Wrapping up a speaking engagement at a local high school, I had left some time for questions from the assembled students. The topic had been Woodstock and, since the students had been required to read “Dear Hippie … We Met at Woodstock: One Cop’s Memories of the 1969 Woodstock Festival,” there were a number of good questions about things like crowd size, weather conditions, music of that era and drug use.
As the class period came to an end, one young lady began to raise her hand, only to have her neighbor pull it back down. I decided to call on her for the last question anyway and, very softly, she posed one I had never been asked at a session like this: “Did you ever smoke pot?”
When the laughter in the hall began to subside, I thanked her for asking, and then answered truthfully: “No … at least not intentionally.” I went on to explain that the use of marijuana by concert-goers over those three days at Woodstock was so ubiquitous across the entire region that anyone within a twenty mile radius of the concert stage – including me – stood a good chance of experiencing some level of “contact high.” I was exaggerating, of course … but not much.
There is a popular aphorism concerning those who share their memories of that special time in Bethel, New York: “When someone says they remember Woodstock they probably weren’t there.” This is a sly reference, of course, to the purported negative impact marijuana use has upon memory … and it also helps explain (kiddingly) why it has taken so long to legalize pot: “The hippies kept forgetting where they left the petitions.”
With all this said, I have fond and strong memories of my time working as a police officer at this once-in-a-lifetime event. Recently, I was able to reinforce many of those recollections during a visit to the original concert site, and a tour of the lovely Museum at Bethel Woods, New York. The weather the day of my visit was pleasant, so my wife and I walked along Hurd Road … visited the meadow where it all took place … inscribed our names on a memorial … it was all good.
Walking through the Museum, itself, is an ideal way to get a sense of what occurred at that very location almost fifty years ago. Video presentations and static displays provide context and depth not only to the concert, but to the cultural conflict that was taking place in the United States at that time as well. We shopped around the Bindy Bazaar Museum Shop, of course, and picked up a few souvenirs … we even checked on my book! (see photo below)
In their song “Old Hippie,” the Bellamy Brothers sang of a fellow in his fifties who “dreams at night of Woodstock and the day John Lennon died,” all the while struggling to make sense of the societal changes going on around him. I suspect that many folks who came of age during the Woodstock era can understand the quandary of that old hippie trying to navigate a world he no longer understands. For me, a periodic journey back to Bethel is a refresher … a way to reconnect with a wonderful time in a truly extraordinary place.
Reflecting back on a singular event like Woodstock, I am reminded of the wisdom of Steven Wright: “Whenever I think of the past it brings back so many memories!”