Burning Man is one of the most magical and mysterious places on the planet. Rarely can the promise of freedom, self-expression, immediacy, creativity and community be felt more profoundly. But sometimes…when 65,000 people congregate in the middle of the desert some pretty wild and surreal stuff can happen.
We’re not going to lie–sure, hallucinogenic drugs and nudity are rampant. Hell, there’s even been a few accidental deaths reported. But the following are hands down some of the craziest moments that Burning Man has ever known.
1) Arsonist torches Burning Man’s effigy five days early
In 2007, at the exact moment of a rare lunar eclipse, Paul Addis an ex-attorney and old school burner, set blaze to the Burning Man effigy 5 days premature of the official burning of the man. It took nearly an hour to douse the flames and Addis was later sentenced to two years in prison.
Addis claimed that he torched the man as a prank because he felt that the original spontaneity of Burning Man had been lost and he wanted to recapture the original spirit of the event. “This was not an act of vengeance, it was one of love,” Addis stated. “A love of the ethos that is fading at Burning Man. There’s no sense of spontaneity. No sense of ‘Fuck it. Let’s burn this down.’ ”
His actions however had a creepier undertone when Addis was also caught after his prison sentence planning to set fire to the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Then, in 2012 Addis, died after he jumped in front of a moving train at Embarcadero station in San Francisco. He was 42.
2) Suicide at Burning Man
On the early morning of August 2007, a 22 year old aspiring DJ named Jermaine Barley walked into a Moroccan style tent at the Comfort & Joy theme camp and decided it was there that he wanted to end his personal pain. He quietly moved one of the furniture pieces under the chandelier of the tent, cut it down from the rope that held it, and then hung himself from that rope.
It is reported that his body lay hanging in the tent for more than a few hours before a passerby realized he was actually a dead person and not a prop decorating the tent. The tent’s interior decorations apparently created such a surreal atmosphere that people who went in the tent initially thought the hanging man was just another prop. One burner remarked, “It looked like someone was playing a joke with a dummy.”
Jermaine’s suicide came as a shock to many of his friends and family. He was a six time Burning Man attendee who trekked up to Nevada that year with four of his close friends. No one will ever know why he chose to end his life at Burning Man. Many people from the Comfort & Joy camp later took the rope he used to the Temple of Forgiveness, where burners mourn the dead. It was ceremonially burned that Sunday night.
3) UFO Sightings at Burning Man
No, it wasn’t skydivers or random weather balloons–thousands of burners have witnessed UFOs hovering across the skies of Burning Man over the years. The most famous one happened in 2011 when a red UFO was witnessed slowly flying across the sky as the temple was being burned. The UFO hovered in the sky for 45 minutes and then released what looked like a smaller red UFO into the sky. Over the years, there have been many others and some of them have been captured on tape. Are they drones or advanced intelligence of some kind?