Monday, August 27, 2018

Murfin’s Chicago Summer of ‘68—A Foggy Night

Allen Ginsberg chanting in Lincoln Park.  A night session in the fog would be interrupted.

Note:  This is the seventh installment in my series of memoir posts about the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 and my small role in the streets action surrounding it.  In today’s episode I encounter Alan Ginsberg in a fog and other people get their heads cracked again.

It was a chilly, damp night and pitch dark by the time I made the Lincoln Park after a long walk from the Coliseum and Grant Park with a pit stop at the Mark Twain Hotel.  A thick fog rolled in off the Lake.  The later it got, the thicker it got.  There was no program, no performances, or speech making, at least where I circulated.  The crowd grew, milled around, and tried occasional chants.  The enemy—the police—were invisible behind those fog banks.   Some folks began to build barricades of park benches, picnic tables and trash cans.  That made me nervous, I moved away from them.

Not long before 11 o’clock, my attention was drawn to drumming and a flickering fire away from the main crowd.  It was further south, close to where La Salle Street turned east-west and formed the edge of the park.  My guess is that we were not far from Cardinal Cody’s mansion.  It was hard to tell.  And my memory might be faulty.

As I got close enough to see what was going on, I found a knot of maybe a couple of hundred people.  At the center, sitting cross legged and looking serene, was Allen Ginsberg chanting “Om, Om, Om, Om, Om Mani Padme Om.”  As he droned, the tension seemed to drain a bit among those surrounding him even as the moments to a sure assault ticked by.

Esquire's "special corespondents" convention week--William S. Burroughs, Terry Southern, Gene Genet, and Alan Ginsberg.  Southern drank, Ginsberg tried to bring peaceful vibes by meditation, and the fierce Genet hoped for bloody revolution. 

Ginsberg was there with a posse of writers, supposedly as observers and journalists, not demonstrators.  With him that night were the Beat novelist and junkie William Burroughs, the French playwright and novelist Jean Genet—always described in the press as the “hoodlum poet”—and the American satirist Terry Southern.  Of course, I could not have picked any of them out of a line up.  But Ginsberg was easy to recognize.

I learned later from a story that Southern published in Esquire that the band had arrived in the park not long before me after a day of drinking.

I almost forgot about the militants building those barricades behind the banks of fog.  But tension rose as 11 PM passed without apparent police action. 

I’m not sure how much time passed, but eventually I decided to head back to the Movement Center thinking that maybe the cops had decided to pass up a battle in the fog.

Once again I was wrong. Not long after I was out of the area, teargas mixed with the fog and formations of police attacked the makeshift barricades, clubs swinging.  Ginsberg and company evidently eluded the police, but under cover of that fog some of the worst beatings of the week were administered that night.  Press members, especially photographers, were singled out and attacked so successfully that I know of no pictures taken in the park that night after the attack began.  Eventually the cops once again pushed demonstrators out of the park and into the streets of Old Town.  They continued to fire tear gas in the neighborhood.  When local residents began to offer shelter to fleeing protestors, cops stormed front porches and beat them senseless on their own doorsteps. 

For the second night in a row I had missed the main battle.  When the kids straggled into the Movement Center with fresh horror stories, I began to feel like a deserter under fire. 


Next—Wednesday afternoon at the Band Shell and searching for a breakout from Grant Park.



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