Laguna on Acid

The Great Hippie Christmas Invasion of 1970

At the festival, things were getting smelly-garbage was piling up, and the police had refused to let through a shipment of portable toilets-but generally proceeding pretty much apace. None of the big-name musical acts had showed, although rumors persisted of stars seen moving about through the crowds. But bands from Orange County and Los Angeles continued to play. There were even whispers that Leary was planning to slip back into the country from his exile in Algiers and pay a visit to the Christmas Happening.

An airplane flew overhead on the afternoon of Dec. 26, dropping thousands of Christmas cards-perhaps as many as 10,000-to the crowd. To each was affixed a tab of Sunshine Acid, which was made in Laguna Beach and delivered courtesy of the Brotherhood of Love. Gayle was finally a believer.

That night, Reid mounted the stage. "Isn't it beautiful?" he asked the crowd. "Do you feel the unity here?"

To celebrate the Age of Aquarius, he asked them each to light a match and hold it up. "I see 14,000 angels," he said.

Stories persist to this day that sometime long after midnight, as the moon rose and mist spread across Sycamore Flats, Dylan appeared at the festival without announcement and walked among the slumberers, pausing here and there to talk with some Flower Child still sleepless, borrowing a guitar to play a few soft licks.

Pressure to take action was mounting on the city fathers. Irate residents complained that police barricades and snarled traffic had made any trip an ordeal. Businessmen were furious because they were losing profits. Then there were the persistent threats of possible terrorist activities. One police employee, left behind in the boarded-up police station to operate communications equipment, remembers seeing a police sniper posted atop City Hall for protection.

Purcell took action. He sent his undercover guys into the encampment at Sycamore Flats with orders to destroy whatever empty tents and sleeping bags they found and to otherwise generally encourage people to leave. Whether because of that, or the cold, or the lack of sanitation, or the fact that the big-name entertainment hadn't materialized, people started streaming away on Dec. 27. To help them, the city brought in dozens of school buses.

"We had them marked north, south, east and west," says Purcell, "and they boarded according to where their vehicles were parked. And they just boarded the buses, and we took them to the outskirts and dropped them off."

But about 2,500 people didn't leave. Some, like Leeds and her friends, stayed behind to clean up and gather the equipment loaned by churches and residents. Others simply didn't want to give it up. They sat around their fires through the night, playing guitars, singing, laughing and smoking dope.

Before dawn on Dec. 28, 450 police officers from around the county and encamped at the high school were divided into 20-man squads, each under the command of a sergeant, and transported by bus to the hills surrounding Sycamore Flats. As the sun came up, a helicopter flew over, and an officer on a loud hailer commanded the remaining crowd to disperse. At 5:30 a.m., police in riot gear moved in on those who stayed behind. They came from the hills, singing "Here Comes Santa Claus."

Purcell remembers the operation as swift and painless: "They just held their night sticks out in front of them and marched them out and into town; they were all out by 11 a.m."

The memories of those being marched out are not so neat. Leeds and her kitchen crew had arisen at 5 a.m., breakfasted on oatmeal and honey and raisins, and started packing up the rest of their equipment.

First, the helicopter circled overhead, and then "we looked up into the hills surrounding the site," Leeds wrote later. "We were frightened by what we saw, and all of us felt the adrenalin rush of our lives. Silhouetted against the early morning sky . . . was a line of police . . . and they were standing very still. After about a minute, that line moved down the hill, and a fresh line appeared on the top."

People shouted, some cried, some gave the cops the finger or mooned them. Leeds and a girlfriend moved toward the police line, hoping to talk. Leeds spotted an officer she had spoken with a couple of days before, a police captain from Westminster who stood out from the rest because he was in plain clothes. The captain silently watched them approach. "Hello, I'm Beth, and this is Ruth. Could you tell us what's happening? We're just cleaning up, and we'll have it done by noon."

"We have orders to move you out," the captain said. "You can come back later and get your belongings, but please cooperate now because we don't have much time."

How much time? Leeds asked.

"I can give you about 10 minutes, but that's all. Go to the road and hurry."

Leeds and her friend returned to the remaining festivalgoers. There was muttering and some more shouting. Some people bravely proclaimed they wouldn't leave. And then the cops moved down out of the hills. People started running. There was a great deal of shouting. A few people were maced, others got jabbed with nightsticks. In the midst of it all, two young people, a boy and a girl, got up out of their sleeping bag and calmly proceeded to dress, then sit down and tie their shoes. The cops were singing "Here Comes Santa Claus," and the longhairs were singing "For What It's Worth," and after a time, the area was clear, and it was all over.

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