They say if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there. Still, it’s hard to imagine that anyone living in 1960s America could ever forget 1969, especially with all the reminders a half-century later. This year, the golden anniversary of the moon landing is commemorated with an Apollo 11-themed butter sculpture at the Ohio State Fair and a limited-edition Budweiser that’s brewed by a female U.S. Air Force Captain from a 1969 recipe.
The 50th anniversary of the Manson murders, meanwhile, is being revisited with an exhibit of Charles Manson’s artworks, and while there won’t be a 50th anniversary concert at Woodstock, the festival is officially the namesake of a fully-licensed brand of cannabis, thanks to the ruling of a judge. Those aren’t the only watershed moments of 1969, though. By all accounts, the year was full of them.
The world of politics and government affairs was full of groundbreaking events. Richard Nixon was inaugurated as president, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower died, and Golda Meir became the first female prime minister of Israel.
During the height of the Vietnam War, the public staged heated and frequent demonstrations, with Berkeley community members establishing the “People’s Park,” Native American activists occupying Alcatraz, and the riots at Stonewall serving as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in America.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Harvard students took over the university’s administration building, resulting in nearly 200 arrests; the Weatherman first organized as a branch of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); members of the Black Panther party became government targets; and hundreds of thousands of protestors marched against the Vietnam War in demonstrations across the country.
Major milestones mitigated serious disasters, however. It’s true that an inordinate amount of planes were either hijacked or crashed, a devastating oil spill happened in Santa Barbara, and the record-breaking Category 5 Hurricane Camille hit the Mississippi coast, killing over 200 people. At the same time, the first electronic message was transmitted over the progenitor of the internet, America’s earliest ATM machine was installed in New York, and the Boeing 747 jumbo jet made its inaugural passenger flight.
Music saw a number of significant events, too, including the first Led Zeppelin album and the Stooges’ debut studio album. Black Sabbath performed live for the first time, and on the roof of Apple Records in London, the Beatles had their last public performance, only to release their highly acclaimed Abbey Road as well.
Meanwhile, a Florida court issued arrest warrants for Jim Morrison for indecent exposure at a Doors concert, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones drowned in his backyard swimming pool in Sussex, England, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono got married with a “Bed-In” for peace as part of their honeymoon in Amsterdam. Capping off the year was the proverbial “end of the sixties,” the Altamont Free Concert— when a would-be “Woodstock West” devolved into a maelstrom of violence that left four people dead.
In the book 1969: The Year Everything Changed, author Rob Kirkpatrick writes, “For those who first came into consciousness in the beginning of the 1970s, as I did, there was a sense of the country having just gone through an enormous upheaval—a paradigm shift that the generation before us had witnessed first hand, through which we had emerged as if through the other side of the looking glass.”
And here we are, 50 years later, still peering through that looking glass.