Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Torchbearer Statue

Torchbearer in the FallWork has begun on the renovation of UT’s Circle Park and Torchbearer Plaza.

The park will feature new sidewalks, trees, landscaping, sod, and irrigation systems. The rebuilt plaza will include benches, trees along Volunteer Boulevard, and new retaining walls to highlight the Torchbearer statue.

Since 1968, the Torchbearer—UT’s official symbol—has borne silent witness to the university’s Volunteer Creed: “One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.”

To mark the beginning of the renovation, here are a few facts that shed some light on the history of the Torchbearer:

The statue was surprisingly controversial

The first design, in 1931, was a middle-aged man with a Greek haircut and a slight paunch, holding a lantern waist-high in his right hand. After complaints, the figure was made much younger and physically fit, with a more neutral haircut. In 1967, after students marched across campus in protest of the design, then–UT president Andy Holt invited them into his office, discussed the project, and agreed to slim down the design, and the statue’s belly, even further. The statue was unveiled and dedicated on April 19, 1968.

A gas malfunction damaged an early model of the statue

In 1937, graduating seniors wanted to present a three-foot-high version of the statue to the top student in the junior class at the traditional Aloha Oe torch passing ceremony. Sculptor T. Andre Beck prepared a plaster version with a flame attachment built in. Unfortunately, the equipment malfunctioned, destroying the miniature Torchbearer’s outstretched hand.

Long lead time

The Torchbearer was adopted as UT’s official symbol in 1932, but the statue wasn’t erected until 1968. During the interim, six-inch-high desk versions were popular as gifts and awards to students, faculty, staff, and friends of the university.

Heroic proportions

The original design called for a statue standing twenty-six feet tall upon a marble pedestal in a semicircular amphitheater. Today’s statue is nine feet high on a low pedestal at the intersection of Circle Park and Volunteer Boulevard. It weighs 900 pounds.

Not-so-eternal flame

The natural-gas flame shining brightly from the statue’s outstretched torch is designed to burn cleanly and safely in all but the worst weather conditions. However, occasional wind storms have temporarily put out the fire, and campus leaders decided to extinguish the flame for a brief time during the energy crisis of the 1970s.

For safety reasons, the flame has been extinguished as Circle Park and the Torchbearer Plaza are renovated. The project is set to finish by the start of the fall semester.

C O N T A C T :

Charles Primm (865-974-5180, charles.primm@tennessee.edu)