Tales From the O'Neill: Summer Traditions Kept Alive

By Sophia Saifi
24 Jun 2013

Sunrise after the NonFire
Photo by Alex Griffin
The Nonfire

At the turn of the last century, the adolescent Eugene O'Neill would spend his summers in New London, CT. Most of the beaches in the area were private property, but O'Neill was especially fond of sneaking out to them with a lady in tow. His trespassing efforts were met with strict resistance, and the millionaire Edward Crowninshield Hammond would often bring out a shotgun to his beach to chase off the young playwright-to-be. Many years later O'Neill immortalized Hammond as the character of the "Standard Oil Millionaire" in Long Day's Journey Into Night. In an ironic twist, the Hammond estate itself became what is now the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.

In honor of O'Neill's endeavors, participants and staff of the conferences steal into the night after the final strike has finished and light an illicit bonfire on the on-campus beach. The event, which is called The Nonfire, is very secretive and has been a part of O'Neill tradition since its inception. The puppeteers took it to a new level this year, arriving bearing a three-foot long Viking ship that they had crafted throughout the week. With much ceremony, the ship was set on fire and pushed out into the sea, where it blazed and dazzled into the distance because of the sparklers someone had resourcefully placed onboard. There was beer, music and much revelry, and some lingered until 6 AM to watch the sun rise over the sea. To those on the outside it never happened, but year after year, the flaming tradition continues.