As the summer dragged on the Haight became overwhelmed by kids, tourists and the media. Frightened parents wanted something done. Police began to aggressively enforce drug laws. The risk to dealers went up, but so did their profits. When the profits increased, the professionals came in. William Thomas, a rare Black man in the Haight Ashbury scene for years, had sold drugs under the slogan, “Superspade, faster than a speeding mind.” He never made a huge profit and everybody loved him. He was murdered in August of 1967 by drug dealers who wanted to up the price and encourage the use of stronger stuff than LSD.
The scene by the end of the summer was grim. The summer festival had become a tawdry carnival. There were too many people. They couldn’t take care of each other. Kids panhandled for loose change, undercover cops made everybody paranoid. The first topless bar opened. Tourists gawked from their busses, seeing visual proof of the own worst fears.
“Well, let’s see, we’re starting down the world famous Haight Street now, I’m going real slow, folks, and I want you to look to the left and to the right into the 2nd story windows. These are all crash pads. Look, look, look, there’s a naked girl, right there. Look at her; she’s facing you, standing right there in the window. And the people yelling, Charlie, stop the bus, I want to take a picture. I think it’s my neighbors kid.”
It wasn’t summer camp. There were no counselors to clean up and keep the linen clean. Groups like the Diggers and the Free Clinic and free legal services were overwhelmed. Kids started taking psychedelic drugs when they were suffering from some kind of hassle, some kind of loss, and had bad trips.
“I feel bad about a lot of stuff that went down in the Sixties. We were really playing with fire. There are people who just started taking it literally. I mean they got strung out on drugs and they killed themselves or other people. VD was rampant because of this great promiscuity riff that everybody run down… free love and make revolution and it really got out of hand. Too many fourteen year olds coming from Iowa, from anyplace, asking, “where’s the scene, man.”
Speed and heroin soon became drugs of choice. A career criminal named Charles Manson, just out of prison after serving his third term, formed a commune, composed mostly of young women, in the Haight.
Transplants from North Beach, left for communes, split the city, went off to live on country farms. On October 6th, 1967, little more than three months after the June 21st Be-In, they declared the death of hippie and held a final gathering in the panhandle, to bury the Psychedelic Shop sign. Lenore Kendal called it “ a very clear response to everything getting sold. And very noble. I think it was very tasteful.”
I watched the Haight Ashbury in 1967 from the safety of my three room house outside of Hoosick Falls, New York. I hadn’t used any psychedelic drugs, but I had given up drinking (except for an occasional milk and gin with my neighbor!) and smoking tobacco in favor of marijuana. People reacted to the drug in different ways: the giggling foolishness you see so often portrayed in media; others simply got tired and fell asleep; I found it focused my attention and gave me a lift during long sessions of grading student papers.
Because it was illegal, everyone who smoked crossed a line and joined the outlaws, even if only on the remotest fringes of crime. This created a sense of community among users, a sub-culture different from the dominant one. A counter culture. Unlike cocaine or heroin, marijuana was usually shared with others. Unlike speed it made people more mellow, less likely to become violent. Members of this sub group let their hair grow longer, wore looser, more colorful clothes, and began to identify more with each other than with the American mainstream, the world divided between hip and square.
Whatever mellow drug reveries people may have had in 1967, they confronted a violent reality when the shit hit the fan in 1968.