The 25th annual Hex Rally takes place Monday, Nov. 22 at 8 p.m. on the Main Mall.
On Thanksgiving Day 1941, The University of Texas at Austin football team was to travel to College Station to take on Texas A&M University. The Aggies were having a banner season. Undefeated and ranked second in the nation by the Associated Press (AP), A&M had already won the Southwest Conference Championship. They also had a jinx on the Longhorns.
Since 1923 — for 18 years — the Longhorns had been unable to win a game at Kyle Field. Desperate to break the College Station “jinx,” UT students consulted Madam Agusta Hipple, a local fortune teller. She instructed the students to burn red candles the week before the game as a way of “hexing” the Aggies and putting a stop to the jinx.
Throughout the week of Thanksgiving, Austin shops found it difficult to keep red candles in stock. Candles were burned in store windows along the Drag, in the fraternity and sorority houses of west campus, in the lounges of university residence halls and in the windows of houses in Austin neighborhoods. Madam Hipple knew what she was doing. By uniting the football team and its fans with such a visible show of support, how could the Longhorns fail?
They didn’t. Texas went to College Station, defeated the No. 2-ranked Aggies 23-0, ended the 18-year jinx and restored their pride as the AP’s final poll placed Texas as the fourth best team in the land.
After its success in 1941, the red candle hex was used sporadically when the Longhorns faced highly ranked opponents. The No. 1 Southern Methodist University (SMU) Mustangs were defeated 23-20 in 1950. The Baylor University Bears, ranked third in 1953, fell 21-20. Not until 1955 did the candles prove ineffective against an eighth-ranked Texas Christian University squad.
But the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s changed students’ attitudes toward long-established university traditions. Many were abandoned and forgotten, including the red candle hex. By the mid-1980s, as UT enrollment continued to surge, the lack of university-wide events and traditions was noticeable. While today’s students might attend the “Gone to Texas” program the night before the start of the academic year, or enjoy the Forty Acres Fest or Texas Review campus-wide talent show in the spring, there were very few opportunities in the 1980s for students to gather and acquire a sense of a campus community.
In September 1986, members of the Texas Exes Student Involvement Committee, known today as the Texas Exes Student Chapter, created the Spirit and Traditions Board. Comprised of presidents and representatives of spirit-related UT student groups (including your humble author), the board’s underlining mission was to create a stronger sense of community at a large university.
In its initial meetings, the board began with a blank canvas and considered several ideas, but eventually looked to university athletic events as a starting point, as they had a wide appeal on the campus and would bring together large numbers of students. A “Think Loud” campaign was introduced with the goal of making the stadium a noisier place for home football games. On the Saturday of Texas-SMU match-up, “The Mustangs,” a statue in front of the Texas Memorial Museum, was covered for the day. (The idea was popular on campus, but not as well-received by the head of the museum.) The group also waded through old Cactus yearbooks and Daily Texan newspapers in search of long-lost traditions that might be reinstated, and the red candle hex was discovered.
The Texas versus Texas A&M football game was a longstanding rivalry. As the Aggies then had their own bonfire and rally, members of the board hoped to create something unique for the university and wanted to include the red candles to re-instate the tradition. The first Texas Hex Rally was scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 25, 1986, two days before the game on Thanksgiving. Madam Hipple, still living in Austin, was invited to attend, but she declined because of her age.
At 11:15 p.m. Tuesday evening, the Longhorn Band marched from the stadium, west on 21st Street and past Moore-Hill, Brackenridge-Roberts and Jester Center residence halls on their way to the Main Mall, bringing students out of the dorms as they passed. The Physics Department, with the help of Professor Austin Gleeson, constructed a large, metal, gas-lit red candle that is still used today. And then-President William Cunningham, who wanted to speak at the rally but had to attend a formal dinner out-of-town, flew back to Austin immediately after his event and had a police escort from the airport to make it to the Main Mall on time, still dressed in his tuxedo.
With the Longhorn Band’s arrival and a Main Mall packed with students, the inaugural Hex Rally began at 11:30 p.m. with songs, yells, speeches and a retelling on the origins of the tradition. The Aggies were “hexed” at midnight as thousands of students raised red candles and sang “The Eyes of Texas.”
Visit the Texas Exes UT History Central Web site for more fun facts about the university’s history.