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Sunday, 9 August 2009

Old Friends Die Young

Central Park Rite is Medieval Pageant

By Don McNeill
see full text
March 30, 1967
As the dawn sun gleamed off a backdrop of molded metal sky-scrapers on Easter Sunday, a medieval pageant began in the middle of Manhattan. Laden with daffodils, ecstatic in vibrant costumes and painted faces, troupes of hippies gathered on a hill overlooking Central Park's Sheep Meadow to Be-In.. By sunset, 10,000 celebrants swarmed in great rushes across the meadow, and thousands more were dispersed throughout the rest of the park. Bonfires burned on the hills, their smoke mixing with bright balloons among the barren trees and high, high above kites wafted in the air. Rhythms and music and mantras from all corners of the meadow echoed in exquisite harmony, and thousands of lovers vibrated into the night. It was miraculous.

It was a feast for the senses: the beauty of the colors, clothes and shrines, the sounds and the rhythms, at once familiar, the smell of flowers and frankincense, the taste of jellybeans. But the spirit of the Be-In penetrated beneath the senses, deep into instincts. The Be-In was tuned—in time—to past echoes and future premonitions. Layers of inhibitions were peeled away and, for many, love and laughter become suddenly fresh.

People climbed into trees and made animal calls, and were answered by calls from other trees. Two men stripped naked, and were gently persuaded to re-clothe as the police appeared. Herds of people rushed together from encampments on the hills to converge en masse on the great mud of the meadow. They joined hands to form great circles, hundreds of yards in diameter, and broke to hurtle to the center in a joyous, crushing, multi-embracing pigpile. Chains of people careened through the crowds at full run. Their energy seemed inexhaustible.
The password was "LOVE" and it was sung, chanted, painted across foreheads, and spelled out on costumes. A tall man, his face painted white, wearing a silk top hat adorned with straw flowers, wandered ethereally through the Be-In holding aloft a tiny sign reading "LOVE." . . .

Although hippies dominated the Be-In, it was by no means exclusively a psychedelic event. Many families came to join the Be-In after the Easter Parade down Fifth Avenue. Be-In posters in Spanish invited members of the Puerto Rican community. Grandmothers and executives, hippies and housewives mingled together in harmony. Three nuns appeared wearing Be-In buttons.

A young boy, a Negro, was skeptical about the hippies. He turned to his father. "But Daddy," he said, "they look so funny."

"You shouldn't say that," his father admonished, "until you know them."

(Don McNeill, an NYU student, Village Voice reporter, and 'old' friend, died at 23 in 1968).