The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Burn:
A Comprehensive Guide to Burning Man
by Sean Kemp
Copyright 2012 by Sean Kemp
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"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." -popular misquote of Mark Twain.
OK so maybe Mark Twain never actually said it, but those of us who have been to the City By the Bay know it's true. San Francisco is typically much cooler (even in the summer) than other cities, even adjacent cities, in the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, San Francisco has the coldest minimum, maximum, and average temperatures of any major city in the United States for the months of June, July, and August. This being the case, it is no stretch of the imagination to think that on June 21, 1986 (the date of the Summer Solstice) only 20 or so people were originally in attendance at Baker Beach in San Francisco.
Larry Harvey, creator of the first Burning Man, conceived of an eight foot tall wooden effigy in the shape of a man to be burned at the annual Summer Solstice bonfire, a tradition started by local sculptor Mary Grauberger. Larry and his friend Jerry James improvised a statue of roughly human shape and proportion with a triangular head, and they set it on fire at the beach. I don't know this for a fact because I wasn't there, but allegedly the group of 20 immediately doubled to 40 as onlookers were drawn to the flame engulfed man. I know I would have gone for a closer look if I was there; wouldn't you? And so began the Burning Man tradition.