I really can’t recall how the topic of being on, or near, the scene of some major
newsworthy event came up the other night at a party we were hosting, but it made for some interesting conversation for a time with a friend over cold drinks. And long after the party had ended, and I was in the midst of my usual cleanup duties, many more thoughts on the topic flitted around in my head.
I’m pretty sure it was my friend who brought the whole thing up with his telling about his being in attendance at a Super Bowl and a Stanley Cup Championship game seven. True, they were important events, but in the large scope of things they really don’t seem as “crucial” as those events in which I found myself involved–purely by accident.
For instance, I couldn’t help but recall being literally “caught up” in the turmoil and fury that was the violence perpetrated by those wonderful, “clean-cut” protestors in downtown Chicago during the 1968 Democrat National Convention.
A high school friend from Ohio had just flown in for a visit, since my family had recently moved to the Chicago area that summer, and we all had enjoyed a wonderful dinner at one of the cool restaurants on Michigan Avenue early that evening.
Afterwards, as we began a leisurely stroll along the avenue, things erupted all around us. Suddenly, the police were swarming and moving people from the area. It didn’t take long to realize that they were pretty serious about their efforts! I recall being sort of trapped near one of the famous lions in front of the Art Institute when I was instructed to get moving, which I gladly did. Staring down the barrel of a riot gun is a bit unsettling.
About the same time, another hord of the “clean cuts” decided to battle back and began one of its signature clashes with the Chicago police. My friend and I somehow avoided the confrontation and hurried back across the avenue to find my parents and sister, which wasn’t easy since that area seemed just as wild and manic as the one we’d just vacated.
Fortunately, we managed to hook up with them and make our way the few blocks to the lot where the car was parked. Without further hesitation, we got out of the boiling city as quickly as possible.
Yep, that was the evening that has become infamous over the years—for both cops and the protestors—and one that will always evoke not-so-pleasant feelings whenever I see a picture of those Art Institute lions!
I had just turned eighteen that summer, and I my idealism was still rather lofty. I had plans to take it all with me when I started at Kent State in a few weeks. And, of course, it was at Kent that I would once again witness turmoil and violence during the next few years up close and personal all too often. And my earlier idealism would take off in a much different direction during that time. I’ll write of that period in the next few posts.