In 1967 I was twenty years old, in the middle of college, and facing the Vietnam draft. So I have paid nostalgic attention to the 40th anniversary of one of the great cultural events of my generation. In the last couple of months I’ve seen television specials and read several articles on and offline about the notorious Summer of Love in San Francisco. Even the prestigious Whitney Museum of American Art has a current exhibition titled “Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era.”
In January of 1967 a “be-in” (also known as a “happening” and essentially a counterculture extravaganza) was held in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. The media attention this received brought a lot of attention to the burgeoning hippie culture in the Haight-Ashbury area of the city. This freewheeling and creative atmosphere enticed thousands of high school and college students to make the Haight-Ashbury a spring break destination. The city government’s negative reaction to the influx just focused more attention on the hippie life-style, and this just made the hippies of more interest to more young people. The leaders of the Haight formed a Council of the Summer of Love, creating yet more enticing publicity.
In May of that year Scott McKenzie released the song San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) written by John Phillips, of Mamas and Papas fame. It included the now famous refrain:
If you’re going to San Francisco,
be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…
If you’re going to San Francisco,
Summertime will be a love-in there.
Although the song was originally intended to promote the outdoor Monterey Pop Festival in June, the impact of this hit song had the Pied Piper effect of calling free-spirited young people out of their hometowns and into San Francisco. As many as 100,000 headed to the Haight and the resulting summer is now remembered for the free food, free drugs, free love and free clinics to handle the consequences of the aforementioned. Tourists flocked to the area just to see the exotic hippies.
Not surprisingly, astute postcard publishers capitalized on this phenomenon and a variety of postcards were produced in 1967 that document this unique point in time. The cards naturally celebrate drugs, sex, and rock and roll, often in the psychedelic art style that emerged in the late 1960’s.
I’ve selected a variety of cards from 1967, almost all of which were specifically produced for the San Francisco Summer of Love.
In keeping with the free-spirit attitude, the publishers rarely adhered to standard size postcards. For instance the “Welcome Hippies,” “Better Living Thru Chemistry,” and “Businessmen Going to Pot” cards are oversize black and white images. The colorful “God Grows His Own” and “Hallelujah the Pill!!” cards are square. And the entire series of Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom rock postcards are various sizes. I’ve only shown one of these for a July 1967 concert featuring The Yardbirds, The Doors, James Cotton Blues Band, and Richie Havens. Not a bad lineup!
Because of the overcrowding and the inability of the neighborhood to absorb so many people, the spirit of love, peace, and harmony didn’t survive long. Homelessness, drug abuse, and crime became major problems. At the end of the summer many who had been drawn to the area returned to their hometowns or colleges. A “Death of the Hippie” mock funeral was held in the Haight in October of 1967.
What makes the Summer of Love so significant is that these “Flower Children” and the attention that was focused on them ended up having a worldwide impact on not just the creative arts, but on social attitudes, fashion and political developments. I would even count my alternative career as a postcard dealer as one of the indirect results!
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