Boston Globe
December 12, 1967

Friendly Fifty on Fort Hill -- Better Way for People?

Robert L. Levey, Staff Reporter

 

Four wooden buildings - vaguely Victorian and outwardly shabby - face the monument of Fort Hill in Roxbury. There is a park and patchy grass, but the neighborhood kids litter it with broken bottles. The view is the most spectacular that can be found in the city below the top of a skyscraper.

Boston pinwheels around with Fort Hill at the center. That is where the 50 or so people in those four houses want to be. They look to the stars - in which they have great faith - and they look out from that high Roxbury hill with the earnest belief that they have found a better way for people to live together - honestly, without fear and in friendship.

Fort Hill is at the center of the city and at the heart of Boston's hippie underground.

Most of the people living there have experimented with mind-altering drugs at some time. They put out an underground newspaper that is under attack in Boston and Cambridge as an obscene publication.

They have forsaken most of the middle-class values to which the average person is bound. Few of them are formally married. They dress with indifferent informality or eccentric care. They spend long nights talking in groups - criticizing each other, probing in vivid detail each other's thoughts.

Anyone is welcome to visit the four houses lining the park on Fort Hill, but to stay there you must become part of the communal scene. There are no free rides - there is no room for social parasites.

Jim Kweskin, who has gained considerable fame performing with his Jug Band, lives in the end house with his wife Marilyn and their child. He explains that "the one thing demanded in this community is work of some kind. You have to supply something. Either you might get a day job and bring in money or you have to work on the paper or you have to do physical labor fixing up the houses or all of these things."

And there is more to it than that. People who live in the Fort Hill community must get along with each other. It has existed for a year and a half as an unintended experiment in community living and it has become the anchor for Boston's hippie movement.

ENGINEER

Next door to Jim is David Gould's [sic: Gude] house. He was a recording engineer in New York before coming to Fort Hill with his wife Faith and two children. Like everyone in the community, David is a deep believer in astrology. As for the community, David says everything we do here is just getting to know each other better. Whether it's sweeping up the hill or working on the paper. And when we've really gotten to know each other, we're going to make the most beautiful music the world has ever heard."

Eben Given lives next door in a house where one downstairs room has been converted into a main dining room for the community. People trickle in at supper time and there is food to eat. There is no special plan to the eating arrangements, just as there are no specific rules in the community.

Jesse Benton's house is at the end of the row, set back a strange cement and stone fence and a small garden.

GUIDE

Mel lives there. Mel Lyman is something like the guide for the Fort Hill community. He is about 30, gaunt, with a reedy voice and gentle manner. Everyone at Fort Hill admires Mel. They talk about him a lot . . . about how he has been into and out of all the scenes from the West Coast to the East Village. He was into the drug scene early and then out of it. He still visits New York to see his friend Andy Warhol and catch up on the underground movie scene.

Mel has performed with Jim's Jug Band and he writes for the paper. He likes yoga, guitar playing, women, attention and making people in the Hill community work hard at whatever they choose to do.

The Fort Hill people regard their uncompromising life-style not so much as a rebellion, but rather as an example. Jim says "it's not a question of telling people how to live. It's just living our lives the way we want to and letting anyone who wants to look - see that it can work."

SPOKESMAN

But when people come to see what is happening on Fort Hill, they often approach with fear in their eyes. Lew Crampton, 27, an Ivy-educated East Asian expert, lives across the street in a fourth-floor apartment. He has become an eloquent spokesman for Fort Hill and keeps bringing people from the "straight world" up to the community to meet his friends.

"We get people coming in here shaking like a leaf," says Crampton. The fault for this fearful attitude of strangers rests with the news media that have interpreted the hippie movement as a roaring drug and sex orgy.

People in the community freely admit that they have used marijuana and some of the more potent hallucinogens like LSD.

They admit the formal act of marriage is generally ignored by couples living there. But as Crampton explains, "what is natural up here does go, but there isn't the scene of wild, free love where a man walks into a roomful of girls and says: 'You, come with me.'"

Sometimes Fort Hill seems more like a work camp than a hippie community. During the Summer the residents became their own department of public works. "We fixed up the hill," Jim explains. "We bricked up the tower, we cleaned up the area. We cut the grass in the park. That's a city responsibility. We are maintaining this city park."

RENOVATING

They are also gradually renovating the modest buildings in the community which were picked up for a couple of thousand dollars each.

And most of the Fort Hill people have something to do with "The Avatar" - their controversial underground newspaper. The paper is produced with considerable skill and has contained some provocative avant-garde writing.

It has also contained some very frank sex talk and some satirical obscenity. During the campaign that Cambridge Mayor Daniel J. Hayes launched against the hippies in October, "The Avatar" - which had editorial offices in Cambridge - was banned from newsstands there.

The paper has moved to Rutland st., South End, but Boston police raided the premises two weeks ago, made one arrest and confiscated 2000 copies of the paper.

Since the official crackdown on "The Avatar" the paper's editors, Wayne Hansen and Brian Keating, have responded with bolder obscenity. The paper has included violently obscene attacks on the police and a recent issue had a center-fold designed around four dirty words.

RESPONSE

The editors say they have no particular interest in pursuing the obscenity campaign, but that they are harassment from police and city officials.

Most of the paper's legal problem thus far have come from selling it on the streets. Hundreds of Boston hippies have made a little money picking up a stack of the papers at the office and hawking them in Harvard sq. or the Charles st. area of Beacon Hill. Many have been arrested for peddling obscene literature.

The Fort Hill people hope to raise enough money to fight the matter in the courts.

But the paper is not an end in itself for the people at Fort Hill. They are planning new projects like underground movie-making, creating an environmental show, starting a school for the kids who live there, forming music groups, making records.

Lyman say of "The Avatar" - "it's just another experiment. And if they stop us from being what we are in that area, we'll just be what we are in another area."

MOVEMENT

The people at Fort Hill have been the hippie route. "The movement is like a love affair," says Crampton. "You take the first step and fall in love with the flowers and bells and buttons. Then you get into drugs and after a while you get tired because it's taking you nowhere. You start feeding on your own sickness. But it's like you're married to it, and you've got to find your way out. You've got to understand what you're into (involved in) and then build something out of it."

"We're building a new world," says Crampton with the enthusiasm of an apostle. "And we're starting right here." Many members of the Fort Hill community talk about leaving to start similar communities in other parts of the country.

PRETENSIONS

Kweskin says the world they are trying to build is one where they do not fear their neighbors and where they strip away pretensions about themselves. "There isn't this getting together in the straight world. And they're so afraid for their possessions. They're afraid for what they own . . . afraid it's going to be destroyed or hurt."

The Fort Hill people are the older end of Boston's hippie scene, though few of them have reached 30. There are children to bring up and property to care for.

To be sure, they have dropped out of straight society. But Fort Hill has a substance that most of the superficial hippie scene lacks. The people there have been through the drug scene and are now trying - as a visible underground movement - to make a new kind of life for themselves and any others who would join them.

They know that the outside world looks at them as something to fear. "There's a certain fear, built up about us," says Kweskin. "People think we're something freaky. They think we're always taking LSD and running around with our clothes off."

But Kweskin thinks the fear runs even deeper, "They're afraid of us because an awful lot of people in this world are afraid of love. It embarrasses them."


Mel Lyman