The annual event now known as Burning Man began as a bonfire ritual on the summer solstice in 1986 when Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and a few friends met on Baker Beach in San Francisco and burned a 9-foot wooden man.
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Burning Man 2011
The event did have earlier roots. Sculptor Mary Grauberger, a friend of Harvey's girlfriend Janet Lohr, held solstice bonfire gatherings on Baker Beach for several years prior to 1986, some of which Harvey attended. When Grauberger stopped organizing it, Harvey "picked up the torch and ran with it," so to speak. He and Jerry James built an 8-foot (2.4-meter) wooden effigy for 1986, which was much smaller and more crudely made than the neon-lit figure featured in the current ritual. In 1987, the effigy grew to almost 15 feet (4.6 meters) tall, and by 1988, it had grown to around 40 feet (12 meters).
Harvey swears that he did not see the movie The Wicker Man until many years later, so it played no part in his inspiration. Accordingly, rather than allow the name "Wicker Man" to become the name of the ritual, he started using the name "Burning Man". Burning Man is an annual event held in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, in the United States. The event starts on the Sunday before and ends on the day of the American Labor Day holiday. It takes its name from the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy on Saturday evening. The event is described by many participants as an experiment in community, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance.