It looked like a funeral procession, as the charred and wrapped metal skeleton of Big Tex was escorted out of Fair Park by motorcycle police. Earlier Friday morning, the State Fair icon had gone up in flames.
He turned 60 this year. On this cool, bright day, it looked like it would another happy showing for the State Fair’s famous cowboy. That’s what Bill Bragg expected. He has been the “voice” of Big Tex for 11 years now. With microphone in hand, he delivers the famous “Howdy, folks!” line as he sits a short distance away.
"It was fine when I last looked, then I turned my eyes to the script and continued with a performance. Then there was knock on the door. The people who work near us are always keeping an eye on Tex," Bragg said.
At about the same time, roughly 10:30 this morning, nearby food vendor Glory Dadiotis looked up and saw smoke rising from the collar.
"And then it started coming up around his belt, his pants. And then poof, fire went everywhere," Dadiotis said. She said the blaze and destruction of Big Tex saddened her and others. "Oh my gosh, it’s a huge deal. Big Tex IS the Texas State Fair," Dadiotis said.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings says he’s been coming to the fair and visiting Big Tex for three decades. He was back in Fair Park with the news of the fire. He said seeing the blackened metal skeleton was like seeing a piece of history vanish.
"Big Tex is like an uncle you kind of make fun of and love at the same time. To see that go away was emotional," Rawlings said.
That was Bill Bragg’s reaction, too.
"Well, I’ve got some tears to wipe away. And I just need to sit down and catch my breath a while. There will be people who come out here and grieve. I’m grieving; we’re all grieving. The ones crying the loudest are the people who come out here to have a good time. Right now, we’re all sad, but it’s going to be a better day and we’re going to make the best of a bad situation," Bragg concluded.
Officials suspect an electrical short tied to mechanics that moved Big Tex’s mouth, sparked the blaze. An investigation continues. The mayor kept things in perspective. At least, he said, nobody was hurt. Others, like long time fair-goer Patty Lindsey, filtered the news through a more darkly humorous prism.
"He needed a makeover anyway. He needed new tags and updates anyway so. The Texas State Fair is all about fried foods and fried things, so what’s one more thing being fried? Big Tex!" Lindsey said.
Fair officials, the mayor, Bill Bragg and others say Big Tex will return next year, bigger and better than ever, updated, and likely safer.