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Aug 26th - Sept 2nd


The Inferno



Burning Man 1996
Man on platform

  • Man stands on 1st platform, 10’ with single steps, and hay bales
  • Smiley Face on the Man by John Law
  • Sunday Burn
  • Both Arms down for Burn

Thousands filed through the Gates of Hell, created by Kal Spelletich. … "Abandon all hope, you who enter here." Kal also created Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hell, an animated fire spewing sculpture made of metal.

…Flynn Mauthe constructed a big box in imitation of a high-rise ... He painted it bright red. Overhead it bore the name HELCO in huge illuminated letters (scavenged from a Payless shoe store sign). Its fenestration made it appear to be nearly twice as tall as its actual height. This structure was surrounded by installations, each a parody of some well-known franchise outlet. The HELCO Tower was ignited and, as racing flames began to sheath its sides, a silhouetted human figure now appeared atop it. This was John Law, one of our chief organizers. I had suggested to John that he wear a Santa suit. Instead, he chose to wear a Western duster. John was an experienced daredevil. He waited till the fire threatened to engulf him. Then, leaping into the darkness, the duster flapping like a pair of raven wings behind him, he plummeted down a zip line and crashed through an illuminated screen of neon tubes.

the neon letters spelled "CONSUME"

The 1996 theme art installation, Helco, by Flynn Mauther, Kal Spelletich and Seemen

Kal Spelletich of the Seemen – a machine – art troupe.. had supervised the building of the mall. He and his crew, including fellow roboticist Christian Ristow, who later ran RoboChrist Industries in Los Angeles, managed its methodical, loud, and messy destruction in the pageant Sunday night, bringing the drama of Helco to one maelstrom of a denouement. Ristow’s pet machine, the Subjugator, which he operated via a remote control panel, all crushing tread and man-sized extending clamping metal haws and fire-spit, led the orgy of crushing, rending, wrecking, and arson that sent the Helco Mall back to the lake of fire from which it arose. "

Brian Doherty, This is Burning Man

I then sit on the Aggravator's iron tractor seat and watch an astounding presentation, over by the sinister temple towers of the City of Dis. A formal procession begins with honks, rattles, and electronic squeaks. Pagan hierophants in tall headdresses and silver lamé march in slow step, toting flaming standards of arcane device. Swarms of nude dancers, male and female, caper up in bizarre sword-and-sorcery bondage gear. The soundtrack switches to repeated, insane, bestial screaming. An awe-inspiring insect goddess - a hunchbacked bug on red stilts - comes towering and tipping and tottering into the firelight, like a mad Kafkaesque advent. It's like a cross between Vatican ceremony, Cirque du Soleil, and a necro-erotic cannibal mantis mating ritual. The performers seem ready to burst into a flagellant orgy at any instant, in front of a solid milling crowd of at least 3,000. This sure isn't the sort of thing one sees every day. … I'm really enjoying this.

Bruce Sterling -- Wired Magazine, Issue 4.11 November 1996

The first of many yearly stickers from Eggchair Steve

The first "keyhole" installation, at the intersection of the camp and the walkway to the man, by Paul Windsor. A liquid-filled box containing a yew tree root rested on a bed of old religious texts and mud.

Clean up was tough that year and the roots of our present DPW were set

Black Rock City 1996 had disappeared -- mostly. The staff had retreated back to San Francisco except for John Law and a small skeleton crew -- he credits Chicken John, Chris DeMonterey, Canessa and one or two other hardy souls -- who spent week bent-backed, picking up debris over the city's mile wide footprint, tidying in the aftermath of the world's wildest party.

Brian Doherty, This is Burning Man

They left the playa on Oct. 3rd 1996

Jesse Wack and other Hard Times Bike Club and Cyclecide Bike Rodeo members came with Cirkus Redickuless and the Know-Nothing Circus. They were the first real DPW, in ’95 – though the term came later. Flynn set the stage for Tony Coyote to come in and cheerfully rule things, loosely but tightly. Cyclecide and the Hard Times Bike Club were the grunts cleaning up in '96.

San Francisco catalyst and Cirkus Redickuless ringmonster Chicken John was a hardworking DPW type who wore various hats, including one he stole from the Rangers. Cyclecide co-founders Jarico Reesce and John Joyce ring-led the bike freaks to an extent.

Pedal Camp became the place to be, an official camp, in '95 or '96, with Jarico, Big Daddy, Dannygirl Waters, Ratgirl, Loid Mongoloid, and other members of the Heavy Pedal Cyclecide Bike Rodeo out of San Francisco (which this writer joined in ’98 as well). Demilitia, Zsuzs, Mateo Extra Action, Johnny Feral, and several others from Minneapolis also built and struck the city. A few curious locals like Cowboy Carl and Cowboy Bob also joined the tribe.

Summer Burkes - Early Man: Proto-DPW

Theme Camps, Art and Notable City Destinations
  • 3 Dogheads
  • MacSatans Beastro
  • Disgruntled Postal Workers
  • "Piano Bell" 88 pianos by Steve Heck
  • The Burning Man Opera
  • The Arrival of Empress Zoe


  • Mermen
  • Idiot Flesh
  • Beyond Race
  • 3-Day Stubble
  • The Venusians
  • Polkacide
  • Tchkling!
  • Wicked
  • SPaZ
  • CCC
  • The Happening
  • David Bayer

Ticket price: $35

1996 Map

On Saturday night we staged a little show in central camp. Flash reprised his role, now known as Papa Satan. He sat stage right upon a throne surrounded by beguiling temptresses. Behind him stood a group of corporate mascots. They represented HELCO’s board of directors.

I remember Aunt Jemima, the Jolly Green Giant, and Mr. Klean. Will Roger played Mr. Klean. Clutching a rag and a spray bottle filled with kerosene, he at one point set fire to the stage…

Three times I was tempted to sign over the property rights to Burning Man and Black Rock City by HELCO’s attorney, played by Stuart Mangram. Three times I refused and reeled back. Turning toward the audience, pen and contract still in hand, I finally shouted, “I can’t sign this! I don’t own Black Rock City! Burning Man belongs to all of you! You have to decide!” Everyone present, of course, opted not to sell out. Satan was then chained to the back of a truck and trundled off at the head of a procession into the Inferno.

Once HELCO Tower was reduced to seething embers, the crowd continued across the desert, ending its journey at the City of Dis. This installation and performance was created and directed by artist Pepe Ozan who entitled the performance The Arrival of the Empress Zoe. With proper operatic pomp, it enacted the arrival of a soul in Hell. In that year's theme announcement, I alluded to it as concealing, "…the Ultimate Pit - a hidden and unhealing wound... this chasm is a fountainhead of boundless rage, appalling shame, and unendurable loneliness.". This is, in fact, a literal rendition of the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, the premier mental illness in our age of mass consumption.

Larry Harvey -- The Early Years -- Reflections on Interactive Performance

Welcome to Helco Ad, "Everywhere you look, old belief systems are falling apart".
Lilith and Nick discuss Burning Man.

Greetings from Burning Man!
By Bruce Sterling

Friday, August 30
A guy got killed last night. He rear-ended a truck while zooming along the darkened playa on a blacked-out motorcycle. The place feels like the afterlife. When you walk across it, you just drift over endless cracked whiteness, lifting your feet maybe a quarter inch from the surface. …

People think it's good that Burning Man is difficult and rather dangerous to reach. This keeps the gawking frat boys and the sodden alcoholics at bay. To get this far Out Here you've got to pay some dues and take some risks. Gotta live on the edge, at least a little….

Walking around the playa with my family at night. This is the time to tour the site, because Burning Man is truly weird then. "Black Rock City" has no power system, so at night it's all lanterns and chugging generators and tiki torches and lots of chemglow. Colored strings of chemglow out in the desert, woven through the spokes of bicycles and mysteriously revolving. Looming figures in costume. Huge dramatic bowl of desert stars overhead. Fireworks and flying flares casting a lurid trench-warfare glow above the massive camp…

Sunday, September 1
Then night falls, and it's time to finally burn the Man. I've got Amy up on my shoulders videotaping this, in the midst of an enormous, boisterous, cheering crowd. A procession marches up, solemn, freakish, and deeply hilarious. Then they fire up the guy, and he explodes in sheets of colored fireworks and giant livid gouts of flames. This spectacle seriously lights my fourth-grader's circuits. "BURN HIM!" Amy is screaming, wriggling like an eel. It's without doubt the most exciting thing she's ever witnessed. "Look at him BURN! This is AMAZING! I can't BELIEVE IT! WOW!!!"

When the man's about to collapse from sheer conflagration, some brave and hefty folks grab a pair of dangling steel cables from the Burning Man's shoulders. They tug and yank. The giant wooden man goes into a weird spastic dance, pointy arms upraised and shedding massive showers of fire. A 40-foot-high wooden doll dancing in flames is a sight that really hits the 9-year-old demographic. My kid is in ecstasy, she's loudly swearing that she'll remember this for the rest of her life. I'm sure this is true.

In 1996, the next year, the café got little attention, as the Dante theme was taking precedence in everyone’s mind. It was the first and only time that Burning Man went dark, and we worked and played under the sign that said, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." It was a parody of corporations, but still, the general tenor was black. For once, at Burning Man, I was appropriately dressed; I never abandoned my typical black city garb in the desert, like most people did.

That was also the year that the Nevada Sanitation Department arrived to cite us for infractions of safety codes, like not using a scoop to get ice for iced coffee, or not having consumable items at least 6” off the ground. They also cited us for having naked employees.

P Segal

John Law installed a smiley face on the Man
Photo Heather Shirkey in 1996, courtesy of Olivier Bonin Dust & Illusions

The first Burning Man website was on The Well until after the 1995 event, when the webmaster decided to move on and it needed a new home. In 1996, Burning Man veteran Stuart Mangrum was working at the web design company LVL Interactive in Palo Alto and he offered to develop a new website for Burning Man. ...

Along with the new website, they put together the first real netcast from Burning Man, using steaming technology by MediaCast and internet connectivity through InterNex.Net. In those days I was shooting a lot of video, so I volunteered to help out with the netcast. I would run around the playa shooting video of interesting stuff and then come back to the RV, where Beach would digitize and then upload the video to the website. I remember how excited we were to know that we were sending out photos and video live from the playa, digital pioneers, we were.

Scott Beale Burning Man 1996 Website & Netcast by iSTORM

"Wicked and SPaZ showed up in 1995, adding Techno music to the primal mix of sound on the playa. In 1996, Turbo Ted organized Techno Ghetto a mile north of camp to cloister the large sound camps away from the general population.

In 1996 "the rave was moved downwind and a mile out, with a clearly defined road leading to it. Though the previous year's issues were resolved, the distance and lack of connection with the rest of the city proved to be problematic. A breakdown of civic standards and community created chaos, ultimately resulting in serious injuries occurring to rave participants. The Burning Man organizers, and I in particular, were devastated by the experience, and vowed that no such incident would ever occur again." Harley K. DuBois - Managing Diversity: The Zoning of Black Rock City

  • Burning Man becomes Internet phenomenon, attracting participants worldwide. Activity begins to spread beyond event, spawning troupes and performances across U.S.
  • Villages, micro models of the macro whole, begin to spontaneously form.
  • A pyramid, designed by Dan Miller, now extends height of Man to 50 feet.
  • Chris Campbell becomes chief designer of Burning Man, introduces curving ribs and modified face.
  • Art pageant features machine art by San Francisco's "Seemen" troupe. This year's theme: the Inferno. HELCO, a supra-national conglomerate, attempts to buy out Burning Man and fails.
  • Pepe Ozan's lingam becomes a full-scale pageant and opera.
  • Other art includes "Mudhenge," the "Piano Bell," the "Stupa of Limbo," and Jim Mason's "Forest of Fire and Ice."
  • Larry Harvey founds committee to manage Burning Man event.
  • Infrastructure strained by increasing influx of attendees. Plans begin to relocate Burning Man to Hualapai Playa.