I hate the downside of summer as much as anyone. The heat. The humidity. Heat indexes off the charts.
I have also come to have a strong dislike for the meteorologists who stand at their weather maps with the dazzling displays of incoming low fronts or stalled high fronts and wrap up the forecast for another week of high temperatures and oppressive humidity with a dismissive: “It’s the dog days of summer.”
The term goes back to Ancient Greece and Rome. Astrologically attuned to the heavens, the Greeks and Romans noticed that the star Sirius (dog) rose with the sun in the hot days of summer, and linked the star and heat. In Anglo-Saxon times, the “dog days of summer” ran from July 14- September 5. The Old Farmer’s Almanac says July 3-August 11.
And on behalf of Tippy, Topsy, and Taffy, “Honeybubs” (long story), Toby, and Tinker Bell, Tracy, Tuppence, and Mr. Buttons, the dogs that have so enriched my 94 years, not forgetting my current Cocker Spaniel, Winston, I have to protest the calling of the worst days of summer “dog days.”
Dogs deserve better.
All 76,811,305 of them. That’s the number listed by the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, which notes that almost 50 million households own a dog. (That’s 38.4 percent for the statistically minded.) How much we care for (and about) them may be deduced from the $95.7 billion we spent on them in 2019 for food, medicines, supplies, veterinary care, grooming, and boarding, according to the American Pet Products Association. The estimated total for 2020 is $99 billion. If you’re not up on your Department of Defense prices, $75.38 billion will get you two of the new Gerald R. Ford-class nuclear aircraft carriers.
Our love of dogs is truly writ large.
Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, was clear: “Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House.”
The great majority of presidents have had dogs. George Washington, in fact, is not only the father of our country but of the American Foxhound. He imported some Foxhounds from England, and then the Marquis de Lafayette gave him some French hounds for breeding.
Theodore Roosevelt had a veritable menagerie, many of them his children’s dogs, but the leader of the Rough Riders, not surprising for such an outsized figure in our history, had a typically outsized dog — a Saint Bernard, named Rollo. (His son Kermit’s Manchester Terrier, Blackjack, is reported to have ripped the pants of a French ambassador.)
Although he, too, met many a dignitary, Fala, the Scottish Terrier that was a gift to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, apparently was better mannered and became far more famous. Certainly, he was photographed often enough. Today, Fala may still be seen keeping his master company, this time sitting a few feet from him in the National Memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the nation’s capital — the only pet ever represented in a presidential memorial.
President George W. Bush brought another Scottie to the White House, Barney. Come Christmas time, with the help of an aide who followed with a video camera, Barney gave Americans a tour of the White House, the greens on the mantels, the fruit arrangements in the state rooms, and the big, beautifully decorated Christmas tree.
Had my black Cocker Spaniel Topsy had an aide videotaping her by the Christmas tree in our white clapboard house, it would have gone viral today. For while Topsy, a year old when I bought her with my high school graduation money, had been welcomed into the family by my parents and me, not so by my cat, Blinkee Puss. She spent most of those first summer weeks under the living room daybed. On Christmas Eve, Blinkee Puss was lying on the floor near me when Topsy approached to play … to her, a threatening move. And what does a cat do at a time like that? Look for a tree.
I can tell you, 78 years later, there was never any doubt about when she landed or how high she climbed. It gives new meaning to living Christmas tree. The branches bounced. The lights — the old red, yellow, blue, green Technicolor lights — danced. The tinsel shivered. The ornaments oscillated.
Fast forward five years. My father had been transferred. Topsy and Blinkee Puss had found a new home with a neighbor who would take both of them, because they’d grown so close no one wanted to split them up. Our Christmas tree was in a Chicago apartment. And I, now working for the Chicago Daily News, had used the bonus I received for our student press conference with President Harry S. Truman — the first, and to date, only formal press conference ever granted by a sitting President to student newspaper editors — to buy a three-month-old buff and white Cocker Spaniel puppy. He was named Taffy; understandably, his AKC papers listed him as Cavalier of Caramel.
Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, and thereby Snoopy, summed it all up nicely. “Happiness is a warm puppy.” If you prefer the more literary approach, there’s Rudyard Kipling. “Buy a pup and your money will buy love unflinching.” I offer as proof — certifiable, verifiable proof — Taffy’s second Christmas with us.
I’d suffered from pneumonia most of the fall and had only been back to work a few days when I noticed the receptionist coming through the frosted double doors to the Chicago Daily News editorial offices with a tantalizing array of beautifully wrapped Christmas presents. Sometimes his arms were filled with the gifts from people and organizations who’d dealt with the various editors, writers, and columnists during the year and wished to show their gratitude and appreciation. As the week wore on, I became all too aware that not one, as yet, was for me.
I later read that a bout with pneumonia leaves a person not only physically weakened but emotionally sensitive. I like to think that explains it. By week’s end I was on the verge of tears all the way home, and once there let them flow. My mother tried to comfort me. Taffy came over in great concern.
Then … Taffy went to the Christmas tree, surveyed the array of gifts beneath the lower branches, and finding one small enough to pick up, he turned and waddled back, sitting up (one of his best tricks) in front of me with his offering.
Well, I wasn’t that sorry for myself.
I reached down to take it. After a bit, my mother headed for the kitchen to start dinner. Then, the sadness returned, the tears. Taffy went back to the tree, selected another of the gifts and brought it over, sitting up to present it to me.
We had him for almost 16 years, and never before nor during any of the Christmases that followed did he so much as touch a present under the tree.
I still wonder at how he knew.
But he did.
Dogs do. In ways we don’t know or understand, but recognize.
“I have found,” said Doris Day, star of so many lighthearted movie comedies, “that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.”
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe in World War II — later, the 34th president of the United States — agreed wholeheartedly. He said, “The friendship of a dog is precious. It becomes even more so when one is so far removed from home …. I have a Scottie. In him I find consolation and devotion … he is the one person to whom I can talk without the conversation coming back to war.”
Some are formally called Comfort Dogs. The 23 Golden Retrievers flown to Orlando, Florida, to comfort the victims’ families following the tragedy at the Pulse club June 12, 2016, were part of a larger comfort corps — a program to provide canines for victims.
Some are Service Dogs. Who can forget the yellow Labrador who came into the home of President George Herbert Walker Bush following Barbara’s death to keep the 41st president company, watch over him. And who continued after his passing — photos without end showing him in the rotunda of the Capitol as the former president lay in state, the servicemen in their uniforms at the four corners, and Sully as close as he could still get to his master.
Others are Rescue Dogs. The death of the last surviving dog to work the site of the World Trade Center after 9/11, Bretagne, a Golden Retriever, was widely reported when she died June 6, 2016 — just shy of 17. She was two when she was deployed to Ground Zero as part of the Texas Task Force. She later helped with search and rescue in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Whatever the category of service, the role that dogs may play in our lives was key to a medical study in a PBS documentary from some years ago. Doctors had noticed that certain patients who survived a heart attack went on to live longer and more productive lives than others. Was there a reason?
Stopping to pick up a friend at the bus station, one of the doctors chanced to notice a man sitting on a bench in the waiting room, his dog seated beside him on the floor, the man stroking the dog’s head, absently, lovingly, clearly for the zillionth time. The doctor realized it was an unusual possibility. But he mentioned it to his colleagues at their next meeting. However taken aback, they’d found nothing else. They decided to check … and found their common denominator: a dog.
So forget “Dog days.” Here’s to dogs every day!
Winston seconds that.s
Featured image: Detail from “Backyard Dog Show” by Amos Sewell, from the July 8, 1950, cover of the Post (© SEPS)
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In 1874 Ulysses S. Grant was serving his second presidential term, federal Reconstruction efforts were attempting to heal the festering wounds of the Civil War, public school education was well underway, modern science was making inroads against Christian fundamentalism, and the Sunday school movement was gaining steam in churches across the land. Two gentlemen, Lewis Miller (whose daughter Mina married Thomas Edison) and John Vincent (a Methodist bishop), hoping to create an enlightened Christianity, launched a movement on the shores of Lake Chautauqua in western New York to train Sunday school teachers in religion, science, art, and music.
The Chautauqua movement grew rapidly, spreading across the nation, including circuit or tent Chautauquas, one of which visited my hometown of Danville, Indiana, each summer in the late 1800s and early 1900s, attracting twice our town’s population the week it was held. This was half a century before I was born, so I had never heard of the Chautauqua Movement until 2003, when Bay View Chautauqua near Petoskey, Michigan, invited me to speak at their annual sessions, wildly overestimating not only my speaking ability but my drawing power. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable week, they invited me to return, and I’ve since spoken at half a dozen Chautauquas around the nation, including that charming village on the shores of Lake Chautauqua where it all began some 145 years ago.
At its peak, in the mid-1920s, over 10,000 Chautauqua programs attracted 45 million people when America’s population was 116 million.
Alas, the Sunday school movement that inspired the Chautauqua movement is on life support, driven to its deathbed by declining church attendance, youth sports on Sunday morning, and the near impossibility of finding someone whose idea of a good time is arranging ark animals on a flannelgraph board. Nevertheless, the Chautauqua lives on, despite brushes with death during the Great Depression, World War II, and the 1960s, when cottages that now sell for $600,000 could be had for $5,000. They didn’t start with cottages, but with tents, then cement pads when people grew weary of camping in mud. Winding streets, sidewalks, and cottages soon followed, and now most Chautauquas feel like a Jimmy Stewart movie set from the 1940s — big, broad porches with rocking chairs, flower pots, and porch swings.
Chautauqua’s greatest challenge today is attracting people who aren’t white and well-off, a problem many American institutions face in this age of demographic changes and our heightened awareness of structural racism. The preacher of the week when I lectured was the Reverend Doctor Otis Moss III, the black senior pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, doubtless one of the finest preachers in America, who could, I do believe, persuade the devil to convert. His sermons were received each morning with standing ovations from Episcopalians, Methodists, agnostics, and Jews.
This road to inclusion has not been smooth. The Bay View Chautauqua in Michigan is still reeling from a recent divide when a significant number of cottage owners supported a 1947 bylaw forbidding non-Christians from owning a cottage, effectively blocking a Jewish woman from inheriting a cottage her Christian family had owned for generations. Fortunately, a sizable majority of residents eventually rejected the bylaw, which seems only fitting, given the religion of their Savior. That same Chautauqua, from 1942 to 1959, forbade people of color from purchasing or renting a cottage. So there is painful history to overcome.
In these days of isolation, partisanship, intolerance, and division, the Chautauquan spirit might well be the cure for what ails us.
Happily, this narrowness of spirit is rare. The vast majority of the Chautauquans I know are thoroughly committed to the ideals of justice, education, and equality. They read, study, engage, and think. They embody the best of America, and only rarely the worst. It was Theodore Roosevelt who said the Chautauqua was “the most American thing in America.” Sadly, our America includes not only moments of greatness, but also moments of meanness, and no institution is exempt.
My moment at the New York Chautauqua was surreal, having never spoken from the same dais as Ulysses S. Grant, Booker T. Washington, Susan B. Anthony, Theodore Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, and Thurgood Marshall. Franklin Roosevelt had been there too, just down the street in the Amphitheater in 1936, when 12,000 people gathered to hear his famous “I Hate War” speech. My crowd was sizable, but just when I was starting to feel self-important, I was told Chautauquans would turn out in droves to hear a book of recipes read aloud. So there is that.
It’s odd that something so historically significant is so little-known today. At its peak, in the mid-1920s, over 10,000 Chautauqua programs attracted 45 million people when America’s population was 116 million. But we were joiners then, filling our days with memberships in churches, fraternal organizations, women’s clubs, veteran’s organizations, and the like.
Those days are gone, according to Robert Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Yet the Chautauquas persevere, and are in many locations enjoying revival. Auditoriums that sat nearly empty 40 years ago now teem with people. Hundred-year-old cottages have been shored up, renovated, repainted, and are now filled with four generations of families the whole summer long.
I don’t suspect I’ll ever own a Chautauqua cottage, given the limits of my income, but I’ve fully bought in to the aims and goals of the Chautauqua movement, the conviction that our national salvation will be found in knowledge, beauty, collegiality, and community. In these days of isolation, partisanship, intolerance, and division, the Chautauqua spirit might well be the cure for what ails us. In the morning, its participants engage one another on the issues of the day without rancor or wrath, return to their cottages for lunch and a nap, then return in the afternoon to attend a workshop on, among other things, sailing, baseball, the history of Chinese pottery, 3D printing, or medicinal herbs.
In most Chautauquas, cars are discouraged, so kids ride bicycles and adults walk, which is how evenings are spent, unless one prefers porch-sitting. Televisions are permitted, but not encouraged, and the average Chautauquan is loath to admit watching it, in much the same way a Baptist would only reluctantly confess to tipping back a beer. And why would any sane person sit indoors to watch America’s Got Talent or The Voice when they could sit in a lakeside amphitheater on a pleasant summer evening and hear music so lovely it reduces one to tears.
The most compelling evidence of Chautauqua’s lure is that in the two weeks I spent at Chautauquas this summer past, I saw less than half a dozen people on their cellphones. No one was impulsively tweeting their every thought, posting pictures of their meals on Facebook, or trolling political candidates. That alone was worth the price of admission.
Philip Gulley, who writes the Post’s Lighter Side column, was finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor for his memoir, I Love You, Miss Huddleston.
This article is featured in the July/August 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
Featured image: Citadel of learning: Chautauqua’s Hall of Philosophy, built in 1874, was an open-air structure modeled after the Parthenon at Athens. It sat under a canopy of trees that shaded and cooled the Hall during the hot summer months. (Chautauqua Institution Archives)
So, let’s dive right in. Today’s topic is swimming pools. You seriously want one, right? Or you once did, or your neighbors are shaming you for not having one.
If you live anywhere south of Anchorage, you’re practically obligated to dream wistfully, if privately, of owning your very own backyard swimming pool. It’s a fundamental chunk of the American mythos: We all have iPhones, designer clothing, vacation condos, and sparkling pools. That’s patently absurd, but dreams are often spun out of such nonsense.
I’m not immune to any of it. There was a time when I wondered when I’d have a magnificent pool mere steps from my door. Growing up in the Northeast, accustomed to being smacked around by Arctic winters, my foolish fantasy was that I would one day reside in California, where, according to a million magazine photos, all my neighbors would lounge day and night beside their aquamarine pools. Toned beauties worshipping their yoga gods in and around 25,000 gallons of chlorinated water! Heavenly.
Years later, when I eventually claimed a piece of L.A. real estate, there’d be no pool. I was neither a movie star nor a celebrity agent. I had small lemon trees in my backyard. The Beautiful People would call that adorable.
Do you know what an in-ground pool actually costs these days? The ads often pitch a figure around $22,000. Ain’t gonna happen. “I’d say the bare minimum for a pool, assuming that everything is perfect and you want a really stripped-down product, is $50,000, but it usually gets up to $100,000 and beyond,” Jon Hutchings, an Atlanta pool-company owner, recently told Forbes.com.
Even so, there are about 10.4 million private pools in the U.S. That includes those eyesore above-ground models, but let’s be honest, you don’t really want one of those. Naturally, California has the most in-ground pools (Florida and Texas place second and third, respectively), but New York — not exactly notable for its sunny weather — is not far behind. I’m not sure why.
There was a time when I wondered when I’d have a magnificent pool mere steps from my door.
Given their installation and maintenance costs, and in view of what they represent, which is a kind of lofty social status, backyard pools are undeniably aspirational. Not all of us can own one. That’s the whole point! We seldom seek what is readily available to everyone. Now, I happen to know lots of people who splash merrily in their backyard pools. Good people. Kind people. Not jerks or snobs. Okay, maybe snobs, just a tiny bit. (When I was building a house in South Florida some years ago, friends in the area, knowing I was ambivalent about a pool, told me, “Of course you need to order a swimming pool! What are you, some sort of heathen?” Ultimately, there would be no pool. Conclude of me what you wish.) Thing is, backyard pools come fraught with meaning.
That matters little to me, honestly. Also, for the record, I’m not a huge fan of backstroking through urine. Even in your own pool, there will be other people’s urine because other people will, at some point, be in your water and they will pee in it. An industry study conducted last year revealed that 48 percent of people who enter pools do not shower first, and — here we go — 40 percent admit to having urinated in a pool as an adult. I assume that number is unrealistically low.
If you’re someone who feels incomplete in the absence of a personal pool, no matter the circumstances, here’s a tip: Check out Survival Condo, now under construction in Kansas. The complex, which burrows 15 stories deep into earth, will include, yes, a pool — so that you may swim laps following a nuclear attack. That’s definitely snobbish.
In the last issue, Cable Neuhaus wrote about the return of kindness.
This article is featured in the May/June 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
Featured image: Shutterstock
Oprah has made her picks for the best reads for the summer of 2019. So has the New York Times, National Public Radio, Quartz, actress Reese Witherspoon, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, and a legion of other media outlets. With temperatures soaring into the 90s, it is peak season for summer reading.
But summer reads are hardly a new phenomenon. Name any of today’s summer reading practices — indulging in escapist beach-blanket reading, sitting poolside with a best-selling paperback, browsing that table with the label of “best summer reads” at the bookstore — and you can find these practices taking shape in the 19th century. Back then, Americans flocked to railroad cars and steamboat lines to engage in the newfound practice of summer leisure and found a selection of light summer reading waiting for them at the train station and the dockside.
The Rise of Travel, Tourism, and Summer Leisure
The story of summer reading begins with the story of American summer leisure. Taking its lead from the tradition of landscape and spa tourism in Britain and Europe, domestic tourism in the United States developed in the late 1700s around places like Niagara Falls, the Hudson River, and the Catskills. Saratoga Springs in New York state attracted those in search of the health-giving promise of its mineral springs, and Newport, Rhode Island, had attracted planters from the southern states and the West Indies with the promise of temperate summer weather.
The pace only increased in the decades that followed. By the 1830s, Ethan Allen Crawford had begun guiding travelers up Mount Washington on horseback. Wealthy Bostonians had adopted the community of Nahant, just north of the city, as a place to escape the oppressive summer heat. And by the 1850s, Maine’s Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor had drawn artists and rusticators to the island’s rocky shores.
After the Civil War, that market for summer leisure expanded exponentially. The new wealth of the post-Civil War period broadened the customer base for lavish experiences of summer leisure — witness the appearance of the grand resort hotels along the New England shoreline and in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. So too did the expansion of the railroad. Between 1865 and 1915, the U.S. railroad network increased sevenfold, making fortunes for some of the period’s most successful industrialists and propelling, among other changes, the large-scale development of summer resorts. A promotional brochure from the early 1890s for the Poland Spring resort in Maine tells much of this story. By 1890s, Poland Spring was famous for its mineral water. It was also within easy reach of a web of major rail lines in the Northeast, including two lines from Montreal, one of which passed through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and another that connected Poland Spring to the popular resort of Bar Harbor.
The period also saw the birth of a new middle class of small business owners, government workers, white-collar clerks, and school teachers who increasingly sought summer leisure as a marker of social distinction. By 1893, the year of the Chicago World’s Fair, the summer leisure industry was so widespread that even when the editors of Appleton’s Illustrated Handbook of American Summer Resorts limited themselves to listing only the major resorts, the guidebook still included 130 different areas of note. In fact, the editors of the Appleton volume acknowledged, “There is scarcely a village or a hamlet in the New England and Middle States, twenty miles distant from a city that is not more or less visited in the summer and to this extent a ‘summer resort.’ ”
The Invention of Summer Reading
No matter how many people took to the mountains or the seashore, though, summer reading as a category was not inevitable. Light reading — reading for pleasure rather than instruction — was suspect. Warning his congregants about the dangers to their immortal souls, a prominent Brooklyn preacher condemned light summer reading as “literary poison in August.” The social whirl of the summer resort didn’t lend itself to the solitary act of reading either. In 1877, in fact, Publishers’ Weekly, the industry’s major trade publication, warned book sellers that summer was “usually a dull time” and that they needed to do more to “push” light reading.
And push they did. To compete with the period’s pirate publishers who flooded the market with cheap paperback fiction, long-established publishers brought out their own paperback series with names that capitalized on the summer season. Appleton had its Town and Country Library, Cassell’s its Sunshine Series, and Houghton Mifflin its Camping Out Books. There was a Satchel Series, a Saunterer’s Series, and in the case of one newspaper, a 100-Degrees in the Shade Summer Fiction series.
Continuing with the marketing efforts that would reshape the literary marketplace, publishers put the label “summer reading” on advertisements for whatever books they had on hand — a backlist title, a steady-seller, a novel by a popular author. And in copy they most likely provided to news outlets themselves, they promoted specific titles as best picks for “idle summer days” or perfect for “the mountains or the seashore” or the talk of the summer resort.
In the pages of the period’s taste-making monthly magazines — Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly, The Century — summer novels became ways to fill up the vacant hours at a resort or protect against the boredom of rainy days. Not demanding too much attention, they were excellent company on long rides in Pullman cars. Episodic in structure, the best summer novels could be picked up and put down without losing the thread as other activities at resorts beckoned. And if these books were in paperback, all the better, noted The American Bookmaker. After all, paperbacks “have a cool and summery look, and from their flexibility may be readily stowed away in one’s pocket or thrust into an unfilled corner of a travelling bag.” They also adapted themselves “to every conceivable reading attitude, from bolt upright to the recumbent position assumed on a sofa or lounge, or in a steamer-chair, hammock or bed, or stretched out on a greensward or sandy beach.”
In short, taking aim at a criticism that equated novel reading with the sensational and the sinful, publishers worked to reframe — and repackage — “light summer reading” as a genteel act, a welcome escape from the pressures of 19th-century life, and an essential middle class pleasure.
The American Summer Novel
The book industry even introduced a new genre: the novel set specifically at a popular summer resort. Providing destination reading for readers at such resorts and vicarious pleasures for those who stayed home, these novels had plots built around resort activities — buckboard rides and picnics at Bar Harbor, going to the races at Saratoga Springs, taking part in a coaching parade in the White Mountains — letting them double as vacation guidebooks. Perhaps most important, with young women as their protagonists, the plots of many of these novels ended with marriage proposals and the promise of a wedding.
|Cover of One Summer written by Blanche Willis Howard and illustrated by Augustus Hoppin, published by James R. Osgood and Company in 1878||Flirtations of a Beauty by Laura Jean Libbey, published by Norman L. Munro in 1890|
Curiously, too, the genre attracted the attention of some of the most popular authors of the day. Laura Jean Libbey, the prolific and wildly successful author of paperback working-girl novels, used summer life in Newport, Lenox, and Long Branch as the settings for three of her novels. William Dean Howells, one of the period’s most prominent and prolific authors, used resort settings in more than a dozen of his novels. After the international success of The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane tried his hand at a novel with a summer setting in The Third Violet. Mary Virginia Terhune, one of Scribner’s most popular authors who wrote under the pen name of Marion Harland, offered the publishing house her own take on the summer novel, this one set at a grand resort hotel on Mackinac Island, which Terhune had recently visited. The book ought to have “a fair summer sale,” Terhune told Scribner’s, and she could produce it quickly.
Those fair summer sales continue today. The summer reads of 2019 may come with hashtags (#TonightShowSummerReads) and audiences who vote online. Their covers may appear on Instagram and recommendations may be found increasingly on book blogs and podcasts. But their roots remain in the 19th century.
This article is based on the author’s book, Books for Idle Hours: Nineteenth-Century Publishing and the Rise of Summer Reading (2019) from the University of Massachusetts Press.
Featured image: Idle Hours by William Merritt Chase, circa 1894 (Wikimedia Commons, Amon Carter Museum of American Art)
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How best to sum up an acid-inflected, flower-powered, whirligig of a long-ago summer in San Francisco? How to understand the lasting impact of that summer, which took root in a full-on Age of Aquarius neighborhood and blossomed into a counterculture that splattered across the planet?
Perhaps it’s fitting to begin by describing its final day.
On October 6, 1967 — exactly one year after California lawmakers voted to ban the drug LSD — several hundred young bohemians gathered in the City by the Bay for what had been advertised as “The Death of the Hippie” funeral. Surviving film footage depicts a surprisingly carnival-like atmosphere. There was dancing in the streets. Someone played “Taps.” Sullen pallbearers carried aloft a large coffin that bore a single inscription: “Hippie, Son of Media.”
And that, ladies and gents, is how — officially and weirdly — the so-called Summer of Love concluded. Groovy.
The woman who organized the mock funeral, Mary Kasper, explained that following a season of merriment, music, confusion, and ultimately chaos in the streets of her city’s Haight-Ashbury district, “we wanted to signal that this was the end of it … don’t come here because it’s over and done with.”
Where once The Haight was iridescent with tie-dyed fabrics, colorful blooms, psychedelic storefronts, and a heady pharmaceutical culture, it had become, by October of ’67, a gritty tourist attraction. Worse, it had devolved into a magnet for thieves who’d descended from all around to prey on the vulnerable longhairs who had overstayed their welcome.
The Summer of Love, as initially conceived, was a brilliant marketing scheme. It was intended from the outset to be a convulsion of music, sex, and radical nonconformism. Come to The Haight to “turn on, tune in, drop out,” as Timothy Leary, the high priest of West Coast psychedelia, often exhorted his acolytes.
So, you might fairly ask, was the allure for young Californians the easy access to mind-altering drugs and sex?
Or the throbbing psychedelic music?
Or was it the gathering of the district’s anti-Vietnam War activists?
Against the backdrop of a country in turmoil, here would be an aphrodisiacal admixture that some 100,000 people would find too tempting to pass up.
The whole thing sprang to life easily enough in the vibrant tapestry of The Haight, but by the time of the symbolic Hippie Funeral, the Summer’s mixed-up, mixed-media message had wafted across America and far beyond. The hippieverse had metastasized into a veritable, if not universally embraced, worldwide phenomenon.
From New York to London to parts of Asia, the hippie lifestyle was observed by onlookers with a combination of amusement and condemnation. It was a thing of kaleidoscopic beauty, to be sure, but some also thought it was a thing reeking of despair.
Today, 50 summers on, the questions remain: “What the hell was that all about? Was it, like, too far-out, bro?”
Those were the first questions I put to Dan Lewis, a Northwestern University social-policy professor and proud former hippie. Lewis will oversee the school’s Summer of Love Conference, taking place this July in San Francisco. “Over the years, I’ve been trying to make sense of that period,” Lewis told me when we talked. “There have been all these snarky, nasty, make-fun-of-kids-who-were-stoned people,” he said with an undisguised tone of contempt.
No matter what you may think of the Summer of Love, said Lewis, who runs Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement, what happened during that brief season has had a lingering influence on our way of life. For example, it led to the development of Silicon Valley.
Excuse me? You heard that right. According to Professor Lewis, some of the research (not his) that will be presented at the conference will trace “a lot of early thinking about information and communal groups and how that evolved into the Whole Earth Catalog, and then the internet, and then into cyberculture and eventually Silicon Valley.” The hippies are to blame for our smartphones! Well, sort of. And for the record, Lewis swears he no longer drops acid.
Actually, without too much of a stretch, you can make a pretty credible case for the argument: The deployment of social media on a global scale, pioneered by Facebook, was foreshadowed by what happened in 1967 at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets, where once stood the funky Unique Men’s Shop.
When I asked around among people who were there at the time — all of whom boasted that they still retain their hippie ideals, if not the iconic wardrobes — the underlying theme of that summer was not free love or LSD or rebellion against the distant war as expressed in the music. It was, fundamentally, a simple, sweet sense of community.
Among the astonishing catalogue of memorable songs that marked the summer of ’67 (“Good Vibrations,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “White Rabbit,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Light My Fire,” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” are but a sample), I was told over and over again that it was the Youngbloods’ “Get Together” that most perfectly captured the spirit of The Haight:
Come on people now,
Smile on your brother,
Everybody get together,
Try to love one another right now
Consider: It may have taken a while, but it was left to Mark Zuckerberg — not yet born in ’67 — to figure out how to connect latter-day hippies — and practically all other living persons — into a true worldwide community where everyone could in fact “get together.” Facebook, one might contend, is the natural evolutionary product of what the Youngbloods and their fans started.
In part because the hallucinogens raised consciousness (though not always mental acuity), hippies left us other gifts besides their remarkable music. The notion of recycling, for example. Scott Guberman, who plays in a Bay Area band with Phil Lesh of The Grateful Dead, told me that “the idea of recycling garbage came from the Summer of Love. The hippies were always concerned about sustainable living.” The whole organic movement, too, according to Guberman. But wait, there’s more. Credit the hippies for yogurt’s success in America because, Guberman told me, they “popularized” the treat.
It’s somewhat easier to link the lifestyle of the hippies to medical research now under way to use hallucinogens to help people quit smoking, break free of addictions, overcome depression, and more. For a long time, as a backlash to the recreational uses of these drugs, it was very difficult to get access to them for such research, but in recent years, that’s been changing. According to The New York Times, for example, such reputable institutions as New York University and Johns Hopkins University are studying the potential of psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, to help terminal cancer patients face up to and accept their mortality.
If, in 1967, hippies “perceived these illegal drugs as a sacrament which was taken to achieve spiritual enlightenment,” as William Schnabel wrote in his book Summer of Love and Haight, they could never have imagined how legalized forms of these same substances would one day be sought by thousands of ailing patients. The apothecary that was The Haight helped give birth to these important scientific breakthroughs.
It also, unfortunately, led to serious issues with abuse of opioids. Sheila Weller, who has written extensively about the Summer of Love in Vanity Fair, said to me in a text message that “the mindset has endured a lot. … Taking drugs became hip, and the kids who could rebound and go back to their lives and their educations were the middle- and upper-class kids. The lower-class kids have spawned a second or third generation of opioid addicts.”
Lost in all of this is a small but telling irony. A free clinic that opened in The Haight in 1967 — it was designed to help heroin addicts — has recently been absorbed into a multimillion-dollar medical conglomerate named (wait for it) HealthRIGHT 360. Very corporate.
In many ways, the ’60s was a pivotal decade in American history — let’s just stipulate to that point and move on — but 1967 was the year of ultimate highs (pun intended). The celebrating and the innovating were likely connected, less by networking than by LSD and the Panama Gold grass, which could be easily had at the “happenings” and “Be-ins” in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.
“All the creativity, the experimentation, the music — hell, ’67 was when we saw the rise of FM free-form radio and its influence,” Neal Mirsky, a longtime rock-radio program director, told me when we sat down to discuss the era. “It’s the first time we even looked at popular music as art. It was just such a transformational time in a lot of ways.”
The Haight, not surprisingly, was a sort of ground zero for all that. Writing not long ago about a concert that occurred one night in the neighborhood’s famed Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco Chronicle critic Joel Selvin observed, “Everybody who found their way there knew how wonderful the whole thing was and immediately embraced everybody else as fellow members of a special secret society.”
Vivian Murray, who was a high school kid hanging in The Haight during the summer of ’67, remembers that, for her crowd (and presumably Janis Joplin, who briefly lived in the same apartment building), the Summer of Love was driven not so much by utopian ideals but rather by an inchoate urgency to break away from The Man. In essence, to join that special secret society. “It was just our way of gaining freedom. The music scene had a huge effect. We’d escape into that.”
Alas, Murray, who went on to work a series of jobs, including in property management, doesn’t think the spirit of that summer will ever be resurrected. “We were into peace and love. Today’s kids are into video games: action, violence!”
In an effort to hold on to those memories, Murray maintains a Summer of Love shrine in her Washington State home — a room decorated with period furnishings and art. “And I still have my hippie beads,” she told me proudly. Old hippies die hard.
Witness Joe Tate, who was lead guitarist in Salvation, a psychedelic rock band that performed around San Francisco in the ’60s. Tate, who today continues to dress “like an unkempt hippie,” currently lives north of the city, in Sausalito. He boasted, “I still feel the same way about everything. I didn’t turn into a conservative. I see injustices every day.”
“Any chance of a hippie resurgence someday?” I asked. Unlike Vivian Murray, Tate is decidedly optimistic. “It could happen,” he said. Turns out he’s one among probably many thousands who’d welcome a hippie redux. When a British-based group organized for the purpose of celebrating the Summer of Love’s 50th anniversary — there are scores of such groups, thanks to the internet — it posted all its plans. On Facebook, of course. The final agenda item was an immodest throwback to 1967: “Save the world.”
Cable Neuhaus writes about popular culture for the Post and other publications.
This article is featured in the July/August 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.