Before the Summer of Love: Hippies invade Haight-Ashbury (1967)

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San Francisco braces itself for influx of hippies

Editor’s Note — San Francisco has survived the gold rush and the earthquake, now it’s in for a “summer of love” put on by 4,000 “hippies” of the Haight-Ashbury district. The bearded ones preach free love and LSD, and police gird for an influx of 50,000 more.

Beatle George Harrison visits San Francisco during the Summer of Love
Beatle George Harrison visits San Francisco during the Summer of Love

By Claude Burgett

San Francisco — Allen Cohen, a hair-faced poet with shoulder length hair, advocates communal living, love and the use of LSD.

Cohen symbolizes the feelings and habits of 4,000 other young hippies in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district.

“What you’re witnessing here is history,” said Cohen.

Allen Cohen
Allen Cohen

“And,” added Ron Thelin, nervously twisting his golden mustache, “if the projections are correct, there will be 50,000 to 100,000 more kids here to share our ‘summer of love.’”

Cohen and Thelin claim they are not leaders, but willingly speak for the hippie “tribe.”

They preach love. Most of the hippies have tried LSD, marijuana or other psychedelic drugs at least once in their grasp to understand themselves, God or love.

These long-haired young men and their women have transformed Haight-Ashbury into a way of life. And they claim their life is a new religion — the religion of love.

Their Bohemian attitudes, unkempt dress and free-wheeling sex habits have caused a split in an Episcopal church that gave them a headquarters. Their communal living habits have caught the attention of the city health department.
Their use of drugs and the fact that runaway teenagers find a haven among hippies keep them in conflict with police.

>> What is a hippie? (1967)

Cohen and Thelin stood in a disheveled room behind Thelin’s psychedelic book shop on Haight Street as rain dripped through the ceiling, and tried to explain their new subculture.

Critics say hippies, aside from their drug habits, don’t work and don’t contribute anything to a community. “We are,” said Cohen, “creating a new kind of art; a new kind of human relationship and a new family relationship.”

Art displayed in Haight Street shops is flashy, with colors that show the psychedelic influence and a preoccupation with sex and God.

The “tribe” — as the hippies call their community as a whole — is made up of students of Zen Buddhism, followers of mystical Hindu and Chinese religions, practitioners of American Indian religious rituals.

“With us,” said Sharon Sweeney, a young blonde from Minnesota, “religion is a personal thing. It’s inside; not conventional.”

Beside their hair and beards, the men who lounge about the streets go in for Indian beads, pierced ears, cowboy boots, sandals, tight trousers, buckskin jackets, colored feathers in their hair, symbolic Indian headbands, ponchos and serapes.

Their women wear bright dresses and beads or tight pants. Many go barefoot. Those who have children dress them just as colorfully. The children wear Indian moccasins.

“You can tell which ones have just taken their first trip (LSD experience),” said a resident of the neighborhood, “by the bright colors they wear.”

Men and women wear small bells on their belts or ankles. They walk the streets at all hours, day and night, sit over coffee in numerous coffee houses that have sprung up along their street. Their conversation is about “acid” LSD, “grass” marijuana or the latest arrival in “Hashberry” — their term for Haight-Ashbury.

Thelin’s place is typical of the dozen or so art and poster shops that have opened since January to cater to the hippies. Their unusual tastes have changed the 60-year-old buildings into brightly painted shops and apartments. Dogs and children romp through the streets freely.

“What’s the difference between us and beatniks?” asked a Negro girl in the rain-soaked bookshop. “We don’t wear black and we’re cleaner.”

She wore a bright Mexican serape and square green glasses. Her white boyfriend rubbed her shoulders affectionately.

Cohen, 26, is editor of the Oracle, an “underground” newspaper which openly prescribes LSD, marijuana, peyote and other mind-altering drugs for young people who want to “drop out,” remove themselves from “the establishment” — society.

Thelin says he has “a thing for Indians” and follows the religious and social practices of early American Indians. He wears a beaded satchel hanging from his shoulder and somewhat resembles Buffalo Bill Cody.

Haight-Ashbury has drawn so much attention that it has become a tourist attraction. A bus company runs tours through “hippie town,” and the hippies resent it. They don’t like to be gawked at.

“They come down here, man,” complained George Surchek — who said he comes “from someplace in the Midwest,” — “and they stare and laugh at us. We just want to be left alone, man — to love everybody. But they make it hard to love them.”

Twice the hippies have staged “sit-ins” in the middle of intersections, tying up traffic for hours. Police arrested more than 40 of them.

“To get busted (arrested) is, in a sense, like society scratching itself in the dark places,” said Cohen. “We don’t care. It is a drain on the tribe for bail money, sure; but it is a drain on the establishment.”

Make Love Not War poster 1960s

Hippies don’t like to be called hippies.

“That’s just a word,” said Cohen. “You mix with us and then decide what to call us.”

“Yeh, man,” added a bearded friend, “but don’t stay more than a week or you won’t leave.”

Health department officials fear that overcrowding the hippie “pads” will cause spread of disease. Police say hippies harbor teenagers who have left home. Health inspectors checked housing in the 15-block Haight-Ashbury district recently. They issued 65 citations for housing and sanitation violations — 16 of them to hippie “pads.”

“Those that were bad, were really bad,” said John Kelterer, chief health inspector. “But conditions we found were not as bad as we had been led to believe they were.”

“Most of these kids,” another health department official said, “are nice, passive kids. They believe in what they’re trying to do.

“But there are those who mix in the community who see their association with hippies as an opportunity to be unclean or unshaven,” he said.

>> Lava Lite: They’re like wild – way out! (1967)

Cohen and Thelin refer to the expected summer influx of young hippies as “a pilgrimage from all over the country.”

But, a spokesman for Police Chief Thomas Cahill said, “We don’t know where that figure of 100,000 came from. All we know is what we see in the press; but it’s our guess that this is something a hippie dreamed up.”

“Hashberry” is a world that covers only 15 city blocks near the southeastern edge of Golden Gate Park west of downtown San Francisco. In their world, the hippies are nearly surrounded by residential areas, predominantly Negro. Police fear a summer influx of hippies could touch off racial unrest.

The old Victorian homes they rent once were residences of affluent doctors and professional men. The rambling buildings afford them ample room for their communal “pads.” As many as 200 have spent the night in some “pads.”

Chief Cahill appealed on television recently to parents to keep their teenagers away from Haight-Ashbury.

“If there is trouble,” said Cohen, “it will come from the outside. The outside community has reacted in fear. They are scared of things they don’t understand within themselves.

“When they criticize us, they’re only criticizing their own kids.”

Occasional police raids on hippie pads for narcotics violators are accepted as part of the life of the district.

“We’re on a spiritual journey,” Cohen explained, “and this is just putting one foot in front of the other. There’s no plan, no blueprint and no predestined fate.”

The average hippie is in his late teens or early 20s. He cares little for conventional living or conventional people.

Dr Seymour L Halleck, director of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, wrote recently: “The hippies tend to be tolerant and friendly young people whose public flouting of convention belies a basic passivity. The hippie is deeply concerned with finding his own identity, with becoming a whole person, with communicating, with being terribly honest and real.

“Hippies are incredibly lonely people who seem almost incapable of forming intimate relations. Even their sexual contacts are more frenetic than meaningful.”

It is their sexual promiscuity and unorthodox approach to religion that caused trouble at All Saints Episcopal Church, one block off Haight Street.

There, a group calling themselves “the Diggers” — hippies who provide free food, clothing and shelter for other hippies — were given an office by the rector, the Rev Leon Harris.

Senior Warden Donald Carlson, the church’s lay officer, and William James, master of acolytes (altar boys) resigned soon after the Diggers moved in.

“When a group of people reject the moral code of our society (curse and swear, are admitted fornicators, and physically unclean, reject — if not despise — the law, etc.) I believe they are un-Christian and immoral,” Carlson wrote in his resignation letter.

Bishop C Kilmer Myers of the Episcopal diocese backed Father Harris’ decision.

LSD, a synthetic drug which any serious chemistry student can mix, is easily accessible. Cohen says it is essential.

“Good acid (LSD) is very, very important to perception; it swiftly throws the doors open to the past and the future. It’s not like going to a movie. Acid is a very serious move and we consider it just like that.”

Despite the hippies’ dislike for organization and power structures, “the tribe” has some organization. The Diggers are well organized. They work with city health officials to seek medical services for hippies. They recently announced that they will cooperate with the police in finding runaways.

A work co-op, originated by Miss Sweeney, finds jobs for hippies. They wash cars, drive trucks, sell newspapers, act as stock clerks, models and actors. Any job that a man with long hair and a beard can do is found for them. They share costs of apartments and food. When one has money, he shares it with others.

Merchants who were on Haight Street before the hippies began arriving about a year ago defend the subculture. Larry Christiani, a florist, said their presence has both helped and hurt business.

“The tourists and gawkers have crowded into the area so much lately,” he said, “that there are no parking places… But,” he added, “these kids are good kids. They don’t steal and they don’t fight. But the barefoot ones should wash their feet more often.”

Paree, a flaming red-haired Persian woman who operates a hamburger stand and calls herself “Mother Digger,” was stronger in her defense:

“Where the hell are their alcoholic parents? Don’t come down here bothering these kids. If their parents had given them the love they need, they would not be here.”

On the negative side, however, there is an element in the “tribe” that delights in harassing police. The “sit-ins” in the streets are examples.

“You can imagine,” said a Negro hippie, “what the fuzz goes through to find out what the chemical inside a capsule is — man!” Hippies sometimes carry vitamin pills in their pockets to confuse police.

“San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”

Written by John Phillips (The Mamas & the Papas), vocals by Scott McKenzie

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Comments on this story

2 Responses

  1. People who believed in the Movement then were true hippies and are still hippies today. But, there were a lot of fakes and some guys who tried to manipulate women by telling them they were “uptight” if they didn’t want to go skinny-dipping. I remember telling some guy in San Francisco that I wasn’t taking my clothes off and I saw through his act. I lived in a commune in Denver and it was well-organized, clean, everyone paid what they needed to per month for food and rent. People sewed and made clothes and one person cooked simple meals. It was really nice. The one in California had too many goofy older guys living there who had no moral compass. They really ruined that one. I’m still the same person that I was then and am a pacifist and believe in raising my own food and living clean. I still believe in love.

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