Custer’s Burning of the Beetle

I’ve seen a lot of amusing, bizarre and downright nutty things while traveling.  Something that hovers near the top of the list is the “Burning Of The Beetle” celebration in Custer, South Dakota. 

After the holidays, residents are asked to recycle their Christmas trees which are then placed underneath a gigantic wooden replica of mountain pine beetle.  (The mountain pine beetle has been a nemesis for the Black Hills, though they’ve now largely been eradicated according to the U.S. Forest Service.)

A couple of weeks later, a crowd gathers in a nearby parking lot, takes up lit torches, and marches through the streets of Custer.  With the high school marching band in the lead, banging on drums, the mob begins chanting the phrase “burn beetle burn”. Together in unison the group continues to chant as they raise their torches toward the sky and head toward the giant beetle in a downtown park.

Once they reach the effigy site the torches are then placed on the old Christmas trees, fueling a large fire which eventually burns down the over-sized replica of the beetle. 

I actually participated in 2017 and it was quite a sight. It was my first experience being part of a mob, a real achieving moment in my life.  Though marching with the mob was amusing, I imagine being on the sidelines, watching people streaming through the streets with torches was just as entertaining.

Perhaps the most ironic part of the entire festivity is that the local fire department was in charge of lighting torches and handing them out to the “mob”.  (Job security, perhaps?)   

Several hundred people gather around to watch the event and await the arrival of the torches. The crowd then heads downtown for an evening of dining and drinks at local establishments.  

Bizarre?  Yes.  Unique and worth watching?  Also yes!  

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