History

April 1, 1967: Seattle’s First Be-In

Seattle has long followed San Francisco in its various attempts to stand out as an American West Coast city, and the countercultural event held on the date in focus here was no exception to that historical rule. Seattle’s first be-in was held in Cowen Park, just north of the University District, where a crowd of roughly 300 people gathered to mirthfully mourn the recent closure of the Bookworm and the Eigerwand, two popular U District hippie hangouts. Both local businesses had been evicted from their respective storefronts on The Ave just the day before on March 31. The Bookworm was a bookstore and the Eigerwand a coffeehouse, both catering brazenly to Seattle’s countercultural cognoscenti.

The Saturday afternoon gathering in Cowen Park was clearly modeled after San Francisco’s Human Be-In, held in Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967. That historic event, attended by some 20,000 people and featuring music, poetry, psychedelics, art, and politics, was announced on the cover of that city’s countercultural newspaper Oracle as “A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In.”

The Seattle be-in was unfortunately monitored by police cars filled with cops in riot gear surrounding the park, but nevertheless, the event was peaceful and festive. The cops apparently suspected otherwise because the Bookworm, besides being a bookstore, was also a de facto daycare center for dispossessed hippies and homeless youth run by Jack and Sally Delay, two key figures within Seattle’s counterculture circa 1967. The Delays had then formed a community organization called The Brothers, modeled after The Diggers, who fed and counseled street people in San Francisco. The cops were suspicious of The Brothers, mistakenly believing them to be a front for LSD distribution, hence their absurd presence nearby.

After the be-in disbanded, some of the revelers ascended to the Attica Gallery on Capitol Hill for the opening of an art exhibit by the Shazam Society, titled “The First Official Exhibition of UFOs (Unidentified Funky Objects), Awesome Images Show, Better Living Through Sausages Display and Brain Damage Festival.” Shazam Society founder (and future famous novelist) Tom Robbins dedicated the art show to “the tender and loving overthrow of established culture and to committing public and private acts of beauty, love, and mystery.”

The 33-second archival newsreel accompanying this post gave a somewhat condescending account of the event, describing it as “sort of a happy happening for hippies.” Despite the announcer’s apparent disdain, one can see clearly from the footage the actual nature of the festivities. Later that month, on April 30, a much larger be-in was held in Seattle’s Volunteer Park, sponsored by Helix, the city’s leading countercultural newspaper of that era.

Sources: Charles Russell, “First Human Be-in Sways Few Hippies,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 2, 1967, p. 26; Patrick MacDonald, “Now People Glimpse The UFOs At Attica,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 2, 1967, p. 26; Walt Crowley, “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (University of Washington Press, 1995); Alan J. Stein, “Seattle’s first Be-In is held in Cowen Park on April 1, 1967,” HistoryLink.org, June 20, 2007.