Where Have The Flowers Gone?

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

-- Paul Simon, Mrs. Robinson

You blink and it is gone.

Like a teen-age infatuation, like a daydream you snap out of when the teacher calls your name, the Summer of Love blazed for a moment and then it was over.

In the end, Benjamin Braddock's middle-age adviser in The Graduate was right: The future belonged to plastics.

Indeed, it is a plastic age we live in, a time of virtual reality and cybersex and manufactured angst. An age whose creed can be summed up by: Well, whatever—never mind.

Thirty years can do that to the soul of a nation.

Of course, it all seemed different in the summer of 1967.

It was, after all, the Age of Aquarius, a time of infinite possibility and timeless youth. San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district was the new Mecca, and long-haired, LSD-popping rock stars were the new prophets of the age.

The Beatles unofficially ushered in the Summer of Love on June 1, 1967, with their landmark album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In college dorms, in bars, in art studios, in suburbia, the album was played endlessly all summer long. The Beat poet Allen Ginsberg called it a seminal, unifying event in Western civilization.

For Sandy Heasley of Akron, the summer of 1967 was a time of deep soul-searching. She had just graduated from Our Lady of the Elms High School and was debating whether to join the convent.

But over the siren-call of the nunnery, she remembers hearing the insistent, infectious, joyous sound of Sgt. Pepper, played over and over again by her brother.

Fifteen days after Sgt. Pepper's release, the Monterey International Pop Festival gave the world new rock icons -- The Who, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

That same year, the Human Be-In in San Francisco had attracted thousands of young people who heard LSD guru Timothy Leary urge them to "Tune in, turn on, drop out."

The heat was on.

As the summer sizzled, it seemed possible for a brief shiny moment to ignore the real world.

But the Summer of Love had its shadow side.

Civil rights. Black Power. Race riots. And always, Vietnam.

Bob Bonnell of Rootstown came home that August from the muggy jungles of Vietnam. When his plane landed at San Francisco, he felt as if he had stumbled into the land of Oz.

The psychedelic, flowing clothes. The long hair. Free Love. The married Bonnell, who at 23 was already a father, felt like a space traveler.

But 1967 was a Summer of Love of sorts for Bonnell, too, because it reunited him with his wife, Winnie, and his 15-month-old daughter, Kimberly.

When he arrived at New York's Kennedy Airport, he and Winnie spent a blissful three hours circling the airport in a cab trying to locate their parked car. During a 10-day trip to Kentucky, he got a chance to be reacquainted with the daughter who did not remember him.

"I'll never forget driving along and looking down at her and watching her statement soften and change as she began to know me."

In September, Heasley joined the convent, along with 16 others. They ranged in age from 16 to 26 and they were all budding flower-children -- dreamy, idealistic, defiant.

While the rest of their peers were wearing beads and neon-colored clothes, they carried rosaries and wore severe navy blue jumpers.

But they found ways to bend the nunnery rules. They purchased psychedelic bath towels. They traveled to appointments in a lime-green VW bug owned by Heasley's parents. They painted rocks black and then wrote Love, Peace and Sunshine on them.

And they drew daisies -- the unofficial symbol of the Summer of Love -- everywhere. "I remember daisies being everywhere," says Heasley. "We converted the hippie movement into being relevant to the convent."

They also brought with them the 1960s spirit of defiance.

"We questioned everything," says Heasley, who left the convent after three years to become a hair dresser. "When you go to the convent, you're supposed to obey. That was foreign to us."

For Janet Lazarow of Green, the Summer of Love was just that. She had met her future husband, Robert, that January when they were both freshmen at Miami University.

Unable to bear being apart from him during the summer break, she flew from Cincinnati to Akron to see him. While her peers were flying high on drugs, Lazarow took her first plane ride.

The young couple went to the movies at the drive-in. They visited the garden store at O'Neil's in Summit Mall.

"I was in love and wanted to share my life with him." says Lazarow.

She got her wish. The Lazarows recently celebrated their 29th wedding anniversary.

Carol Hendrickson of Barberton spent the Summer of Love in Europe after having recently graduated from the University of Akron.

In the spirit of the times, the self-described "old-fashioned little Firestone Park girl," came home one day and told her aghast, working-class parents that she was taking off for Europe for eight weeks with a female classmate she had just met.

"I thought going to Europe was about the most shocking thing I could do to my parents," she says.

In Europe, Hendrickson went skinny-dipping at midnight with the young receptionist from her hotel in Lucerne, Switzerland. Another man took her to see the lights of London at night from the back seat of a taxi. She saw a bullfight in Madrid.

All over Europe, there were masses of young people making their way across the continent. The women wore miniskirts, and the men wore their long hair in ponytails.

"It felt like there were tons of us on the streets of Europe. The guys looked just like us. It was definitely the hippie look."

Watching the older tourists helping each other down the stairs, Hendrickson said to her friend, "Isn't it great that we're traveling now, while we're young?"

That feeling of youth being a blessing was very much in the air during the Summer of 1967.

During her time in Akron, the song that best captured Lazarow's mood that summer was the Turtles' Happy Together, which had been released in March. In February, the psychedelic band Jefferson Airplane had released their Surrealistic Pillow -- an album that blew away a young Bob Kidney, who later became the lead singer of the Kent-based Numbers Band.

That summer also saw the release of such classics as The Doors' Light My Fire, Procol Harum's Whiter Shade of Paleand, of course, that ode to hippiedom, Scott McKenzie's San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair).

Jim Henke, the chief curator of Cleveland's Rock and Roll Museum and Hall of Fame, is still amazed at what a rich musical harvest 1967 yielded.

"It was a period of optimism," he says. "Young people did think they were going to change the world."

But like all summers, the Summer of Love was brief.

Its legacy of optimism, idealism and gentleness flared up one last time two years later at Woodstock. But as Cleveland writer Abe Peck put it, the '60s generation entered Woodstock as a tribe and left it as a market.

The Age of Aquarius was dissolving into the Age of Acquisition.

And yet. . . . "Our country needed some awakening and uprising," says Heasley. "And it made me more open to change. It made me more aware."

And yet. . . . "It started the Eastern influence in our culture," says Kidney. "Because of that it became imbued in our culture. It will always be there."

And yet. . . . "They did change the world, but not in the way they thought," says Henke. "The environmental movement, organic food, women's rights -- all that is dramatically different. And rock 'n' roll went from pop music to music that commented on what was going on."

The late Jerry Garcia once said that the "subjective reality" of the Summer of Love meant more to him than any objective, historical legacy.

"It meant something to me," he said.

Hendrickson agrees. The summer in Europe "changed me immensely," she says. "I was such a sheltered little thing. After that trip, I figured I could climb Mount Everest."

So, 30 years later, what is left to say about the Summer of 1967?

Only this: That once upon a time long, long ago, the world was young. Magic was in the air. Love was all you needed.

That it was a beautiful, incandescent, bountiful summer.

And that summer always gives way to fall.


Akron Beacon Journal
Sunday, July 27, 1997