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May 22, 2014

Four images shaped memorable summer of '69

DUNCAN — Forty-five years have passed. During that span, many of us of a certain age have seen better and we’ve seen much, much worse.

But for anyone who was alive and paying attention in the summer of 1969, four images are branded in our memory:

 A wooden bridge in Massachusetts.

 A foot coming down and an American flag going up on the surface of the moon.

 A bloody message, “Death to Pigs,” smeared on a wall in a Hollywood mansion.

 A hillside at Max Yasgur’s farm in up-state New York, littered with a half-million happy Baby Boomers and Beat Generation members, and lord knows how many tons of trash.

These were four separate-but-equal moments of historic impact, which have become the images of a fleeting period between July 19 and Aug. 17, 1969.

The summer of ’69 was a time of unforgettable events that brought the celebration of the tumultuous ’60s into focus, and ushered the nation and the world into a future where some things changed and some stayed the same.

Forty-five years ago, it was the Summer of Peace, Love and Heartache; when the old line from Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities seemed true: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

July 19 was the worst of times for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. After a night of partying, he drove his car off that wooden bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, drowning a young campaign worker and ending forever EMK’s chances for the presidency.

Kennedy’s handling of the situation was a stark reminder of both human frailty and how power corrupts — a lesson human beings still haven’t mastered. It became the standard of politicians and public figures refusing to accept personal responsible, which 45 years later has become a cynical art form.

Nine years before, Teddy’s brother, John F. Kennedy, challenged the nation to set the goal of having a man on the moon before the end of the ’60s.

On July 20, 1969, the challenge was answered with spine-tingling, wide-eyed joy. All over our planet, people sat mesmerized and watched a grainy TV broadcast of Neil Armstrong stepping down from The Eagle and kicking up some moon dust. A short time later, Buzz Aldrin also dropped to the surface and saluted Old Glory.

If the moon walk was a utopian example of human achievement, it didn’t take long to be reminded of the human capacity for complete disregard for sympathy and empathy, and our capability for anti-utopian sociopathy.

On Aug. 9 and Aug. 10, a gang of rootless groupies under the control of a disturbed wanderer named Charles Manson broke into two mansions in the Hollywood Hills. They shot, stabbed and bludgeoned to death seven people, including the pregnant actress Sharon Tate.

Many in the counter-culture movement never saw Manson as one of them, and they believe the Manson Family’s murderous rampage was the antithesis of the 1960s. Still, some historians insist the garish Manson murders were the final nail in the coffin of hippiedom.

But was that the case?

Not in the schizophrenic Summer of ’69.

See, while the legalities of the Manson murders were beginning to play out, in Woodstock, New York, the utopian vision rose again.

From Aug. 15-17, an incredible weekend of rock ‘n’ roll, sex, drugs, communalism, tribalism and all sorts of other “isms” came together for three days. During that long weekend, Baby Boomers and Beat Generation folks proved, as Wavy Gravy told the assembled throng, “There’s always a little bit of heaven in a disaster.”

Woodstock became an instant myth because of what it did not do, despite the predictions. It did not collapse into an anarchistic ritual of violence, destruction and rampaging hippies. Though it was a “disaster area,” people were kind toward one another. It’s said there was not even so much as a fist fight.

Woodstock said, “The kids are all right. Maybe we’re going to survive, after all.”

It’s a theme we continue to wonder about 45 years later. Four and a half decades after Chappaquiddick, the moon walk, Manson and Woodstock, we still live in the shadows of the 1960s. It isn’t that they’re recurring, it’s that we’ve never really left them.

And as the summer of ’69 proved, that’s both good and bad.

(580) 255-5354, Ext. 128

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Should the date for The World's Largest Garage Sale be changed from the third weekend in July to sometime in October to take advantage of cooler weather like we had this past weekend?

No. It's better in the summer cause kids are out of school.
Yes. More shoppers would come during nice fall weather.
Either time is fine.

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