Authentication of a Reminiscence

In 1980 I visited Gladys Hansen who was then the chief of the San Francisco History Room in the old Main library on Larkin Street. Gladys watched over her domain like a mother hen and I always had a sense that she thought of these as her personal papers. In fact, the collection I had perused the most was what she called her “hippie papers.” At that time, the special collections room was situated in the most out-of-the way furthest corner on the top floor of the library—away from nearly all normal patron traffic. It was a well-kept secret in those days. Even now, in the new Main library which was built across the street, the SF History room is little known and used. But that just adds to its mystique. For it is truly a real archival institution, with all the attendant procedures and protocols that rare book rooms evoke. Gladys is long retired from the Library but her legacy lives on, as will be seen in this present story.

In 1980, I had been coming to visit Gladys and her special collections for several years, in search of Digger and Communication Company street sheets and counterculture ephemera. On this particular occasion, I had a question for Gladys about Ringolevio, the book that Emmett Grogan had written and published in 1972, and which tells the story of the San Francisco Diggers. On the Acknowledgments page, Emmett had listed Gladys as the first of several librarians he wished to recognize for their assistance in the researching and writing of the book.

On that day in 1980, I asked Gladys about the acknowledgment which Emmett had written to her. As was (and still is) my wont, I scribbled down her response into my pocket notebook: “She got a call from the publisher asking for what they had (or maybe already knowing) and then asking her to microfilm the scrapbooks. She did this and the publisher paid for it. That’s all she did with the book. She didn’t speak to Emmett. The publisher was very happy—said this was the only place that could supply them with these clippings. (Aug 2 1980)”

hansen ringolevio scrapbooks 3-mod

I had totally forgotten about this reminiscence in the intervening years. In fact, I had somehow assumed that Emmett had spent time visiting Gladys and her “hippie” collection personally. Then, this morning I was preparing to head off to a workshop put on by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute that was to take place in the SF History Room. The event was quite intriguing. It was a show-and-tell by the librarians of some of the archival materials that David Talbot used in writing his history of San Francisco in the 1970s, Season of the Witch. Before leaving for the event, I was in the archives room rearranging one of the file cabinets when I happened upon that pocket notebook and then happened to turn to that exact page with the notation of Gladys’ answer about Ringolevio. This simple notation told me that I had been misstating the story of Emmett’s involvement with Gladys and her special collections lo these many years.

When the librarian who led the tour of the archives (Christina Moretta) took us into the special viewing room, she had laid out samples of the archival collections that Talbot had used in writing his history of 1970s San Francisco. There on the first table was a thick scrapbook with clippings from the two San Francisco daily newspapers in the 1960s and 70s: the San Francisco Chronicle and the Examiner. The embossed title on the spine of this notebook read: “Hippies Vol I.” It turns out there are two volumes.

Here, finally, was the authentication of that long-ago reminiscence which had surfaced amazingly this very morning. This was one of the scrapbooks that Gladys Hansen had microfilmed for Emmett’s publisher and that Emmett used in writing Ringolevio. Below is a photo of Christina Moretta, our tour leader in the SF History Room special collections room. And on the table can be seen the scrapbook with its clippings, Hippies Vol. I.


This whole episode—stumbling across a notation now almost 36 years old on the very day that its reminiscence would be validated—reminds me of a quote that has stuck with me always since I first read it many decades ago:

To authenticate a reminiscence, to ferret out small facts and make large inferences, to see connections, to ambulate mentally — these are the tasks of detectives who work with books. The wider their frame of reference and the keener their skills, the more productive their detection. They need two guardians as well: a firm and unwavering skepticism at their right hand and the Prince of Serendip at their left. Then their adventures will be all but limitless, for the books that possess them are the record of life itself.—Adventures of a Literary Sleuth by Madeleine B. Stern

ComCo/NY new items for the archive

One of the early SF Diggers was recently going through her personal archives and came across these two street sheets from the Communications Company/New York and generously donated them to The Digger Archives. These are rare items—there is no collection of ComCo/NY items as far as I am aware. Communications Company / New York was started by Jim Fouratt (known at the time as Jimmy Digger) in 1967, inspired by the operation model that Chester Anderson and Claude Hayward had started in January, 1967, in San Francisco (which was called Communication [no “s”] Company). Both groups published street sheets that document the early history of the Digger movement.

If anyone has Digger materials in their personal files and are considering their fate, please consider donating to The Digger Archives.


The sheet (below) announces the wedding of Anita and Abbie Hoffman in Central Park on June 10, 1967.


Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People

declaration_1649-mod-5-800pxThis is a photo of the cover of what I call the Second (English) Digger Manifesto, published in 1649, and laying out the vision of their communal enterprise:

That our hearts begin to be freed from slavish fear of men, such as you are; and that we find Resolutions in us, grounded upon the inward law of Love, one towards another, To Dig and Plough up the Commons, and waste Lands through England; and that our conversation shall be so unblameable, That your Laws shall not reach to oppress us any longer, unless you by your Laws will shed the innocent blood that runs in our veins.

Read more at: the English Diggers page on the Digger Web, the English Diggers Writings, and the Second Digger Manifesto (the above image).

This is a photo I took on my last trip to New York City when I brought Billy Murcott to the NY Public Library Special Collections at the Fifth Avenue main branch. They have one of the few remaining copies in existence.


Remembering Stephen Gaskin

Stephen Gaskin
Stephen Gaskin

Stephen Gaskin passed from this plane of existence two weeks ago. Several people on the Free Family Union list serve posted their remembrances. Here’s mine:

I attended a couple Monday Night Class sessions at the old Playland/Family Dog hall in 1969. Stephen Gaskin was the spiritual guide for this group of 100s that congealed around his psychedelic philosophic meanderings. I was usually stoned and chanting OM was a favorite part of the evening’s activities. <g>

Then in 1970 when I was living with the original group that bought the Ortiviz Farm in the Huerfano Valley, we decided everyone had to go find straight jobs to earn enough to pay off the balloon payment that was coming due. I left in the middle of winter and ended up joining The Caravan in its clockwise circle tour of the USA, ending up back in San Francisco early 1971 at Sutro Park overlooking the breakers of Ocean Beach where Stephen announced that “they” (whoever they were) had decided to leave the City again to find a permanent place to settle down. (Which would end up being The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee.)

My attraction was to the new custom that Stephen had introduced of “four marriage” — the close relationship that he had with Michael, along with Ina May and Margaret offered a semblance of openness to a young queer man like myself at the time. But after 1000s of miles on the road in that caravan of 50+ converted school buses, it became clear that homosexuality had no place in the Caravan’s “four marriages” which seemed all too much like a hip version of wife swapping. So when Stephen announced their return to the road, I decided it was time to find that job which had propelled me out of the bliss of adobe living in the first place.

Before the Caravan left again that spring of 1971, Stephen took everyone to the Zen Center for the ritual chanting of the Diamond Sutra and I will always owe him a debt of gratitude for his introducing Susuki Roshi whose twinkling eyes with secret messages of cosmic harmony still come to me in moments of silent introspection.

Suzuki Roshi at the San Francisco Zen Center

Heady Daze


Recent addition to the Digger Archives. Haven’t figured out where to place this in the site yet. ComCo (most likely) printed this. The reverse side had the following instructions:


This was March, 1967. Optimism abounding.

Death of Hippie Parade


This photo just showed up, taken Oct  6 1967 as the Death of Hippie Parade was winding its way through the Haight after starting out from Buena Vista Park and ending up with the coffin containing artifacts of the media-hyped “hippie” culture burned in ritual observance.

I’ve seen various photos of this Digger event, but never one from this perspective. It appears that Linn (aka Freeman) House is in the front row of the marchers. (White shirt, white pants, and likely wearing sneakers.) Freeman arrived in the Haight-Ashbury in the summer of 1967 after Chester Anderson convinced him that the Communication Company would be at his disposal for any printing ventures he wanted to undertake. Freeman left New York where he had been editing Innerspace Magazine, and by the time he arrived in San Francisco, the ComCo Gestetners had been pressed into service for the newly named Free City Collective. The “wonderful machines” that Chester and Claude had originally acquired through their good offices with Ramparts Magazine were set up in the basement of Willard Street where Freeman and David Simpson would go on to edit the Free City News sheets and broadsides over the next six months.

Freeman House, along with Peter Berg and others, became an important catalyst for the Bioregional Movement which had evolved in part out of the Diggers. Freeman was one of the collective group responsible for developing the model of watershed restoration in their work on the Mattole River in northern California.

Even to today, the term “hippie” is disputed by many of those who were at the birth of the Haight-Ashbury counterculture that spread out in the coming months and years after the events of 1966 onwards. On the other hand, there is a group in the Haight who lead walking tours of the neighborhood who are proud to call themselves hippies. The Diggers’ objection to the word was that it was a media-contrived term, slightly derogatory in its etymology, and a handle that “straight” America could use to stigmatize a generation. The purpose of the “Death of Hippie” event was to announce the birth of Free people instead.

New Year’s Wail (1967)

New Year's Wail (1967)

Just received this photo and made a high quality scan. It’s a UPI photo from 1967. The original caption states: “Frisco’s Hippies | For three hours, 2,000 ‘hippies’ had a wild time in Golden Gate Park recently. Folk and rock and roll music was played, poetry and speeches were read in the gathering referred to as a ‘Wail.’ There was wild attire, loud music and no real trouble. Credit (UPI Photo) 2/4/67”

Even though the photo doesn’t mention the Diggers, nor the Hells Angels, nor the exact date of the event, there are several internal clues that lead me to think this was taken at the New Year’s Wail event that the Hells Angels threw in gratitude to the Diggers (for raising bail money for Hairy Henry and Chocolate George at the Death of Money Parade the previous month.) Internal clues: this is obviously not Golden Gate Park, it’s the Panhandle. Also: the term “wail” was a Digger term first used at the New Year’s Wail. There is no evidence the term “wail” was used between the date of that first “Wail” (Jan. 1, 1967) and the date on the caption (Feb 4, 1967). So my conclusion is this is a photo of the event where Chester Anderson was inspired to start The Communication Company. (He always told me that seeing the Hells Angels and Diggers together blew his mind. See Chester’s letter to his archivist written soon after this event.)

One item of interest. Look at the attire of the participants. This is months before the “Summer of Love” and most of the onlookers appear to be wearing typical 1960s college attire. Compare this photo to ones several months later in the Panhandle. The man in “wild attire” with umbrella could be considered a cultural virus in this timeline of change.