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January 14 is the dead of winter, but that date in 1967 is now widely recognized as the official start of the generation-defining Summer of Love. That's because the "Human Be-In" in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park took place that day. "Howl" poet Allen...

50 years ago, naked revelers at the 'Human Be-In' launched the Summer of Love -- in January

January 14 is the dead of winter, but that date in 1967 is now widely recognized as the official start of the generation-defining Summer of Love. That's because the "Human Be-In" in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park took place that day. "Howl" poet Allen...

50 years ago, naked revelers at the 'Human Be-In' launched the Summer of Love -- in January

January 14 is the dead of winter, but that date in 1967 is now widely recognized as the official start of the generation-defining Summer of Love.

That's because the "Human Be-In" in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park took place that day.

"Howl" poet Allen Ginsberg was there. So were City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, LSD advocate Timothy Leary, singer Janis Joplin and the band the Grateful Dead.

Oregon State University's rugby team also was part of the scene, though in their case the athletes came to the park that day to play a game against San Francisco's Olympic Club. During breaks from the scrum they watched the strange festival unfold around them: paisley-clad musicians clanging cymbals; revelers dancing in the nude; hirsute men declaiming about love from a distant stage.

Love certainly was in the air, even the squarest reporter could feel it -- and ask about it.

"We dig each other," one participant said, responding to a journalist's question. "Live communally. We are not on an ego trip, man. Ego-tripping is bad."

At one point, the makeshift loudspeaker declared: "A lost child has been delivered to the stage and is now being cared for by the Hell's Angels."

The Be-In, said co-organizer Allen Cohen years later, was designed in part "to attract reporters." Mission accomplished. Articles about the 20,000-strong festival in San Francisco, the city increasingly known as the unofficial headquarters of the hippie revolution, landed in newspapers and magazines across the country. Here's how the novelist Herbert Gold described the event for the New York Times:

[T]housands of artists, students and grokkers came together for a Gathering of the Tribes. ("Saints! Ferlinghetti! Banners! Drums! Incense! Chimes! Kandel! Rock Bands! Feathers! Candles! Flags! Ginsberg! Flutes! Heads! Leary! Families! Lovers! Snyder! Children! Heroes! Animals! Cymbals!" And of course: nude dancing, painting of bodies and poetry-reading.) The poets read or sang or chanted. The thousands enjoyed.

An idiosyncratic but nevertheless solid description of the festivities. The Snyder mentioned was celebrated Portland poet Gary Snyder.

The festival's leading lights wanted a glorious, free-wheeling outdoor party -- one with a political point that was, they believed, impossible to ignore. Offered a Be-In press release: "For 10 years a new nation has grown inside the robot flesh of the old. The night of bruted fear of the American eagle-beast-body is over. Hang your fear at the door and join the future. If you do not believe, please wipe your eyes and see."

Some of the rugby players from Oregon State and the Olympic Club wandered through the festival after their game. They knew about hippies, but few of them had much experience with the counterculture. For at least one of the athletes, the Be-In proved reality-altering. "I looked like I was from a different planet, but nobody seemed to [care]," Olympic Club player and new lawyer Michael Stepanian told author David Talbot for the 2012 book "Season of the Witch." "The sun was shining, the kids were beautiful, the music was magic. That was the beginning of my education."

The Be-In had that effect on many of the San Franciscans who stumbled upon it -- as well as on many embryonic hippies across the country who only read about the festival and decided to head for San Francisco, with flowers in their hair, later that year.

Of course, not everyone got the memo. Two years after the celebration in Golden Gate Park, Allen Ginsburg waxed inspirational about the festival while testifying as a defense witness at the Chicago Seven trial. The judge, 74-year-old Julius Hoffman, stopped him mid-peroration.

"What," he asked, "is a be-in?"

-- Douglas Perry

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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