Droppers: America's First Hippie Commune, Drop City

Overview

Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. In popular imagination, these words seem to capture the atmosphere of 1960s hippie communes. Yet when the first hippie commune was founded in 1965 outside Trinidad, Colorado, the goal wasn’t one long party but rather a new society that integrated life and art. In Droppers, Mark Matthews chronicles the rise and fall of this utopian community, exploring the goals behind its creation and the factors that eventually led to its dissolution.

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Droppers: America's First Hippie Commune, Drop City

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Overview

Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. In popular imagination, these words seem to capture the atmosphere of 1960s hippie communes. Yet when the first hippie commune was founded in 1965 outside Trinidad, Colorado, the goal wasn’t one long party but rather a new society that integrated life and art. In Droppers, Mark Matthews chronicles the rise and fall of this utopian community, exploring the goals behind its creation and the factors that eventually led to its dissolution.

Seeking refuge from enforced social conformity, the turmoil of racial conflict, and the Vietnam War, artist Eugene Bernofsky and other founders of Drop City sought to create an environment that would promote both equality and personal autonomy. These high ideals became increasingly hard to sustain, however, in the face of external pressures and internal divisions.

In a rollicking, fast-paced style, Matthews vividly describes the early enthusiasm of Drop City’s founders, as Bernofsky and his friends constructed a town in the desert literally using the “detritus of society.” Over time, Drop City suffered from media attention, the distraction of visitors, and the arrival of new residents who didn’t share the founders’ ideals.

Matthews bases his account on numerous interviews with Bernofsky and other residents as well as written sources. Explaining Drop City in the context of the counterculture’s evolution and the American tradition of utopian communities, he paints an unforgettable picture of a largely misunderstood phenomenon in American history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
One of the first utopian communities to emerge in the 1960s, Drop City, Colorado was founded as a self-supporting artist's enclave. In this entertaining chronicle, author and journalist Matthews (Smoke Jumping on the Western Fire Line) recounts Drop City's story as told to him by a number of its inhabitants, including co-founder Eugene Victor Debs Bernofsky, whose plan was to "own the property, build A-frame houses, pay no rent, make films and art and... put our trust in dose sic Cosmic Forces" (influenced by "Bucky" Fuller, the A-frames became the commune's iconic geodesic domes). As much a look at the sex-and-drugs counterculture as it is a cautionary tale about the problems of utopia-building, the story of Drop City almost comes to an early end over a mysteriously depleted can of government commodity peanut butter; ultimately, it would devolve into a disillusioned, dilapidated slum. Matthews's attempts to contextualize (or perhaps elevate) the narrative with historical notes on other U.S. communes and the hippie stomping grounds of Haight Ashbury distract from Bernofsky's tale, which is fascinating, inadvertently hilarious, and very telling. B&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
The story of America's first hippie commune, as well as American utopianism from the Mayflower to the 1960s and beyond. Named not for Dennis Leary's mandate to drop out and drop acid but for the "droppings" of art its communards produced, Drop City rose haphazardly from an arid piece of goat pasture in southwestern Colorado-or rather its form rose haphazardly. The egalitarian-libertarian idea for it percolated for years in the minds of two unlikely collaborators-Eugene Victor Deb Bernofsky, a red-diaper baby from Brooklyn with a prankster streak, and Clark Richert, the artistic scion of a Midwestern Mennonite family. The two met at the University of Kansas in Lawrence in the early '60s, and a bond was formed from their common interest in the avant-garde in politics and the arts as well as in marijuana, both as recreation and as a commodity to be grown and sold. The profits from their first bumper crop helped the pair procure the land for Drop City. In telling the ultimately sad story of this arts colony, Matthews (A Great Day to Fight Fire: Mann Gulch, 1949, 2009, etc.) creates an oral (and e-mail) history of the commune from the principals who created it, built and lived in the geodesic domes and "zomes" that characterized its architecture and publicized it to its death less than a decade after its first shelter rose in 1965-before its denizens were even labeled "hippies" by an often scornful and uncomprehending outside world. The author also delves the history of American countercultural, following a thread from Thomas Morton's Merry Mount outside of Plymouth Colony and the Ephrata Cloister in colonial Pennsylvania to the B.F. Skinner-inspired Twin Oaks in rural Virginia, which is stillgoing strong today. Though individual communities like Drop City may struggle and die, Matthews writes, the impulse to create them has long burned in the American imagination. A brief, enthralling history of a specific place and time, and of an enduring American idea.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806140582
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2010
  • Pages: 242
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

A former wildland firefighter and freelance journalist, Mark Matthews is the author of Smoke Jumping on the Western Fire Line: Conscientious Objectors during World War II and A Great Day to Fight Fire: Mann Gulch, 1949.

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