Last year, iconic Texas State Fair greeter/statue Big Tex celebrated his sixtieth birthday by, um, burning to the ground. This year, of course, he’s been rebuilt—bigger and Tex-er than ever. As the colossal statue, who now stands 55 feet tall (up from a mere 52 feet before the fire), was unveiled yesterday, a wave of Big Tex nostalgia spread through the state.
Big Tex began his statue career as a giant Santa Claus in Kerens in 1949, to induce shoppers who bypassed the town while Christmas shopping to head to Corsicana instead. While the massive iron pipe-and-papier-mâché statue was initially a hit, by 1951 the town had moved on, and Big Tex was sold to State Fair president R.L. Thornton for $750.
Thornton commissioned artist Jack T. Bridges to create a concept for a giant cowboy instead. And thus Big Tex was born.
In 1955, the same year that Big Tex overlooked the State Fair as Louis Armstrong performed, he also received his first change of clothes. Initially, the Lee jeans company was responsible for outfitting Big Tex. The statue continued to evolve; the papier-mâché was replaced by fiberglass in the fifties.
By the nineties, Big Tex had been rebuilt a few times over. His head had been replaced with one that was more detailed (the original sold at auction in 1993 for $1,300). The State Fair believed so firmly in Big Tex’s status as an icon that it were unafraid to dress him head to toe in denim in 1995.
Big Tex also did his time as a pop-culture icon. In the 1983 promotional comic book The Uncanny X-Men at the State Fair of Texas, a seemingly self-aware Big Tex lends the mutant heroes a hand. In a 2004 episode of King of the Hill, Big Tex becomes the site of Luanne’s sit-in protest.
Years passed; Big Tex slipped comfortably into his advanced years. In 2002, the State Fair celebrated his fiftieth birthday with a giant birthday cake. The AARP made him a member. He started wearing Dickies, which outfitted Big Tex every three years in a new pair of pants that weighed 65 pounds and a nylon awning shirt.
And then, of course, there was the fire. Waves of sentimentality were unleashed throughout the state. The image above horrified people who were forced to acknowledge that Big Tex actually does look pretty lifelike, at least while he’s on fire.
Big Tex has since been reborn, dressed in a symbolically rich white shirt for his triumphant return to the State Fair as a 55-footer. Presumably whatever necessary precautions can be taken to prevent yet another fire have been taken.
Zac Crain of D Magazine‘s Frontburner blog argues that Big Tex should be burned to the ground every year. It’d be a waste of a whole lot of denim, of course, but it’s hard to argue that the fire isn’t the most exciting thing to happen to Big Tex since at least the time he kicked Magneto.
Top image | AP Photo/Rex C. Curry
Fire image | AP Photo/John McKibben
Other images via Flickr, State Fair of Texas website