Friday, April 30, 2010
Tour Buses Collide Head-On in District
By JIM IOVINO
Updated 11:56 AM EDT, Fri, Apr 30, 2010
Rescue crews were working to extricate the driver of one of two tour buses that collided head-on Friday morning in southwest Washington.
The buses collided at about 11 a.m. on Ohio Drive near West Basin Drive. An initial investigation showed that one bus was parked along the curb and the other bus crashed into it.
No passengers were on the buses, but both drivers were pinned in their vehicles, according to emergency officials.
Rescue crews were able to get one driver out, but another was still being extricated at 11:30 a.m.
The drivers' injuries were described as serious and potentially life-threatening.
Ohio Drive is closed
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
I have had a large one and I have had a smaller one. This is how I used them. But I never got around to painting them. They were also fun for the kids to climb on when they were little. Click on the picture above to enlarge it.
Click on the link below to learn uses for these things.
Monday, April 26, 2010
"Why that’s a hundred miles away. That’s a long way to go just to eat."
On declining invitation to White House dinner honoring Nobel laureates, as quoted in Life magazine (20 January 1962)
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Old Recipe For Corn Fritters and Some Interesting Old Advertisements From A 1902 Meridian Mississippi Cookbook
Posted by joeb at 11:23 AM
Friday, April 23, 2010
I know 2 people that plan on going to Machu Picchu. I am not planning on going there but this is a good video subsitute.
And here is a link to some really good travel videos by the same man Dennis Callan. He is a really excellent tour guide. All these travel videos are free.
These are more pages from a very old Mississippi(1902)Cookbook. Meridian,Mississippi 108 years ago. I found this 1902 Cookbook hanging on a string in my grandmother's pantry in her old house before it was torn down around 1974.
Scroll down to see the beginning. I will continue to post more pages from day to day.
Click on the images to enlarge them and make for easy reading. Double click on the image if necessary to enlarge it.
Scroll down to see the beginning. I will continue to post more pages from day to day.
Click on the images to enlarge them and make for easy reading. Double click on the image if necessary to enlarge it.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Continuation of 1902 Meridian Mississippi Cookbook. Scroll all the way down to go back to the beginning. I will put several pages of this long cookbook on here until I get it finished.
Click on the images once or twice to enlarge them.
Click on the images once or twice to enlarge them.
Posted by joeb at 8:35 AM
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Click on these pages to enlarge them.
This Cookbook is very long so I will post three or four or five pages a day until it is complete.
Be sure and read the one about how to make turtle soup.
I found this cookbook in my grandmother's pantry hanging by a string on a hook. It was the last thing left in the house after she had moved years before and the house was empty and would be torn down some years later. This cookbook had hung in that pantry for over 70 years. It is now 108 years old.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Cursed from Birth: The Short, Unhappy Life of William S. Burroughs, Jr. (Paperback)
Billy was a friend of mine.I knew him at Green Valley School in Orange City, Fla. in 1972 and afterwards until his death in 1981. I think this book(CURSED FROM BIRTH) tells his story the way he would like. LITERARY OUTLAW is the other good bio of Bill Burroughs, Sr. in which Billy's life is well told. Read both of these books and you will know the Burroughs. The old man was a genius and a great writer but a lousy father. The son was cursed from birth(that title is something Billy wrote himself and signed a letter with to his father).
I tried to tell Billy to change his name in 1972. I thought that would be his only chance of surviving the Burroughs name. But of course his course was set. He was and would always be a Burroughs. To have your father kill your mother when you are 4 and then to be sent to grow up with your grandparents(abandoned by your father)and then to learn in your teens that your father is the notorious junkie homosexual genius author of NAKED LUNCH well how would you handle that? So self destruction was Billy's fate. This is an excellent book and anyone who is interested in either father or the son should enjoy and learn from it. One thing though. Billy enjoyed his life VERY MUCH until he got sick. So his life was not that short and was certainly not all unhappy. Just the last 10 years of it.
Look for this book(Cursed From Birth)on Amazon.com to read more about it.
Click on the link below to read the wikipedia page on William Burroughs,Jr.
Gregory Corso is talking about Jack Kerouac in this interview.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Click on the above link to see and hear the William Shatner version of Mr. Tambourine Man.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
GO by John Clellon Holmes was the first Beat Generation novel to be published(1952).
ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac was not published until 1957.
The novel that launched the beat generation’s literary legacy describes the world of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Neil Cassady. Drafted two months before Jack Kerouac began On The Road, Go is the first and most accurate chronicle of the private lives lived by the Beats before they became public figures. In honest, lucid fictional prose designed to capture the events, emotions, and essence of his experience among the Beats, Holmes describes an individualistic post–World War II New York where crime is celebrated, writing is revered, and parties, booze, discussions, drugs, and sex punctuate life. The most tentative and conservative of the Beats, Holmes’s intelligent and sensitive voice also details the pressures and regrets that his lifestyle gave birth to. With portraits of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neil Cassady, William Burroughs, this first novel about the Beat Generation gives us a peek into what it meant to be a Beat before the term had ever been used. "... still one of the best novels about the Beat Generation ... brilliant and important."—The Los Angeles Free Press " I want to write to you about ... your book. You did the honest thing, the big thing, the good thing."—Jack Kerouac "Go signaled the start of something new in American literature. A generation with a new consciousness had found its voice..."—Ann Charters
Click on these pictures to enlarge them.
Bill Walker and Ruth Murray Walker
(and unknown third party in sunglasses) at Coffee 'n' Confusion.
Photo provided by Brandel France de Bravo.
Coffee, Confusion and Jim Morrison: The Forgotten History of Hip Coffee Houses and Beatnik Poets in the Nation's Capital
The Beat Generation emerged in the 1950s as a bohemian-fueled movement of visionary literary heroes, passionate poets and colorful, off-beat characters whose very lives were driven by an emotional quest for experience and an insatiable thirst for spontaneous poetry, unrestrained sex, bebop jazz, marijuana (which they called “tea”), impulsive travel and esoteric philosophy. Two main camps of the Beat Generation emerged in the United States as their presence permeated mainstream American culture: a New York contingency comprised of such luminaries as Jack Kerouac, John Clellon Holmes, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and Herbert Huncke; and a West Coast faction whose ranks included Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Lew Welch. The creative power of these literary pioneers inspired devoted followings of like-minded writers and artists in hip coffee houses across the nation, with a particularly intense scene materializing in Washington, DC, where a venue known as “Coffee ‘n’ Confusion” became the focal point for the city’s “beatnik” contingency and is noted today for having been the site of the very first public performance of rock and roll legend Jim Morrison, who as a teenager gave an original poetry recital on the dank coffee house’s cramped, makeshift stage.
The term “Beat Generation” was first coined by Jack Kerouac during a conversation he had with fellow writer John Clellon Holmes in 1948, using those words to describe the writers and poets that comprised his developing literary circle in New York City. While it was Kerouac himself who initially used the term “beat” in his debut novel The Town and the City in 1950 (in which he alluded to a woman named Liz wandering “beat” around New York City), it was Holmes who completed the exercise and wrote extensively of the Beat Generation – a collection of writers, artists, drug-users, hustlers, thieves, and down-and-out philosophers – in his 1952 New York-based novel Go. (In this thinly-disguised autobiographical account, Homes wrote of himself as “Paul Hobbes,” Jack Kerouac appeared as main character “Gene Pasternak,” and Allen Ginsberg was brought to life as “David Stofsky.”) Holmes later authored an essay entitled “This is the Beat Generation” which appeared in the New York Times Magazine on November 16, 1952 and attempted to define the very essence of the young people of the movement. He wrote that those of the Beat Generation harbored more than just weariness, but carried raw feelings of being used and endured a nakedness of mind and soul. Jack Kerouac countered in interviews by explaining that “beat” really meant “beatific” or “sacred,” and many interpreted his works as exercises in capturing the holiness of the downtrodden.
While Jack Kerouac’s first novel The Town and the City was not widely read, his second effort in 1957, On the Road, was credited for announcing, in effect, a new consciousness. It was a major event in the annals of Beat Generation literature and fostered a special magic with its undirected raw energy, prose-poetry, and larger-than-life protagonists “Sal Paradise” (Jack Kerouac himself) and “Dean Moriarty” (Neal Cassady – a major prototype hipster figure in both the Beat Generation culture of the 1950s and the hippie movement of the 1960s), who zoomed back-and-forth around the country in search of thrills and experiences. As Beat Generation consciousness expanded during the late 1950s, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Herb Caen noted in his April 2, 1958 column (“Pocketful of Notes”) that Look Magazine had hosted a party in a North Beach house for fifty “beatniks” in preparation for a forthcoming article on the subject. It marked the first time the term “beatnik” had ever appeared in print and quickly became the moniker bestowed upon those who ingratiated themselves into the Beat Generation world. The beatnik image was shaped by a wave of books and articles that projected images of shaggy, bearded, beret-topped, bongo-playing, marijuana-smoking men and sullen, straight-haired, black-dressed women.
The beatniks were already firmly established as staples of popular culture when the family of George S. Morrison relocated from Alameda, California to Alexandria, Virginia in January 1959. Morrison, a freshly-promoted Captain in the Navy, had just landed a new assignment at the Pentagon in Arlington and rented a home for his wife and three children in a quiet, upper-middle class neighborhood named Jefferson Park. His son Jim, 15-years old at the time, enrolled at George Washington High School in the middle of his sophomore year, and although he was worlds away from his exalted position as lead vocalist for the Doors and the accompanying rock and roll stardom that would engulf him, he was beginning to explore the possibilities of the bohemian world. Even at that young age he reportedly found the literature and poetry of the Beats mesmerizing, and strongly identified with their uninhibited attitudes, unbridled creativity, and underground lifestyles, as well perhaps with their poetry and spirituality. It is known that during his three-year stay in Alexandria, Morrison’s private library included the novel Go (1952) by John Clellon Holmes, and the Jack Kerouac novels The Town and the City (1950), On the Road (1957), The Dharma Bums (1958), The Subterraneans (1958), and Doctor Sax (1959). He also owned editions of Howl and Other Poems (1956) by Allen Ginsberg, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958) by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gasoline (1958) by Gregory Corso, and Naked Lunch (1959) by William Burroughs.
Jim Morrison was enthralled with the works of the Beat Generation writers and saw them as creators of an entirely new level of consciousness. His championing of these unique writers and poets was not lost on his high school companions, who were immensely impressed with his devotion to this daring new style of literature. Alexandria neighbor and friend Jim Merrill was one who noted Morrison’s enthusiasm for the Beats: “Morrison had a library that was unbelievable and when we talked about books Jim would start talking about the Beats, guys like Kerouac and Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, who wrote A Coney Island of the Mind, which he actually gave me a copy of. Jim was already a big Kerouac fan by the time he got to Alexandria and these books were really a major influence on his outlook on life. Morrison was down that road and gone when he was 16 years old.”
It should be noted that bohemians (individuals with literary or artistic interests who live untroubled by middle-class social standards) had an established history in the nation’s capital well before Jim Morrison landed in the area. Many veterans of Washington, DC’s counterculture community maintain to this day that the precursors to the beatniks of the nation’s capital were a somewhat ephemeral and now largely forgotten congregation of remarkable Georgetown artists, writers and poets that had once inhabited a small, refuge-like compound known as “Hamilton Arms.”
Predating the Beat Generation movement by almost two decades, Hamilton Arms came into existence in 1939 when 58-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Milo Hamilton Brinkley purchased a small collection of old ivy-covered houses on 31st Street NW (between M and N Streets) in the heart of historic Georgetown and set about refurbishing the neglected collection of structures and molding them into his own little European-flavored village. Feeling the need for a central meeting place to bring his tenants and the neighborhood folk together, he opened the Hamilton Arms Coffee House that year in the village’s main structure at 1232 31st Street NW (built in 1900, this building had previously housed the C&P Telephone Company’s West Exchange for many years). While Mr. Brinkley rented out the smallish pink, yellow and turquoise Swiss village houses, his wife Emma Conger ran the Hamilton Arms Curiosity Shop, his son-in-law Howard Reid managed the coffee house, and daughter Mary (Molly) Brinkley Reid operated the Pottery and acted as artist-in-residence – she reportedly spent her days painting, designing, and endlessly decorating the property’s various rooms, gardens, and buildings.
Hamilton Arms was basically a series of rental units, but offered living and working space for unique, creative individuals and soon developed into a little bohemian enclave tucked away within the brick-lined streets of residential Georgetown. A walk through the blue iron gate alongside the coffee house revealed a long, covered grape arbor, a myriad of beautifully landscaped gardens, a tile house and kiln, thirty apartment units fashioned from a former slave compound, balconies covered in ivy, and a small rectangular swimming pool guarded by the “Discus Thrower” (a remarkable stone statue of a naked Greek athlete preparing to chuck his sphere). The pool itself, long a village trademark, was the scene of now-famous night-long parties before officials from the city’s Health Department, citing the lack of a badly-needed filter system, ordered the pool off-limits. An article in the Washington Post of May 18, 1953 (“Hamilton Arms Folk Lose Swimming Hole in their Garden by City Condemnation Rule” by Warren Unna) called the Hamilton Arms village “the Georgetown miniature of La Rive Gauche, Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill.” A resident named Chefik Haddad, former military attaché for Iraq, was quoted in the article as describing the village as, “Something between a campus and a village. People are not less conventional here, but what you might call conventional in a different way.”
What really made Hamilton Arms unique were the groups of incredible people that set up camp on the grounds of the village. A cast of indefinable characters predating the beatniks made the Hamilton Arms Coffee House their carefree playground. They began infiltrating the grounds – appearing from nowhere for friendly visits in the quaint apartment rooms and throwing wine parties that lasted for days and nights and wound throughout the gardens of the courtyard. Several years after the Health Department raid, Lieutenant Colonel Brinkley reminisced to local journalists about the once-commonplace midnight raids made by unknown revelers on the notorious swimming pool. More telling, however, was a piece on the heyday of the Hamilton Arms that appeared in the Washington Post on March 11, 1978 (“Georgetown’s Eccentric Landmark” by Jane Ann Spotts) that stated, “Residents swear that Georgetown’s first ‘pot party’ took place there in the late 50s, along with several other recreational firsts.”
Ultimately, the Hamilton Arms Coffee House closed its doors on Saturday, May 25, 1957, as the Brinkleys felt they could not keep the business alive without selling liquor, a practice forbidden at the time due to the presence of the Fifth Church of Christian Science two doors away. However, the apartments remained occupied and all that creative psychic energy within its courtyard somehow filtered through the wrought-iron fences and departed in search of new lands. (As a side note, Hamilton Arms continued on as a small offbeat residential community until the spring of 1978, at which time the property was sold and the buildings renovated for an influx of various private businesses. Today the compound goes by the official name of “Hamilton Court” and the building that once housed the Hamilton Arms Coffee House is now the home of OTJ Architects.)
Approximately two years after the closing of the Hamilton Arms Coffee House, the more adventurous spirits of Washington, DC’s growing bohemian community found a new sanctuary in a small, eclectic establishment known as Coffee ‘n’ Confusion. During the spring of 1959 the Beats emerged in Washington, DC, embracing the writings of Jack Kerouac, John Clellon Holmes, and Allen Ginsberg, and searching for places where they could congregate and share their love of art, jazz, and poetry. They frequented a select number of gathering spots that accepted their ranks: Harrigan’s Restaurant on the waterfront in Southwest Washington, where local artists displayed their paintings on the walls and held court every night in the unusual beer garden that overlooked the Potomac River; Julie’s Café on M Street in Georgetown, where a low-key neighborhood watering hole slowly converted into a hip beatnik meeting place; and Bohemian Caverns, a legendary jazz basement where a diverse array of music fans could lounge all night. However, it was the introduction of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion that galvanized the burgeoning contingency of beatniks that had suddenly materialized amidst clouds of marijuana smoke and inspired voices of poetry and free expression.
Coffee ‘n’ Confusion was the creation of William Addison Walker, a remarkable bearded poet from Pinehurst, North Carolina who went by the name “Bill” and arrived in Washington during the late 1950s just as Beat consciousness was on the rise. He married a local girl from the better part of town named Ruth Murray (a 1958 Vassar graduate; today she goes by the name Ruth France), enrolled at George Washington University to study creative writing, and rented a house at 809 22nd Street NW (which eventually became home for a horde of beatnik allies). Walker was 24 years old when he and his wife opened the first version of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion on April 1, 1959 at 912 New Hampshire Avenue NW, a storefront which had previously housed a small grocery store called the Neighborhood Market.
Ruth France remembered how she and the beatnik icon came together: “He was very charismatic, he really was. I used to say he had all kinds of personality and absolutely no character, which was true. He was a Beat poet and very bright and very creative and also a bit of a bastard because he could get very aggressive and combative and he also drank to excess. I had lived quite a sheltered life and was working here in Washington at Brentano’s Books and he would come in and I had never met anyone like him, so eventually I married him. My parents had him investigated and they were just horrified at what they found. For one thing he told me he was 35 years old when we first met and in reality he was only 24. I was very upset when I found out about that.”
Coffee ‘n’ Confusion was based on the coffee houses of New York City’s Greenwich Village and during its first week of operation served approximately 100 patrons per night, an impressive feat considering they advertised solely through word-of-mouth contacts in the local bohemian community. The little club offered coffee, tea, poetry readings, debates, bongos, folk songs, checkers, and chess for its colorful clientele of students, poets, and musicians. Although Coffee ‘n’ Confusion hadn’t been open long enough to draw serious heat from the local police, Assistant Corporation Counsel Louis P. Robbins happened along and found the coffee house in violation of numerous zoning laws. He ordered the business closed on Tuesday, April 7, 1959 and a wave of publicity followed the club’s shutdown.
Bill Walker searched the city for a new location for his business and eventually found a suitable spot in the basement of the Zantzinger Building at 945 K Street NW (a murky space which had previously housed a series of short-lived restaurants). The Zantzinger Building, a two-story, brick Victorian mansion (with wood detail, arched windows, framed balconies, and a half-attic on top) had been constructed in 1884 and had actually served as a private residence in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood until real estate mogul Otway Berryman Zantzinger, Sr. came along and purchased the building in 1925. The property was immediately rezoned and later that year the new owner relocated his private real estate business, the O.B. Zantzinger Company, from 912 10th Street NW to his new K Street headquarters. It was an interesting section of Downtown, as just around the corner was the seedy 9th Street Bowery and its used book shops, arcades, peep shows, liquor stores, and run-down restaurants.
The Walkers’ new and improved version of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion operated seven days a week from 8:00pm to 4:00am, requested a token donation at the door, and did not serve alcohol. An auspicious grand opening was staged on the night of Saturday, June 6, 1959 that advertised a poetry contest between some local heroes (the “Washington Poets”) and a squadron of Beats from New York City. Bill Walker addressed the crowd throughout the evening as manager Dick Dabney and other hip poets like Bill Jackson read original works (titles of these creations ranged from “The Charlie Starkweather Blues” to “The Stream of Not-So Consciousness”). By the early morning hours Walker was being hailed by his customers as a folk hero in the making, the leader of a new generation committed to self-expression and artistic freedom. Walker – shaggy-haired, goateed and bleary-eyed – relished his role as King Hipster and in the days following the impressive debut of his coffee house told local reporters he didn’t really like the term “beatnik” and objected to the way that people in America were slaves to routine. He said he hoped his protest would give other people guts and help them organize their own protests. Exactly what he was protesting, though, was never really made clear.
As Coffee ‘n’ Confusion simmered as a beatnik hot spot, it found itself under intense scrutiny from local law enforcement authorities who seemed anxious to pounce on the club’s patrons the moment they emerged from the smoky den and attempted to navigate their way down K Street. After a six-month undercover police investigation, the Narcotics Squad of the District Police, armed with search warrants based on material gathered by rookie policeman Private Jose L. Estrada (who had posed as a drug-buying beatnik), staged sweeping raids on both Coffee ‘n’ Confusion and Java Jungle (a similar coffee house that had opened in August 1959 at 2119 Pennsylvania Avenue NW) on the morning of Friday, April 1, 1960. Twelve local beatniks were arrested on drug charges, including 24-year-old Java Jungle owner John F. Stevens and 26-six-year-old Dick Dabney, who had formerly been a manager of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion. Both were accused of unlawful transfer of marijuana (Stevens pled guilty and was eventually placed on probation, while Dabney was acquitted on grounds of entrapment). The bust sent waves of paranoia through the beatnik scene and was particularly devastating to Java Jungle, as the coffee house never reopened its doors after the unexpected raid.
Bill Walker, reeling after the police intervention, worried that his business would wane as the beatniks were targeted as major players in local marijuana distribution rings. Before the month was out, 27-year-old Angelo Alvino, a no-nonsense entrepreneur who owned the renowned jazz nightclub Bohemian Caverns and had been a fixture on Washington’s music scene for many years, made him an offer and came away with 50% ownership of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion. Alvino wasted little time in augmenting the nights of poetry at the coffee house with wild late-night jam sessions that brought together some of the city’s top musicians. Coffee ‘n’ Confusion soldiered on under the new part-owner and continued to pull in an eclectic crowd of artists, poets, beatniks and those who defied categorization.
It was said that Angelo Alvino had kept a watchful eye over the patrons of his two nightclubs and had somehow made the acquaintance of one of his teen-aged regulars at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion – a reserved young man named Jim who in later years would turn out to be a famous rock and roll singer. Alvino, whom I managed to interview in 2005 at the Charles County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in LaPlata, MD, told me he clearly remembered the teenager who was so enamored with his establishments: “I knew Jim, but this was long before he was a singer and became famous. He would come into Coffee ‘n’ Confusion for the poetry readings and he knew Bill Walker and would talk with both of us about the poetry. He was a teenager from Virginia and it was unusual for someone that young to keep coming back, but he wasn’t a troublemaker or anything; he was a good kid and he just came in every now and then and he’d always bring a friend or two with him. He came into Coffee ‘n’ Confusion and I had Bohemian Caverns at the same time and he started going up there to listen to the jazz music.”
Alvino revealed that a number of local musicians pointed out to him in the late 1960s that a local fellow named Morrison had gone on to achieve fame and fortune with a rock and roll band called the Doors. When he saw the jacket of the band’s first record album, he immediately recognized one of the members as a long-haired version of the teenager he had known only as “Jim.” (Unfortunately, Angelo Alvino passed away in February 2008 after a prolonged illness.)
Several of Jim Morrison’s friends from George Washington High School confirmed that Coffee ‘n’ Confusion had been one of his favorite haunts. Former classmate John Huetter recalled: “Coffee ‘n’ Confusion – I wasn’t that crazy about it, but Jim liked it because they had poetry readings and stuff like that and that supposedly was the attraction. Jim read there once that I remember and I’m not sure if I was envious or if my reaction was, ‘Oh no, my God, sit down!’ As a matter of fact, at GW, Jim was not a part of the socially ‘in-crowd’ and he had a reputation from going there because the guys on the football team would come around and ask me, ‘Are you a friend of the beatnik or what?’”
Evidently, Jim Morrison was slow to get involved in the festivities at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion and initially seemed to prefer observing what transpired around him. I queried Jim Merrill about his behavior at the coffee house and he replied: “He could be strange. You know, some nights Jim could be invisible. He could just be there and he wouldn’t show off or do anything crazy. Then some nights he’d catcall and make fun. At Coffee ‘n’ Confusion, when we were there together, he basically stayed on good behavior and we would pretty much just sit there and listen to the beatniks recite their poetry.”
At some point, most likely during the spring of 1960 towards the end of his junior year of high school, Jim Morrison actually got up onstage and performed at least one poetry recital at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion, a monumental event that marked the very first time he ever performed in public and shared his written work with a captive audience. While the actual poem he read that evening has never been conclusively identified, it has been speculated by some in attendance that evening that a version of “Horse Latitudes” may have been the selection. This public recital was testament to how important Morrison felt the coffee house was and how strongly its patrons and their behavior influenced him. Coffee ‘n’ Confusion was not only the very first place where he ever saw poets in action; it provided the cramped stage where he cut his teeth as a performing artist.
Maggie Phillips had heard in the hallways of George Washington High that Jim Morrison was going to be reciting at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion and she remembered making the journey to the basement club on K Street with a close friend to see Jim in action for the first time: “I remember people talking in school about Jim’s poetry and it was really looked upon at the time as something different. Helen Willey, who’s married now and is a federal judge in Hawaii, went to GW with me and the two of us went over to Coffee ‘n’ Confusion one time because we heard Jim was going to do a poetry reading there. We couldn’t tell our parents, so I went to Helen’s house and we took a bus into the city. When we got to the place we had to go downstairs into the basement of this building and I remember it was like a cave and it was really dark and they had little round tables in there and I remember these shaggy-looking people would get up on this little stage and recite their poetry. We went in and sat down and you can picture how out-of-place we were – we were like these little, rosy-cheeked, teen-aged good girls and we were surrounded by these weird people!”
Maggie provided her memories of Morrison’s performance: “We went into the coffee house and we saw Jim Morrison there and I don’t remember who he was with, but his turn came and he got up and did his reading. What I remember is that it was one of his original poems because I seem to remember it had something to do with horses and when he finished I remember him saying ‘By Jim Morrison.’ When he finished his reading, instead of applauding, everybody started beating their spoons on the tables and I remember thinking, ‘These people are way weird!’ When we were leaving to take the bus back home Helen turned to me and told me she wanted to become a beatnik and I told her I didn’t want to because I didn’t look good with my hair parted in the middle. To this day I remember that, and while I didn’t become a beatnik, I did get to see and hear Jim Morrison recite poetry!”
After Jim Morrison’s epic poetry recital at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion, he went on to graduate from George Washington High School in June 1961 and then left Alexandria at the end of that summer to attend St. Petersburg Junior College in Florida (he would later attend Florida State University and eventually earned a bachelor of arts in theater arts from UCLA in June 1965). Morrison, it should be noted, never actually sang with a rock and roll band during his teen years in Alexandria. However, it is obvious that as a high school student he was forming an identity around art and it was his love of poetry and literature that fostered his later interest in writing song lyrics. When the Doors formed in Venice Beach, CA in September 1965, he undoubtedly drew upon his unique experiences at Coffee ‘n’ Confusion as inspiration to express himself as a performing artist. Jim Morrison went on to become one of rock and roll’s greatest superstars, only to have his life cut short at age 27 under very mysterious circumstances. He was discovered dead in a bathtub in Paris, France by his girlfriend Pamela Courson on Saturday, July 3, 1971. His body was examined that afternoon by Dr. Max Vassille, who reported that Morrison’s body showed no signs of trauma and proclaimed he had died of natural causes due to heart failure. However, it must be noted that no autopsy was ever performed and to this day no one knows how Jim Morrison really died.
As for Bill Walker, the years following his reign as Washington’s top beatnik were difficult to say the least. Ruth France unfolded the story of his tragic demise: “We had given up Coffee ‘n’ Confusion in October 1960 because while the club was always filled with people, there was no money coming in. We split up and later when our divorce was final Bill was living in Paris and he had been arrested for smuggling guns into Spain and spent time in jail in Madrid. He had a girlfriend there and they got married and they came back to New York and Bill eventually wound up in Bellevue Hospital Center for a while and they told him he could never drink again because he had suffered severe liver damage. He came down to see me in Washington and I will never forget it, it was so incredibly sad because his whole personality was gone. He just was not the same person when he wasn’t drinking.” According to his daughter Brandel France de Bravo, William Addison “Bill” Walker died sometime around June 1974.
The Beatnik scene in Washington was certainly at its most intense from the inception of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion in the spring of 1959 until the massive marijuana bust of April 1, 1960 that set back both Bill Walker’s unique coffee house and its copycat ally Java Jungle. Several spirited entrepreneurs around the city, with their eyes now squarely focused on the precarious situation surrounding Coffee ‘n’ Confusion and keenly aware that the heat of the local law enforcement authorities was firmly directed at the highly visible beatnik leader Bill Walker, tentatively acted upon plans to open similar coffee house establishments in hopes of attracting some of the beatnik clientele that was now growing wary of their old hangouts.
Georgetown became home of the Cauldron, a beatnik playground that opened for business in May 1960 by Irwin Baron. Situated in the basement of 3263 M Street NW, this adventurous coffee house took over the underground space formerly occupied by Ward’s Used Furniture Store, and featured spontaneous entertainment, live jazz and folk music, primitive dance exhibitions, and classic movies. Unfortunately, the beatniks were a bit slow to respond, perhaps because of the country music culture that prevailed on M Street at the time, and the Cauldron didn’t bubble for long. The owner changed the club’s name to the Lamplighter on November 1st of that year and was out of business less than three weeks later, its demise unnoticed. Before the month was out Melo’s Italian Restaurant had taken over the top floor of the building and the Cauldron’s basement dwelling had been remodeled and reopened as Melo’s Subcommittee Room, a small-scale cabaret-theatre. In early 1963 Melo’s closed and the basement was transformed into the French Quarter, a jazz club that switched over to rock and roll with the arrival of the British Invasion and thrived as a Georgetown hot spot until 1968 (many local hippies will remember this site hosting a head shop called the Bird Cage during the 1970s). Today 3263 M Street NW houses an Italian Restaurant called Lazio.
Northeast of Georgetown in a seemingly different world known as Adams Morgan (an eclectic neighborhood that in recent years has cultivated an overwhelming Hispanic presence), Potter’s House was opened in June 1960 at the former site of the Embassy Lunch Restaurant at 1658 Columbia Road NW (a bit east of 18th Street NW) by the nondenominational Church of the Saviour under the guidance of Rev. Newton Gordon Cosby. Acting upon his belief that Christianity must always be open to “new structures,” Rev. Cosby designed Potter’s House as “a quiet place where thoughtful people of any belief can relax, hear music, look at art, and talk.” Coffee, simple fare, poetry readings, live folk music, and displays and shows by local artists marked the club as unique in a section of town which at the time was mainly known for it’s other two main nightclubs, the Showboat Lounge (2477 18th Street NW), which for years featured now-legendary jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd, and the Underground (1401 Columbia Road NW), which during most of 1961 offered the great jazz guitarist Bill Harris. The Potter’s House differed from other beatnik hangouts in that its atmosphere was a bit more subdued and it closed at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, a departure from the dusk-to-dawn hours that other local coffee houses adhered to. Remarkably, Potter’s House remains open at its original location to this very day.
Several years after the inception of Potter’s House, Adams Morgan welcomed another coffee house called Ontario Place, which replaced the Ontario Market at 1811 Ontario Place NW in May 1963 and stayed in business until June 1965. Ontario Place was widely known for offering Delta blues guitarist-balladeer Mississippi John Hurt and gained a reputation among Washington musicians as one of the hippest places in town after Bob Dylan stopped by for a visit, an event later chronicled in the book Positively Main Street (1972) by Toby Thompson. Ontario Place made a lasting mark in local music history, but faded far too quickly from the scene (the building that once housed this coffee house was recently torn down and a private residence is being constructed on its former site).
Another major beatnik establishment to appear on the scene was the Unicorn, which emerged on the fringes of Dupont Circle at 1710 17th Street NW long before that area had established its reputation as a refuge for counterculture devotees. (The composition of the neighborhood would change drastically after the infamous June 1963 incident involving 23-year-old Eddie Hicks, a troubadour who had been arrested for vagrancy while sitting on the grassy lawn adjacent to the Circle and playing his guitar for the small crowd that had gathered around him – his arrest would trigger a series of demonstrations around the Circle’s fountain that would define the area as a gathering spot for bohemians, leftists, nonconformists and revolutionaries that exists to the present day.) While the pulse of the neighborhood had long circulated through such eclectic Dupont Circle bars as the Flame, Charlie’s Café Lounge, the Ben Bow, and the Brickskeller, the Unicorn quietly joined their ranks in January 1961 and offered folk music and a bohemian atmosphere for those who shied away from the hustle and bustle of Connecticut Avenue.
Six months after its opening the Unicorn was purchased by a neighborhood resident named Elliot Ryan, who would later become a significant figure in Washington, DC’s rock and roll scene as creator and publisher of Unicorn Times, an excellent publication that initially had its offices adjacent to Dupont Circle at 1721 21st Street NW and covered the music scene in the nation’s capital from 1973 to 1986. Ryan was originally from New York, had graduated from Michigan State University, and after a two-year stint in the army settled down in Washington, DC in May 1960. He took over the Unicorn with the idea of making it a live music coffee house and installed a Wednesday night “hootenanny” where a bevy of folk singers gathered and sung for the masses. Jazz musicians were featured on Monday nights and on weekends he booked such folk artists as Tim Cameron, Allen Damron, Mario Illo, John Everhart, Robbie Basho, Pete LaFarge, and Eric Darling (of the Weavers). Local guitarists like John Fahey and Max Ochs regularly showed up for impromptu performances and the popular Joan Baez even stopped in one night to sing onstage with the resident folkies.
The Unicorn also staged art shows and Sunday afternoon movies, everything from Charlie Chaplin flicks to art films and foreign works to more popular titles like “The Room Upstairs” and “The Ruse.” Fifty different kinds of tea and coffee were on the menu and patrons could play chess or sift through racks of newspapers and magazines. Citing financial reasons, Elliot Ryan eventually closed the Unicorn in the spring of 1964 and today the former site of this unique coffee house hosts the Admiral Dupont, a six-story condominium building marked 1700 17th Street NW (just north of 17th and R Streets NW).
As Washington’s original beatnik gathering spot and poetry performance space, Coffee ‘n’ Confusion lived off its reputation and remained in operation until April 1963, at which point Angelo Alvino closed up shop to devote his full attention to Bohemian Caverns. The local beatniks continued to use 945 K Street as home base, as the building’s basement went on to host such coffee houses as the Open Way (July 1963 to March 1964), the Crow’s Toe (April 1964 to December 1964), and a succession of similar establishments throughout the latter part of the decade including the Lute and Lyre, Portochinko’s Palace, and the Blue Sparrow.
As the 1960s wore on the beatniks dwindled in number in Washington, DC and were eventually all but replaced by scores of long-haired hippies that mobilized a new cultural revolution driven by hard rock and roll, rampant drug use, and fanatical opposition to the Vietnam War and conservative values. As cultural staples, folk music gave way to the Beatles and the British Invasion which, in turn, inspired a wave of psychedelia that infected both musical and social trends. As the authentic beatniks disappeared and the Summer of Love loomed on the horizon, the hippies descended upon Dupont Circle, dispensing LSD and offering visions of peace and tranquility to the young sycophants that hovered all around.
Purple Haze aside, the empty and crumbling Zantzinger Building at 10th and K Streets NW eventually outlived its usefulness and was torn down in October 1969. The former site of Coffee ‘n’ Confusion then served for the next 38 years as an asphalt parking lot for the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church. The lot was recently excavated and is currently a fenced-off construction site that will soon host a multi-story office glass-and-concrete complex. Sadly, no markers, monuments or plaques commemorate the former location of the basement lair that launched Washington, DC’s Beat Generation and served as the very first stage for a rock and roll legend.
Capitol Rock: http://www.capitolrock.com/
Video of Mark Opsasnick commenting on this article at the Kensington Row Bookshop on September 18, 2008, posted on the The Coffee Cup: http://www.the-coffee-cup.com/2370/coffee-confusion-and-jim-morrison-forgotten-hip-coffee-houses-and-beatnik-poets-of-wash-dc-pt-1/
Mark Opsasnik was born in Washington, DC, raised in nearby Prince George’s County, MD, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in urban studies from the University of Maryland in 1984. His lifelong interests in unexplained phenomena, popular culture, and rock and roll music have resulted in seven books including Capitol Rock, which documents the history of rock and roll music in the nation’s capital from 1951 to 1976, and The Lizard King Was Here: The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia, which examines a greatly overlooked period in the life of one of rock and roll’s greatest superstars.
Published in Volume 9, Number 3, Summer 2008.
Lester Blackiston was one of the co-owners of Coffee 'n Confusion and a Beat Poet himself. Later he moved to Richmond where he held forth as a big fish in a small pond of artists,writers,poets,drunks,etc.
Both Bill Walker and Lester Blackiston came to DC in 1969 and did a poetry reading at George Washington University. It was sort of a great reunion of the DC Beat poets.
Afterwards we went to the One Step Down Lounge which was a first class jazz venue and small bar and restaurant. Lester had 50 or so copies of his new poetry book with him. He told me he left several copies in the Men's Room on the toilet. I told him I would help him with distribution. He said,"Distribution? I will show you distribution". He then threw all the remaining copies of his poetry book(hot off the presses)over his shoulder and into the crowd seated behind him at tables. Most of the copies hit the floor as I recall. I was greatly impressed. Lester was the real deal. He was no fake and no phoney.
Later in Richmond,Va. he held forth has King of the Beats. He gathered around him a large assortment of painters and poets and writers and hangers on.
Thinking back to the times I met Lester I can't recall ever seeing him at his homes when a party wasn't going on. He seemed to be the center of whatever artistic activity was going on in and around Richmond.
Some years later when visiting him I heard him say he had made a fortune in real estate just because he was bored.
Lester was a friend of Norman Mailer's and used to correspond regularly with him.
After Bill Walker died(he had worked as a major domo or something for Norman Mailer in NY)Lester somehow got Walker's ashes and would tell people "Here is Bill Walker" holding up the urn.
When Lester and his wife Lilly lived on their houseboat on the James River in Richmond he held his parties there. He made dandelion wine and held forth there.
This is the same Lester Blackiston that I mention in the post below about Ezra Pound. Lester told me he used to visit Ezra Pound at Saint Elizabeth's Mental Hospital in the 1950's when Pound was being held there accused of being a traitor during WW2. Saint Elizabeth's hospital is known as "Saint E's" to all local DC residents.
Click on the link below to hear a person tell of a boat trip with Lester and Lilly.
The above link will also take you to the website to hear a 6 part audio about Lester Blackiston.
Click on the above link to see a Youtube video of the paintings Lester Blackiston donated to the Longwood Museum in Farmville, Va.
Lester died in October 2007.
Here is a link to a photo titled The Funeral Of The Beat Generation.
Here is some info on Lester.
Lester Blackiston: The Pirate of Shockoe Bottom, Part 1
This is the story of a dead man. He gave up the ghost a little over year ago. And some who knew him might say he never had a ghost to give up in the first place. That he was a man without a soul. I’ve heard that said, on more than one occasion, by people who knew him.
His name was Lester Blackiston and he was many things. Though it’s hard to say which of those things he really was.
Lester made things up about himself. A mythomaniac. A liar in the pathological sense. He’d written poetry, but that was many, many years ago. And he never wrote that much of it. A couple of slender volumes, all out of print for decades now. But he had written it, and he did love poetry nearly as much as he loved cheap wine.
Lester had a genuine passion for Shockoe Bottom. He began living there when few others did, when it really was an old commercial district that housed more rats than people. Lester was the latter not the former, though some, and these were his friends, would argue otherwise.
Lester did receive a captain’s license for six-packs, which means he could take out small charter boats with no more than six passengers, excluding mate and captain. It’s fairly easy to get one of those, a test and so many hours logged on a boat. A lot of people have this kind of captain’s license.
Lester was neither a great navigator nor an able-bodied seaman. I’d been out with him on the Chesapeake on numerous occasions and each time I had to take the wheel from him, set a course, steer us back to shore. He was almost always too drunk to handle a boat. He’d suck down pint after pint of Thunderbird, always carried a bottle in his back pants pocket like a silver flask, like some sacred family heirloom. If there were a sandbar Lester would find it and ground the boat. I once suggested he consider taking people out on clam charters since he seemed to favor the shallows. Lester never owned a charter boat. He’d lease them. And more often than not the vessels would sustain considerable damage. A twisted propeller shaft. A gouge in the hull. Few ever let Lester take their boats out more than once. Regardless how much he offered to pay them.
All this said, Lester Blackiston was a pirate. A real one. A dubious sort. Merciless. Egotistical. He took advantage of a lot of people over the years, those who were closest to him, mainly. He was cunning and charming, a short man with a furze of tight curls ringing the dome of his skull. His neck and arms were thick and his legs spindly and bowed. He wore the goatee of a jazz trumpeter and sometimes his temper was like a volcano. At such times, he spewed invectives and threats. Swung his balled fists. Fired a 357 magnum into the sky and waited for the rain of a single lead droplet. At other times he’d pull a switchblade on you. No reason. Just to flash sharp silver within centimeters of your face. If he was at home in the Bottom he might grab his Samurai sword, unsheathe it and slice at the air.
A while back I talked to some of the people who knew Lester. Among them was one his oldest friends—the artist Bill Kendrick. He was one the three Bills in Lester’s orbit, along with Bill Amalong and William Fletcher Jones, artists all.
(from Bill Kendrick Track 1; 4:07-4:37)
I encouraged Lester. You see I met Lester in 1955 no 1954. He had a little place up on Laurel Street near the big auditorium there what’s it called. (The Mosque). The Mosque in that block on Laurel Street on Oregon Hill. It was up on the top floor and that was sort of a gathering place for all the artists and writers. He just attracted them cause he knew art fairly well and of course he knew literature very well.
(from Bill Kendrick Track2; 0:00-0:35)
Oh that’s when I met him and he was writing poetry then and he said you’re very fortunate in being an artist you can at least hang your pictures on a wall and sell some of them and he said I can’t sell my poetry. So what he would do is walk up and down the aisle of the Village and the Eton’s Inn that was across the street next to the Lee Theatre, he’d walk up and down the aisle reading his poetry and said is that worth 25 dollars? And sometimes he’d walk out of there with almost a hundred dollars. It was amazing. So that was my introduction to Lester.
(from Bill Kendrick Track2; 2:46-2:51)
This is before he really broke bad.
And you knew about his father.
I never really knew much about Lester’s father. He spoke of him infrequently and then with guarded fondness. The man had been dead for years when I first encountered Lester. In the best circumstances relationships between fathers and sons are strained and a little sad. There’s a mutual regard but a lack of understanding. The chasm of a generation is as deep and wide as the grand canyon. And you can never bridge in that void of time and experience. Lester had told me that his father called him Newt. But that’s about all I knew.
(from Bill Kendrick Track2; 3:00-3:19)
He lived on Floyd Avenue and he owned a lot of property in the market and how he acquired it I don’t know. But Lester inherited all that that’s how he survived. That place he lived in on 17th and 18th street they belonged to him and he was not a very good businessman, Lester.
(from Bill Kendrick Track3; 1:15-1:40)
His father and he had a very what’s the right word a sentimental relationship not a shallow, Lester was smarter than, wicked smart, you know, and his father never got that. You know what I mean I hate to use the term redneck but he was a country guy, you know what I’m saying.
Bill knew Lester when the two were up in New York City. It was at the height of the Beat generation, and Lester knew, at least peripherally, Jackson Pollack, Thelonius Monk, and his favorite subject—Norman Mailer.
(from Bill Kendrick, Track 1; 1:47- 3:48)
Lester’s hang out in New York was the White Horse Tavern which is where writers, people with the newspapers, journalists types all hung out and it was famous for Dylan Thomas, they say he died there or near there an that made it a sort of a landmark. But besides alcohol they made the best hamburgers in New York I’ll never forget that but he wanted us to meet Norman Mailer, so we all congregated there one night, Norman Mailer came in after several hours of sipping suds and as soon as he walked in and sat down he introduced himself and wanted to know how a Virginian thought of New York City and immediately a man came through the front door, and dived across the table and grabbed Norman Mailer around the neck. I asked Lester said what’s going on he said wherever he goes he attracts violence, so we had to leave there because they had a war in White Horse Tavern. So we went up town to some place on 23rd street. I’ll never forget that. And the same thing happened again, as soon as we got out of the taxi cab he was attacked again by a Puerto Rican with a knife. And he said you see what I mean. So Bill Jones got frightened and left but I hung around awhile because I wanted to hear what he had to say, you know he was famous buy that time, let’s see, how did that night end. We eventually left and went back to my place and the next day that’s about the time I did the portrait of Lester and he decided it was not presentable portrait so he ripped it up. I was used to it. Where can I go from there.
You never do know where you’re gonna go when you get involved in the Lester stories. Bill’s wife Deborah is sitting with us in the Kendrick’s living room. When there’s a momentary lull Bill remembers the time Lester’s houseboat was boarded by a buccaneer.
(from Bill Kendrick, Track 3; 2:19-3:28)
What about the story about the guy swimming across the channel. (When they lived on the houseboat, that’s one of my favorite stories.) You know Lester lived on a houseboat. He and Lily. And what was that boy’s name. (It doesn’t matter we don’t have to give the name, just tell the story.) Well this guy got high on drugs and he swam across where was it down on the James, (the canal) the canal. And he got on the boat and he said Lester I want all your dope, I want your woman (well he had a knife, didn’t he?) Yeah, had a knife. (And he boarded the ship like a pirate and said I’m taking over, I want your houseboat I want all your dope and your money). Now this actually happened, this is not a contrived story. That’s bizarre. (That’s not the end of the story.) Well eventually this guy he really went out. (But it was kind of a pirate encounter.) It was one of those relationships Lester went through where the other person couldn’t take it and he went out, you know.
That houseboat takes me back to the first summer I spent in Richmond back in the mid-1970s. Lester and his wife Lill were still living down there. And I’d heard a story about how that houseboat came to be.
(from Bill Kendrick, Track 3; 3:28-3:40)
Do you know the story of how Lester built the houseboats. (He built the houseboats) (Now you know the story, well tell us.) It was this guy named Barham.
(from Bill Kendrick, Track 3; 4:20-4:25)
Lester and Barham were down in the bottom and this was during one of the big floods.
(from Bill Kendrick, Track 3; 4:44-5:00)
They noticed across the river these massive pontoons that had broken free somewhere way upstream you know some larger city on the James to the west. And he and Barham
(from Bill Kendrick, Track 4; 0:00-0:10)
had a big old truck. They went over and they pulled them out of the water, they set them in the canal and then with scrap lumber that’s how they built those things. (Oh my gosh)
(from Bill Kendrick, Track 4; 0:21-1:23)
I think he had four of them total. What he did was he leased them to VCU students except the one he and lil lived on for like a hundred dollars a month, a hundred and fifty dollars a month. Five dollars a month gave you water hook up and electrical hookup. So that’s how they came to be built. One of the things Lester loved because it had that Huck Finn kind of feel to it is that in the morning he or Lill, probably Lill more often than Lester, because Lester was pretty trashed the night before. They’d toss a line off the side and catch themselves as many blue gills and crappie you know sometimes a small mouth bass as they wanted and they’d have breakfast, they’d have lunch. They’d have dinner. Well one year and this was I think in the early seventies there was an algae bloom on the James and the water was stagnant so algae was everywhere and it effected the Kanawha Canal as well so all the fish just went belly up white.
(from Bill Kendrick, Track 4; 1:29-2:21)
So Lester called the city and said can you drain the locks? Well the locks hadn’t been drained in fifty years. No we can’t drain the locks. and the guy said from the city the only way we can drain the locks if there is a health hazard. Lester thought about it, contacted Barham, they drove out to Barhamsville Lester took a shot gun and killed a cow, they took the cow they put it in Barham’s pickup truck drove it back to the city and they threw it in the canal. Well within a week it was putrid and bloated and the entire place stunk and they called the city had a health inspector come out and say yeah, this is a health hazard. They ended up draining the canal for the first time in fifty years. (Oh my lord, Oh my god)
And a small seed embedded within this story begins to germinate in Deborah’s mind and she says.
(from Bill Kendrick, Track 4; 2: 22- 3:00)
Well that does remind me of a Lester story when he talked about putting a line in the river weren’t you down town one day when Lester lived down there in the market and Lilly was on the second floor and she would let a line out the window with marijuana on the end of it and Lester was smoking and she would bring it back up. (So he didn’t get busted.) Yeah un huh, she’d drop it down. Didn’t you see it, Yeah I remember She’d drop it down on a string and then bring it back up. (That’s when they were down there on 18th Street right there at Walnut Alley. Had you heard that one before. (No I never had that’s a beautiful) You saw that. Yeah I saw that.
We’ll rejoin the Kendricks later. Right now we’re going to visit Richard Bland. He’s an artist who lives in an old ice house in the lower Fan. We sit on the partially enclosed back deck on the second floor. You can hear all the city through the conduit of the alley below—bird song, rustling leaves, sirens, traffic on nearby Floyd Avenue. Richard is fully a generation younger than Bill Kendrick, but he did know Lester. And as our interview begins, Richard does something that surprises me.
(from Richard Bland, Track 1; 0:27-1:48)
We’re going to start with a prayer, so dispense the cigarette. O reverend God we are your creation you are our maker and of all things that we have known in our lives, all the persons that we’ve known and I know that my friend Chuck has sought to honor all men all women he has known and in as much as he is able oh lord I pray that as we look over the life of Lester Blackiston, I pray for your leading me and guiding my heart. O Lord I’m not a person that is prepared to examine lives but we have to look at what is around us. We live in a realm of corruption, of sin, I pray that you lead me in wisdom and understanding in this interview in Jesus name Amen. (Amen)
After his benediction, Richard begins giving me his take on Lester.
(from Richard Bland, Track 1; 1:55-2:58)
So when Lester would seek for improvements of things around they’re often to his own advantage and in some cases he would bait people. (laughter) in crossing over to his corner in life and there were no particular loyalties. He certainly found that there were people that would be able to hold him in esteem. That worked greatly to his advantage. A poet manipulator of the manipulator of the word, language.
(from Richard Bland, Track 1; 3:57- 5:00)
He probably would have thought of himself as a conjurer of language but also a conjurer of making of way and means that were available to him, forming the people around him. He tried to have his dynasty of life and figures and courtly figures about him yet he was not a compassionate king though he could shine his counterfeit light, he could captivate with his voice, he knew how to sensationalize the moment with exaggerations.
Richard, who as an oil painter is an observer, scrutinized Lester.
(from Richard Bland, Track 2, 0:07-0:17)
He sang a little song when you were with him. He danced a little dance. He entranced you, he brought you into a lie.
(from Richard Bland, Track 2, 1:08-1:23)
If you get somebody’s mind, questioning itself through doubts, with doubts, you can sometimes put a ring in their nose and lead them.
(from Richard Bland, Track 2, 3:53-5:00)
So Lester also sought people that would be devoted to him. It doesn’t take many people, three, four or five people, to accommodate that kind of need. An d that changes becausepeople recognize what an unreliable character he was. But something about the stench of death attracts certain people. (Did he emit that stench of death) Well he balanced it with what the rest of the world does they balance it out with other
(from Richard Bland, Track 3, 0:00-0:32)
Lures, baiting lures sensual things. Lester was certainly no lover boy or Don Juan kind of individual and so yet he would joke, men joke, I mean they, they try to puff up and be powerful and haughty.
(from Richard Bland, Track 5, 1:37-2:03)
He had this sort of concept of honor among the thieves and they knew that and some of them were just really lonely and desperate and he had a place that he put them up maybe.
Just as distant church bells begin tolling, Richard tells me that he had an inherent distrust of Lester. Most times, Richard avoided him like the plague.
(from Richard Bland, Track 8; 0:02-0:31)
I personally stayed away from Lester. As soon as I met Lester, very soon thereafter, I recognized this is someone to keep your distance. He will ruin you.
(from Richard Bland, Track 8; 1:09-1:29)
Maybe in some ways at that time I was surviving and I knew Lester was someone who what not help my survival. (So you realized that pretty early o.) Oh very quickly
(from Richard Bland, Track 8; 2:13-3:21)
The first time I met him was in the Village in one of those high backed booths and he set on the outside because he arrived. I was already on the inside and I can’t help remembering this because he was sitting there and here was this man in his forties maybe his early fifties. I’m not a great storyteller but I needed to get something and I wanted to go out in the aisle but rather than have him get up I pulled myself up on the booth and stepped on the table and stepped across from the table and jumped into the aisle. Now that kind of show of course it shocked Lester he was real surprised and in a way he was outraged by my behavior. I had no reverence for him.
Regardless of Richard’s feeling about the man, he did paint a quick portrait of Lester.
(from Richard Bland, Track 8; 4:45-5:00)
So it was later that Lester and his party came to one of my studios I had in those days and I pulled out some paints.
(from Richard Bland, Track 9; 0:00-0:29)
I pulled out paints and some canvas and I said well I’ll paint you and said well, I’ll paint you and I did a painting of Lester I pained it I sort of divided it down the middle in a way it was a long sort of vertical painting. It was really more painted in a loose painting style, a colorful sketch.
(from Richard Bland, Track 9; 3:21-3:45)
After I did that painting I really learned by example because when I wouldn’t sell that painting to him that painting disappeared a few weeks later when somebody broke into my studio and stole it. I knew then.
(from Richard Bland, Track 9; 4:04-4:08)
He didn’t do it though. It was one of his kronies. One of his addicts.
(from Richard Bland, Track 9; 4:26-4:49)
But this particular fellow took his own life a few months later. He put a hood over his head by a gas heater, put out the pilot and let himself drift away.
In the smallest of nutshells—the husk of pistachio—Richard describes his painting of Lester Blackiston. And as pirates used to say, even of themselves, there be some good and be there be some bad.
(from Richard Bland, Track 9; 0:30-0:56)
And half of it he had a sort of angelic look and the other half of it very devilish look and that’s how I envisioned Lester. Partly that angel of light and partly that angel of darkness and doom and distrust.
This is Charles McGuigan for WRIR and I want to thank you for listening. And a special thanks to song writer and guitarist Charles Arthur who provided the music. And my co-producer Brad Kutner. A Grain Of Sand is produced in the studios of WRIR, Richmond’s independent radio.
I hope y’all’ll join me next time for part two of Lester Blackiston, Pirate of Shockoe Bottom. Until then, remember, you can always find the universe in a grain of sand, heaven in a wildflower. All you need to do is listen. Smell, taste, touch and see. It’s all there for us. Every waking moment of every
Lester Blackiston, Pirate of Shockoe Bottom, Part 3
Lester Blackiston was a pirate. Almost everyone I talked to told me as much. And like a pirate, Lester plundered. He couldn’t help himself, it seemed. If there was something he desired, he would take it.
I’m back with artist Bill Kendrick and his wife Deborah. Bill had known Lester most of his life. He is a gentle man, sensitive, a painter to the core with a love of beauty and a desire to know the other. In his living room we’re surrounded by artwork. It cushions the environment. Many of the paintings, which exude a love of life, were done by Bill Kendrick. Some of his paintings ended up in the hands of Lester Blackiston.
There is no doubt that Lester loved art, or at least, wanted to possess it. And he could sense which paintings had value. Over the course of his life Lester amassed hundreds and hundreds of paintings and drawings, maybe thousands. He paid as little as he could for these works of art and sometimes stole them outright. His theft of what he desired began early on when Lester was studying literature in Washington, D.C.
(Bill Kendrick, Track 7, 2:23-3:26)
Now Lester when he went to Washington or Georgetown University. (GW) He used to go to the Phillips Gallery, do you know about this. (No). He loved art, literally did love art, he was crazy about me. And always wanted me to make a picture of him. He’d say here’s a hundred dollars make a quick sketch. And hopefully some of those are in the show. You know little quick sketches of him. He loved that. But never any big commission type thing, he couldn’t handle that. He’d go to the Phillips Gallery to study and one day he was sitting below a painting, I can’t remember who it was, I think it was a Modigliani the one he loved to write poems about. Amadeo. He stole it. He took it home. Have you been to the Phillips Gallery. (Yeah I love it) There are hardly any guards there. It would be easy to take something.
(Bill so what happened, he took the painting and then what happened?) He took it home and kept it for quite a while. And he got scared because it got a lot of newspaper coverage and he took it back and hung it and you know proceeded to study again.
Bill Jones was panic stricken he couldn’t believe it.
A year or so before Lester died, he felt compelled to somehow give back some of his ill-gotten gains. Artist Eddie Peters urged Lester to make a gift of his artwork to Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. It would become known as the Lester Blackiston Collection in memory of Lilly Blackiston, who preceded her husband to the grave. Johnson-Bowles, director of the art center at Longwood, tells me how it all began to unfold.
(Johnson Bowles Track 1, 1:07-3:10)
A couple of years ago I got a call from Eddie Peters and he said that Reuben Peacock said to call me and Reuben Peacock of course is a sculptor and his work is in our permanent collection and I think a lot about Reuben he’s a good guy and a lot of our donors think a lot of his work and so I said well great so what’s up? And he said well II have some work that I want to show you I have a friend who wants to give you some art work. And it was the week before Thanksgiving and we had just spent two weeks getting a collection of work out of I don’t know if you know Jack Blanton, he was a vice president at the federal reserve bank he lived over off Cary Street and he’d given us his whole collection basically and we had just spent weeks kind of clearing out his house and it was the week before Thanksgiving and I thought wow I’m really tired I don’t know if I can do this and I don’t really know anything about it but what the heck I’ll go it could be interesting so I dragged a friend of mine David Whaley who’s also on the board of the Art Center and we went into Richmond into the Shockoe Bottom area and we went into this old dumpy kind of storefront that clearly hadn’t been lived in since the big storm that flooded Shockoe Bottom and we went in there and there was basically no light, lot of mold, lot of mud kind of six feet up and then there were all these paintings and they were beautiful and I couldn’t believe our luck and Eddie said Well pick out the ones you want, take as many as you want, and so in the course of half an hour I picked out about 50 pieces. And Thanksgiving came and went and the Sunday after Thanksgiving Eddie showed up with Lester and they delivered the paintings and that’s sort of the story.
Not the entire story though.
(Johnson Bowles Track 2, 2:47-3:21)
The second part of this is that we also have another probably ten works, that Lester and Eddie called me up probably about nine months after we received the first gift and said we have more don’t you want to take some more of these. And I said well we’ve really got a lot here and we need to do some restoration on them but yeah sure I’ll come and look at the next batch and I took about ten of those and then Lester died not very long after that maybe five months.
Now Johnson Bowles is accustomed to accepting gifts from fairly staid donors, stalwarts of society, unblemished pillars of decorum. Their artwork has pedigree, a trail of paper attesting to when purchases were made and for how much. That was not the case with the Lester Blackiston collection.
(Johnson Bowles Track 3, 0:51-2:26)
You know at first of course you know I’m used to for the most part the donors showing me the bill of sale and say this is what I paid for it and this is where I bought it from the artist blah blah blah and so I guess I thought it was on the up and up but as I’ve talked to the artist, they say oh that’s where that painting went. I mean I know that Bill Amalong I talked to him recently and he said yeah I saw him on the website and I was like I forgot about that painting where did you get that I remember I left it in some you know Lester had a bar or something and he had some artwork up there and he could never get these paintings back from Lester and so Lester kind of confiscated them never gave them back or then I hear he kind of cheated them out of a painting by they needed money or they wanted maybe they were all drunk and he said I’m gonna give you fifty bucks or a case of beer for this painting which obviously it was worth much more but so it’s hard to tell how drunk everybody was or how stoned everybody was to decide what was what. A lot of them are going to say oh that’s where that went yeah. But on the other hand I think after the initial shock of these artists figuring out that we had them I think they were pretty pleased that somebody was going to take care of them and that they were all together and somebody’s going to do something with them and people were going to enjoy them so I’m glad for that.
Pirates steal by hook or crook. That’s part of their persona. And Lester, being one of them, had to play the role. Sharon Hill, former wife of the late William Fletcher Jones, remembers Lester and his penchant for taking what was not his. We’re seated on a moss green sectional couch in Sharon’s anything but traditional living room as she tells a story about Lester when he was wrestling demon that turned out to be himself.
(Sharon Hill Track 3, 2:57-3:59)
Lilly was not well mentally and he said the devil had possession of her. And while he was visiting us he went down to the sub floor level it’s just a dirt floor under a Shockoe Slip warehouse and he said the devil was down there, the devil. And so we were upstairs not paying much attention and I had to go out, I left Bill there and he spent hours down there he said he was wrestling with the devil for Lilly’s soul. And actually he was going through my through all my boxes of stuff that I didn’t have room to store and old suitcases of things from my childhood and he was going through my stuff looking for knickknacks which I later found in his refuse pile outside of his apartment on 17th Street.
Sharon reminds me that Lester would steal from anyone, even his own mother. But I never realized to what extent he robbed her.
(Sharon Hill Track 4, 2:09-3:35
Yeah I don’t know what Lester’s problem was. He was complex and I can understand, I mean a man who can steal from his own mother is really and had completely lied to her for years she believed he was managing her house as a rental property and he’d send her a little money and then well the tenants moved out one month he’d miss and then you know. (When he had in fact sold it.) He had sold it pocketed the money himself was sitting in a bank account.
Yes he got her to sign thing and she thought she was signing over something that allowed him to manage her property. And he sold her house. (Wow, I didn’t know that) Well she talked to me on the phone and cursed him up and down about how awful he was and that he had stolen her house. And told me how he did it and for years she didn’t know that he had stolen it. He had taken the house and sold it and sent her some kind of monthly money that was supposed to be rental income.
Sharon Hill Track 4, 3:38 -3:41
He had thousands of dollars in the bank, tens of thousands of dollars.
The art collection that Lester eventually donated to Longwood University is now valued at more than $250,000. For Johnson Bowles the worth is not simply in the paintings themselves, but their stories and the tale of the man who acquired them.
Johnson Bowles Track 1, 3:36-4:24
The more I learned the more complex the story and the more fascinating it becomes. And of course I’m used to donors really coming from the heart and saying I’ve collected this for a long time and I just want you to have it and it means so much to me and I think it will do good. So that’s the kind of place I was coming from. Which you know over the course of doing the research I find out it’s much more nuanced.
(Well, elaborate a little bit on that if you would)
Sure, sure, I think people are really complicated, and as they grow older they may want to rewrite history a little bit, they may want to think differently about what they’ve done or what they haven’t done.
As Johnson Bowles prepared the Lester Blackiston collection she began hearing story after story about the donor’s proclivity for theft.
(Johnson Bowles Track 3, 2:41-3:07)
I heard another story where a friend went over to Lester’s house and there was this table and she was like where did you get that table and he said you know I just have it. And it was the table from her back porch that he had actually gone and stolen and she had been missing and wondering where it had went but he would not fess up that he had actually stole it. Kleptomania, I don’t know.
What she does know is that at the core of it all was Lester’s relationship with his wife Lilly. I’d met Lilly on a number of occasions. It was late in her life and she was alcohol-ravaged and a devoted pothead. She had dark, squinty eyes and pale white skin with a smattering of freckles. Her red hair was short and unruly as her husband. Lilly’s movements could be jerky and in all she reminded me of a marionette at the hands of a none-too-talented puppeteer. When she spoke she was almost always incoherent. Yet her nature was often sweet and she rocked her head almost constantly to a tune only she could hear.
(Johnson Bowles Track 1, 4:37-5:00)
Lester and Lilly had a pretty tumultuous relationship, it was intense. Someone told me recently you know they kind of attracted each other kind of the intensity and the eccentricities of both of them kind of attracted each other but it wasn’t a calm relationship. It was pretty, it could be brutal.
(Johnson Bowles Track 2, 0:00-0:42)
At times. I did hear a lot of stories about guns and pointing and shooting at each other. I’m not sure if any of the bullets actually hit each other. I haven’t heard that yet. So it’s pretty complicated. And I think Lilly was I’m just learning about her she was pretty complicated, eccentric maybe a little unstable, unpredictable and was even very jealous of any woman who got near Lester. But on the other hand he didn’t really treat her that well either emotionally or physically. So I guess that’s the polite version.
Tragedy followed Lilly like a shadow. She made certain that changed the outcome of her life. And these decisions were frequently made to placate her husband.
Johnson Bowles Track 2, 1:29-1:53
Someone had told me that Lilly actually had two children but Lester didn’t want to have anything to do children and basically said if you want to be with me then those children can’t be a part of it. And gave them up to the state gave her children up to the state. And I think that’s really tragic.
Lilly seemed to worship and loathe Lester. He’d entrapped in a sort of prison when she was very young and had somehow managed to keep her holding out for a fantasy relationship with him that would never occur. When she was much younger she flared with jealously and rage.
(Bowles Johnson Track 2, 0:58-1:07)
I have heard about Lilly pulling a gun on another woman and chasing her around shooting at her and wondering if she was going to have to jump into the James River to get away from Lilly.
Sharon Hill knows the real story. She was the one Lilly was trying to shoot.
(Sharon Hill Track 12, 0:02-3:52)
Lester had just re-tarred and fixed up the roof on the houseboat down at the canal and so we were going down there just to hang out, party a little, with Bill my husband, and while were there, and there were other people there I don’t exactly remember how many two or three other people beside Lester Lilly, myself and Bill and so we went up, we climbed the ladder to get up on the roof of the houseboat to see what a good job he had done and while we were up there it was just so pleasant and a view of the city and we were smoking a little and drinking a little and everybody was happy and full of life and Lilly was coming up the ladder and while she was coming up I had just lit a joint and it was Lester’s pack of matches and I passed it to him and he was holding onto it and he was holding a drink a can of beer or whatever in the other hand and I was holding on his pack of matches so I reached over and tucked it in his pocket and while I did that Lilly saw me and her fantasy took over and she thought there was something between us which there was not but she was very jealous of her because at that time he was having an affair with Susan Washburn, bill’s ex, fourth wife so she found out about it so she was very jealous so she went down into the houseboat and got the revolver and she came up the ladder and I don’t remember if she fired once but Lester saw that she had the gun and that she was aiming it at me and Lester ran up to her before she had a chance to climb onto the roof and started stomping his feet and yelling Lilly get down, back down. Yelling at her and screaming at her to go back down the ladder so she did and she went into the house boat and she fired up through the roof and I don’t remember once or twice but I’m looking at the water as if it were a very inviting possibility. That horrible old sewage down there yes I will jump into that rather than get shot and then he yelled down not the roof, not the roof, I just fixed the roof Lilly, not the roof so he could hear her rummaging around and he got the bucket of tar was sitting there and what he was planning on doing was when she came out he was going to drop it on her. Well she came out and he didn’t do it fast enough he dropped the bucket and missed her and she walked down the gangplank to the walkway and started firing at us standing up on the roof. Well I hit the floor of the roof in no time, flat as we could be at the farthest edge we were all lying down and she’s shooting at us and finally I heard Lester say that’s six she’s finished.
But the story wasn’t finished.
(Sharon Hill Track 12, 3:53-4:58)
And we saw her heading down the walkway towards the parking lot and she got in the car and she drove off and we were all recovering and finally someone said where’s she going and we thought about it and Lester thought about it and we couldn’t figure out where would she was going He said she’s going to Susan Washburn’s apartment, she’s going to call Susan so we got all upset and Lester made phone calls and found out that she was in fact there at Susan’s with the gun and Susan didn’t know what was going on so she invited Lilly in gave her something to drink and they were just sitting around talking an Lily had put the gun down and Lester told Susan to get the gun because Lilly was on some kind of jealous rage. So we were all relieved eventually that that was happening but I was thinking this is something that I will never forget.
No one forgets a story like that. Not ever. Particularly if you were there. And this episode illuminated something about Lester, at least in Sharon’s mind.
(Sharon Hill Track 13, 0:20-1:02)
I felt for a moment there I must be in a movie this not really happing. But he had the courage the come and confront her. Rather than let here climb up that ladder and shoot at us all. He had the courage to come and confront her she could have shot him right there a foot away and I always admired him for challenging her and standing up to her with a gun pointed at him.
When looking at the paintings in the Lester Blackiston collection, Johnson can’t Bowles help but see reflected, in a round about way, the duality of Lester’s nature.
(Johnson Bowles Track 2, 4:19-5:00)
Is how people, one’s choices and one’s lifestyle starts to effect other people. And then there’s I’m not sure, I’m still grappling with all of this to try to figure out the nuances and who’s truth is who’s truth and how does that all kind of come together and what it all means and how can these people live such incredibly wild lives, I mean off the charts and then there are these beautiful paintings, I mean truly beautiful, calming, lovely you would never put the two together.
It’s a real
(Johnson Bowles Track 3, 0:00-0:39)
Dichotomy and when I hear about Lester and I hear people talking about someone one of the artists said oh he’s a monster a Jekyll and Hyde and I think wow that makes a lot of sense in some ways I mean the art work is sort of Jekyll and Hyde. You look at the personality again off the chart intensity. And then you know hardcore living, drinking, smoking dope, doing acid just the whole gamut and then you look at these beautiful still lifes paintings of flowers of little stuffed bunnies and you go wow this isn’t easy, people aren’t easy at all.
People aren’t easy and it isn’t easy being one of them. Sharon Hill saw both sides of Lester Blackiston’s soul and she weighed, like an ancient goddess with a feather of truth, the good and the bad.
Sharon Hill Track 8, 0:30-0:38
He was colorful he was endearing in many ways, he was interesting but ultimately he was revolting.
This is Charles McGuigan for WRIR and I want to thank you for listening. And a special thanks to song writer and guitarist Charles Arthur who provided the music. And my co-producer Brad Kutner. A Grain Of Sand is produced in the studios of WRIR, Richmond’s independent radio.
I hope y’all’ll join me next time for part four of Lester Blackiston, Pirate of Shockoe Bottom. Until then, remember, you can always find the universe in a grain of sand, heaven in a wildflower. All you need to do is listen. Smell, taste, touch and see. It’s all there for us. Every waking moment of every waking day. Even in our dreams. Take care.