This week's meteorological mayhem aside, not much seems to happen in Laguna Beach that would qualify as strange, much less surreal. But things haven't always been that way. And by far the strangest thing that has ever happened in this otherwise sleepy coastal village, and probably the strangest thing that's ever happened in Orange County, was just starting to unfold there 40 years ago today.
On this morning 40 years ago, hippies from all over California and beyond were massing in caravans that lined for miles on Pacific Coast Highway in both directions. They were gathering for a rock concert that originally had been billed as a “birthday party for Jesus” but which quickly became known as either the “Christmas Happening” or “The Great Happening.” The concert, which was held in a grassy bowl at the top of Laguna Canyon known as Sycamore Flats, began on Christmas Day and ended three days later when hundreds of police officers and sheriff's deputies, who had already blocked off the town with barricades, forced stragglers onto buses and used bulldozers to bury everything left behind.
Invitations to the show had been hand-delivered to hippie communes
up and down the Pacific Coast and beyoned, and each one contained a tab
of Orange Sunshine acid, the trademark brand of the Brotherhood of
Eternal Love, a group of Timothy Leary acolytes and hash smugglers who
just two months earlier had raised funds to help Leary escape from
prison. Halfway during the first day of the show, someone parachuted
into the show–despite rumors to the contrary, the man wasn't Leary and
nobody ever found out who he was–and later, another airplane flew
overhead and thousands more of of the acid-bearing cards tumbled from
The Weekly first wrote about this amazing spectacle–which at least one organizer, artist Dion Wright, believes was the “true death of hippiedom”–12 years ago, in a fascinating story by freelancer Bob Emmers, which you can read here. That article led yours truly on a several years journey to discover more about both this strange event and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love itself, which I wrote about earlier this year in–shameless plug alert–my book Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love and Acid to the World, which is still on bookshelves and available online.
Documentary film-maker William Kirkley is making a film about the Brotherhood also called Orange Sunshine, and he's busy compiling rare footage of the show, including the apocryphal-seeming acid drop. You can view a pretty mind-blowing trailer for his film here. There's also a great piece courtesy of the Lama Workshop that features photographs and other artwork pertaining to the show that makes for a fun read.
For rain-soaked Lagunans, if nothing else, the thought of all this probably breaks down in two distinct ways. Folks of the hippie-hating variety can take solace in the fact that nothing like this is likely to happen in their town again. For others, including some residents who were actually there when the show happened, it's more likely a sad reminder of how much things have changed, not just in their town, but in our nation and world as a whole. Nothing that a few plane-loads of acid couldn't fix, though…
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is managing editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).