Turn On, Tune In, Drop Into Hippies Use the Back Door

When their VW busses brought the first flower children to the Mendocino Coast in the late 1960s, the locals—who had lived in a sort of time warp for the previous 30 years—did not know what to make of them. Mostly, they took a dim view of their abundant hair, their communal lifestyles, and their use of mind-altering substances. When the local newspaper reported that a “hippie couple” was caught squatting on property out on Comptche Road, or another let their unlicensed dogs run free in Furytown, or a group of “non-conformists” was seen running around naked on the old Bean place up Little Lake Road, all the “longhairs” were found guilty by association.

A few old-timers were more welcoming: Nannie Escola, the retired school teacher who chronicled Mendocino life for decades, regretted the hostile reception given the newcomers. In her letters she noted that she “did not mind their hair and beards,” and thought them “interesting people with a worthwhile philosophy.” When she was invited to dinner at the Table Mountain Ranch commune by a member she had befriended, she enjoyed herself with the “peaceful citizens who don’t interfere with others.” After visiting the Pyewacket [beer & pizza joint] to check on the “hippie takeover” there, she had a glowing review: “The food is good,” she wrote, “the conversation is polite,” and “the young people are not idle bums.”

Hippies Use the Back Door, the exhibit opening at the Kelley House on July 17th, focuses on the ten years following the 1967 Summer of Love in San Francisco, when countless urban refugees and “Back-to-the-Landers” came to the area. Their arrival inaugurated an era of dramatic change, not without misunderstandings and friction. The newcomers deplored capitalism, rejected “middle class values,” distrusted government, and opposed the Vietnam War; they loved “the environment” and spoke against those who exploited it; and they seemed blissfully unaware of boundaries—in every sense.

Believers in free love, psychedelic drugs, and “letting it all hang out,” they grew marijuana openly in their gardens. Many rented or bought property and constructed primitive dwellings—often quite irregular–without securing building permits. Others camped in the parks for months on end. The “Aquarian Generation” flaunted their joints and dope pipes during the frequent, noisy music festivals (“boogies”) at Bo’s Land on Albion Ridge or in the Toad Hall Meadow. Though not actually illegal, their clothing was still odd: hand-sewn, tie-dyed, and bell-bottomed. And what kind of men wore earrings?

For the answer to that question, and to appreciate the many ways hippie culture has informed Mendocino’s way of life, visit Hippies Use the Back Door at the Kelley House. Open Friday through Monday 11:00am-3:00pm between July 17th and November 29th, the exhibit features photographs, art, concert posters, album covers, clothing, and love beads donated by community members. Please feel free to use the front door.