. However, the stake holding the pulley failed and nearly impaled the crowd of volunteers as well as Jerry. The pulley was abandoned, and instead the crowd was enlisted to just pull on a rope to help lift him. This strategy worked (against all odds, in Jerry’s book). The Man, already pre-soaked with kerosene, his legs and body stuffed with newspaper and wrapped with burlap skin was ignited. The flaming material blew away, leaving a charred, but still standing man. After some brief police interaction, it was agreed that the Man could be knocked down and then burnt on the beach.

An amusing side note, all captured in the video below: Jerry remembers trying to blend into the crowd with Larry. The police started to hassle a guy playing a drum “You’re over here banging the drum, you must be in charge of this…” Larry and Jerry then come forward and negotiate the deal with the police to knock down the man and burn the rest of him on the beach…

The 1988 Burning Man gathering at Baker Beach.