Aug 2, 2018

August 28, 1967: Golden Gate Park, San Francisco


Chocolate George lies in state, looking like a wax figure of Attila the Hun. A fur cap hides his bare head, shaved when the doctors tried to repair the skull Chocolate broke when he flipped over the handlebars of his Harley.
His grease-smeared Hell's Angels jacket is pinned like a battleflag on the underside of the coffin lid.
A hundred Angels and their women walk into the funeral chapel from under the bright morning sky to hear Sonny Barger, head of the California Angels, say a quiet eulogy.
[ . . . ]
In front of the chapel, the president of the San Francisco Angels' chapter shows a friend a red-printed leaflet emblazoned with a helmeted skull. "S.F. Party for Chocolate George," the sheet says, "Golden Gate Park. Bring Food, Drink, Smoke, Wail.
"The Dead. Big Brother."
Fifteen hundred people follow the map and the word to Lindley Meadow in the park. Before the rock bands arrive, the scene looks like two medieval armies lined up on hills separated by a small valley, wondering whether they should do battle.
The cyclists line the roadside next to their bikes. A growing cluster of hippies sits on a hill across the shallow valley, under a phallic pagan sculpture. Both groups are waiting for it to happen.
The numbers balance, then tip to a predominance of hippies, the gentler outcasts. The groups infiltrate one another and become a strange, large sea which speeds the pulse of passing tourist buses and extra police patrols.
Two cops stop their car, get out, and lounge with deliberate ease at the back of their vehicle. A tambourine passes through the crowd, gathering coins for the beer run. Carved pipes pass from mouth the mouth, wafting a sweet, happy smoke.
A green pickup arrives with thousands of cans of beer floating in shaved ice. Shirtless, hairy Angels pelt each other with snowballs and hurl showers of ice through the August sky into the crowd.
The Grateful Dead ride in atop an Avis truck. They park under a tree, plug in, tune up, and the celebration turns on.
A visiting cyclist is annoyed by a dog. He lashes out with his boot. An Angel's dog. The dog-kicker disappears in a crush of angry bodies. When the writhing huddle parts, there is no one left lying on the ground.
The sun is getting lower in the sky when Big Brother and the Holding Company begin their sound. It goes on and builds until something in the crystal chorus tells the throbbing crowd that this is it, the high end of the celebration for Chocolate George.
Strangers, friends and onlookers evaporate from the meadow within minutes. A Hell's Angel is dead, honored, gone. ...

(from the Berkeley Barb, 1 September 1967)

Film clips here, here, and here.


  1. Don Snyder, a photographer who took some shots of the festivities that day, later wrote in his book Aquarian Odyssey:
    "There is something about the Hell's Angels which always invites a double-take. I felt that way when I heard the roar of their motorcycles on the Haight-Ashbury strip, and noticed the Angels stopping here and there, even stopping traffic at times to check out some new hippie arrival on the Haight; or interceding and trying to cool out a hassle that a hippie was having with the police. It seemed strange that the icons of surly rebellion were acting as guardians of the naive and defenseless.
    Later on, Emmet Grogan, one of my guides, told me that 'Chocolate George,' a Hell's Angel particularly respected by the Haight-Ashbury hippies for his good deeds, had been killed recently in an accident on the Haight. There would be a funeral, and afterwards a concert by Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead was scheduled in Golden Gate Park. My wife and I rode in the car that was the unofficial honor column of hundreds of motorcycles and cars going to the cemetery. It was all quite elegant until they broke out the beer; then the funeral disintegrated into scattered fights with or between other motorcycle groups (such as the Nomads and Satan's Slaves) who had attended the funeral.
    At the rock concerts the Hell's Angels gave only an illusory protection to the flower children, who were continually harassed by the cops. However, their 'protection' often degenerated into gratuitous acts of violence. I never did photograph Chocolate George lying in state at the funeral parlor...[despite] the splendor of his 'Chicago-style' funeral, the countless flowers, wreaths, and swastikas."

    1. Chocolate George was my dad. Thanks for your honest comments.