Paul Kopsick of Fairfax County, Va., was helping a buddy clean out an attic in Chevy Chase, D.C., when his friend reached for a pile of tattered, rolled-up posters to stuff them in a trash bag.
Paul has been around enough old things to have acquired a certain intuition. There was something about those rolls of stiff paper that made him stay his friend’s hand. Paul saved the posters and took them home.
They were dry and brittle, but after Paul had misted them with water to relax the fibers, he was able to tease them open. Among the best preserved was a trippy illustration of a young woman’s face made from concentric orange circles and announcing a “Human Be-In,” to be held April 30, 1967, on P Street Beach in Rock Creek Park.
The poster instructed attendees to bring flowers, friends, food, instruments, children, feathers, balloons, beads and, for some reason, bananas. Far out, man. It was like a telex from the Summer of Love.
A Human Be-In was a “kind of outdoor hippie costume party,” The Washington Post helpfully explained in its story about these events. The nation’s first was held Jan. 14, 1967, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Washington got its first Human Be-In on April Fools’ Day, 1967, at P Street Beach. Wrote The Post: “The usual insignia of psychedelia were on view — the variegated clothing, the eyebrow-length bangs, the lapel button (‘Reality Is a Crutch’).”
Participants spent the day “wandering about in the warm sun, flying model airplanes and balloons, blowing soap bubbles, congregating around guitarists, giving one another little gifts — a doughnut, a jonquil, a sip of Coke — and voicing earnest sentiments about mutual trust and love.”
A “postman-poet” named Wilbur R. Jackson was there, standing on a large flat stone in the middle of Rock Creek. He told a reporter that he was confused about what a Be-In was, exactly.
“I come down and find a lot of people playing guitars, wearing what they feel like and supposedly exchanging deep thoughts, although I haven’t heard any,” he said. “They keep looking around at each other as though they’re thinking, ‘I can’t be completely crazy, because look at all these other people doing the same thing.’ ”
Richard Harrington, former Post pop music critic, said he was probably at the Be-In advertised on the poster — and plenty of others. “It was like a giant cocktail party for the counterculture,” he said. “It was a place you could be safe if you were a hippie and if you wanted to be a hippie and if you wanted to know some hippies.”
And those bananas, which were mentioned on several posters? Richard said they were probably a reference to the 1966 Donovan hit “Mellow Yellow” and also the rumored psychedelic pleasures of dried banana skins — “later proved to be sadly untrue.”
Paul is glad he was able to rescue the poster, which features the initials of the artist: SEY or SEV. “It’s a little snapshot from then,” he said.
Paul, 67, wasn’t in Washington at the time. He grew up in New York. He actually went to Woodstock — not the famed 1969 outdoor concert, but the one in 1968 held indoors in the town of Woodstock, N.Y.
Three years later, Paul was in the Army and in Vietnam.
Some of the other posters that Paul salvaged weren’t specifically related to Washington. One illustrated an uneasy progression, from a drawing of a hand delivering a peace sign and labeled “1967,” through a hand flipping the bird (“1968”), to a clenched fist (“1969”) and finally a hand holding an AK-47 assault rifle.
By then, we were a long way from the Summer of Love.
These area schools are having reunions (note that some are the Class of 1967):
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High Class of 1957 — Oct. 20-22. Email:
F.C. Hammond High Class of 1967 — Oct. 13-14. Contact Susan Wise at
High Point High Class of 1967 — Oct. 7. Contact Thomas Hill at 240-417-5484.
Richard Montgomery High all 1960s classes — Oct. 7. Contact Jimmy Swink at
Robert E. Peary High Class of 1972 — Oct. 6-8. Contact Joey Chornock (301-252-1988) or Janice (Bradshaw) Bausch (302-841-4060).
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.