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Backstory of “The Hippies” Exhibit


Backstory of “The Hippies” Exhibit

At first, the research at the Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library (the Annex) for “The Hippies” exhibit was routine. But, because nothing can be checked out from the Annex, I was soon tiring of photographing all pages of possible interest. Then I started reading C. James Wall’s The Alternate Society--Morning Star and Fountain Grove--Will the “Establishment” Let You Be Different? (1970). This was an inquiry unit/proposal to the Board of Education for a course of study (at Piner High School) which was rejected since drug usage was to be discussed.  It was also a superior piece of writing and research including taped interviews with all the key players of the Morning Star Ranch legal battles—Lou Gottlieb Morning Star owner, Richard Rath 5th District County Supervisor, Assistant D. A. John W. Hawkes and Narcotics Officer Paul Stefani. 

As a former NYC TV news researcher I was tantalized by locating C. James Wall who was nowhere to be found on any search engines to which I had access.  Many local calls later I connected with Cindy Brennan the HR Director for the Santa Rosa Schools who is a genealogy fanatic. She offered to search the archived files on her own time to see if she could find anyone to contact on my behalf. 

After a few weeks she gave me his full name and said if I googled it I might find phone numbers which I did.  On my second call I reached the man, now 85 and delighted that anyone cared enough about what he had written over 45 years ago to track him down. 

C. James told me that copies of the reel-to-reel tapes were at the Piner High School library where the library technicians did what turned out to be a fruitless search.  Sadly that library, as well as the Press Democrat’s, is no longer run by librarians and as a result the value of the libraries as research venues has suffered. I called C. James again who very generously and with great faith agreed to send us his reel-to-reel tapes.  They were transferred into MP3 format and returned to him along with a CD of the interviews.  We were delighted and so was he.

 Excerpts of these tapes can be heard in the back room of “The Hippies” exhibit at the West County Museum (Th-Su, 1-4 PM).

Also in my research phase I made numerous attempts to get information from the Sheriff’s Department, The District Attorney’s office and the Board of Supervisors about these events of fifty years ago.  The Sherriff’s Department had no comment on the events of the past. The Board of Supervisors did provide me with the public meetings’ minutes for the date ranges I requested.  But, at that time there were both public and private meetings. Interestingly, not one word about the very volatile public issues of Morning Star and Lou Gottlieb in which the Board of Supervisors was actively involved appear in the minutes of the public meetings. Minutes were not kept of the private meetings. All meetings of the Board are now public. The DA’s office told me they would help me if I had case numbers but probably had no information on anything that old and any such documents would be at the Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library (the Annex) which they were. The Annex is a truly great resource for the written history of this county. Many thanks to Katherine J. Rinehart and Simone Kremkau for their invaluable help.

As I morphed into my role as exhibit designer in a small and Historic Building, the railroad depot in Sebastopol which houses the West County Museum, I was faced with some interesting challenges since I could put neither nails nor screws in the walls.  Thanks to numerous varieties of double stick tape and picture molding hooks I prevailed and the exhibit is mounted!  There is much to see and hear about the historic Hippie days of west Sonoma County in that little old railroad depot— photos, a timeline, artwork, clothing, books, music, jewelry, audio and video from the time and even an opportunity to record your favorite hippie memories.

Sue Pekarsky Gary, Co-Curator 

The Hippies Redux

By Erin Sheffield

The Hippies are invading Sonoma County again!  With the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in Haight-Ashbury  in San Francisco coming up, the West County Museum in Sebastopol is mounting an exhibit “The Hippies” that will open October 30th.  The curators, Erin Sheffield and Sue Gary are collecting memaorabilia from the Hippie elders in our midst to recreate the environment that these rebels against consumerism and conformity built in the forests of Graton and Occidental 1966-1973.

Lou GottliebMorning Star Ranch in Graton was owned by Lou Gottlieb, the bassist of The Limeliters a hit folk group of the 60’s.  He opened his property to all, and refugees from the Haight quickly settled in. They built their own shacks, lived without electricity and often clothes, exchanged the work ethic for the ethics of living in nature in a state of “voluntary primitivism.”  Sex and drugs, particularly pot and LSD, but guitars rather than rock ‘n roll ,were freely enjoyed by the denizens, but not by all their neighbors.  The County Sheriff and Health Department became involved after vociferous complaints, and after many fines and much legal maneuvering by Gottlieb trying to keep his commune open, the County bulldozers destroyed the huts, and the now homeless hippies were forced to relocate.

Some moved to Morning Star East in New Mexico, but others to a few miles away in Occidental, where Bill Wheeler felt that he had enough land to share, and the hippies moved in. The land was free to all, but the living was too free for a neighbor who felt that the lifestyle was a threat to his children. Again, after legal action, the bulldozers moved in, and the hippie commune era in Sonoma County came to an end.

On Sunday, October 30, the quarterly meeting potluck luncheon of the Western Sonoma County Historical Society will be held at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts/Veterans Building on High Street at 12:30 PM.  After a short business meeting, Society members and the general public will be treated to “A Hippie Happening” to celebrate the kick-off of the opening of “The Hippies” at the Museum.  The first resident of Morningstar will be joined by others who will trade memories and anecdotes about their experiences prompted by photos of the time.  The author and producer of Morning Star, a musical play, Nick Alva, will entertain with with some numbers from the show.  The Curator of History of the Sonoma County Museum Eric Stanley, and Professor Greg Castillo from U.C. Berkeley will offer remarks on the cultural and historical aftereffects of the hippie movement nationwide.  Please being a dish to share and your own table service and beverage.

For more information, call 707- 829-6711