Patrick Murfin: Summer of `68 Part X

November 8th, 2011

I woke up sore as hell on Tuesday morning in the Church basement.  Even when you are 19, days of fitful sleep on a cold, hard floor will get to you.

Not that anyone slept a lot.  Coffee by the gallon in big white enamel pots boiling on the stove was the order of the day.  Sugar was in short supply.  So was milk that wasn’t powdered.  Kids who had never had a Cuppa Joe black hung on to heavy mugs with both hands.

The big event of the day was LBJ’s Birthday Party.  This was an Abbie Hoffman extravaganza to be held that afternoon at the old Chicago Coliseum

Big name musicians and speakers were advertised.  And since the event was held in a rented and paid for hall, even the most jaded of us expected that it would come off.

The kids scattered either to head for the Coliseum or Lincoln Park.  After cleanup, I headed out, too.  I jumped on the EL at the Diversey Station right across the street from the Church.

The trains were still running despite the wildcat CTA strikeI had no sense then that I was scabbing on the strike by hopping on board.

By the time I got to the Coliseum on Wabash south of the Loop, not too far from Police Headquarters at 11th and State, it was already pretty full.

The castle-like stone exterior of the Coliseum had been the facade of the infamous Libby Prison in Virginia where thousands of Northern prisoners of war perished in harsh conditions. After the Civil War, the victorious Yankees had dismantled it stone by stone and re-assembled it after the Great Chicago Fire on burned-out ground south of the Loop.

William Jennings Bryan once spoke there….

 

Inside the walls promoters built a sports arena, which also doubled, ironically enough, as a convention hall.  Democrats had assembled there in 1896 to hear William Jennings Bryan declaim his famous Cross of Gold speech.

But by this time the Coliseum was pretty rundown and only a couple of years away from demolition.  It was still used for occasional wrestling matches and as a rock concert venue and rented out on the cheap to outfits who could not afford better digs for their events, which, of course, fit the Yippies to a tee.

In Hoffman’s view it also had the advantage of putting a large crowd closer to the Convention site at the International Amphitheater at 43rd and Halsted than any permitted demonstration was able to get.

That is except for a bunch of old-time pacifists led by the Quakers who did get a permit and staged the only picketing near the Convention Hall all week with nearly 1000 participants on that very day.  Neither the Yippies nor the media paid the slightest attention to those pacifists and their demonstration has vanished from memory.

I had last been in the building in April of ’67 where it was the site of a rally following one of the biggest of Chicago’s anti-war marches.  I had seen Dr. King that day giving one of his early anti-war speeches.

The place was pretty much as I remembered it.  Except because it was a cloudy day the sun shining through holes in the roof did not dapple the crowd.

My main memory of the program was Country Joe McDonald and the Fish Cheer:

For it’s one, two, three

What are we fighting for?

Don’t ask me I don’t give a Damn!

Next stop is Vietnam

And it’s 5, 6, 7, open up the pearly gates

Well there ain’t no time to wonder why

Yippie! we’re all gonna die.

Country Joe — back in the day….

 

Phil Ochs was there, of course, and the literati from the night before—Ginsberg, Genet, Burroughs, and Southern.

How they were going to justify their press credentials after this was anyone’s guess.

Hoffman, and Dave Dellinger and Rennie Davis of the Mobe provided the oratory.

At the end comedian Dick Gregory took the stage and invited everyone over to his house on the South Side, which would take them by or near the Amphitheater.

Editor’s Note: Patrick‘s last post for The Third City was Summer of `68 Part IX….

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