By Elliot Tiber
Originally Published In The Times Herald-Record – Woodstock Commemorative Edition
Text copyright 1994 The Times Herald-Record
Mary Sanderson stepped aboard the helicopter at dawn Saturday. The chopper blades slapped the air, and the pavement of the Orange County Airport fell away. The copter soared toward Bethel in a battering hailstorm. Just before it arrived, sunshine shot through a hole in the clouds. To the 40 year old nurse from Middletown, it looked like a scene from a biblical epic. “When you are in a helicopter, the sun’s rays come down on 500,000 people. It looks like the multitudes,” Mrs. Sanderson said. “You just can’t picture that. You don’t realize how all the people looked in that sun.” Mrs. Sanderson had been scheduled to drive to the festival to work Saturday’s night shift. But the Woodstock organizers had called her late Friday. They said the festival had been swamped with emergency cases. Ventures would send a helicopter for her and any other nurse she could recruit.
When she arrived, Dr. William Abruzzi of Wappingers Falls, the festival’s medical director, immediately put her in charge of the newly erected medical tent. Outside, one man was selling his own brand of medicine. “He was yelling, ?Mescaline! One dollar! Mescaline! One dollar!’ All day long, ” Nurse Sanderson said.
Promoters decided early on that it was crucial to crowd control for the music to be endless, especially after dark. The music was supposed to start at 7pm on Saturday and continue until midnight. But after the crowd swarmed the site on Friday, the promoters’ strategy changed. They needed more music and deemed that acts should start later and play until dawn. Saturday’s bill included loud, tough rock’n’roll: The Who, the Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Grateful Dead, Canned Heat, Mountain and Santana. The promoters worried that as the music got louder, the crowd could get wilder. But if they weren’t entertained well, several hundred thousand bored fans could do some damage. Lang and the other organizers pleaded with Saturday’s acts to play twice as long. Most were willing. It was the biggest audience in history; the attendance was estimated at 250,000 that morning.
The mud smelled like hashish, two inches deep. Sodden sleeping bags were churned up with cellophane, cigarette butts and discarded clothes. Standing rainwater was steaming skyward, blanketing thousands of sleeping kids with an eerie fog. Gery Krewson saw the tractor rumbling over the hill, plowing through a pile of soaked garbage and sleeping bags. The tractor was towing a tank trailer to haul away sewage from the portable toilets. But under that mass slept a 17-year-old from South Jersey named Raymond Mizak. His sleeping bag was over his head to ward off the rain. The tractor slowly ran over him. Krewson and five others raced up the hill and helped carry Mizak to an ambulance. By the time the helicopter arrived, Mizak was dead. “I don’t think he ever felt anything. He was asleep,” Krewson said. Richard Barley was walking up the hill seconds after the accident. “He had a blanket over him,” Barley said. “A couple of girls were standing there crying.”
Eileen Fuentes, a 17-year-old Forest Hills High School student, had been recruited to run an independent concession stand at the festival. She sold the accouterments of the counterculture – posters, roach clips and buttons. But Fuentes discovered Saturday that the real market was in raincoats. She ventured into the crowds, found a spot by the stage and sold the raincoats her boss had packed, just in case. Within an hour, hundreds of coats had been snatched up at $5 a pop. “I went back to get more, but we didn’t have any more,” she said.
“SPI-DERS!” the guy was screaming. The Freak-Out Tent had its first patient. Nurse Sanderson wasn’t sure what to do about psychic spider infestations. The Hog Farmers treated bad acid trips with physical stroking and soft words. She decided to do the same. “You learned in a gosh-darn fast way,” she said. “You have to give them some touch with reality. You had to speak softly.” Mrs. Sanderson wanted to work the festival to learn how to treat the new sicknesses associated with the drug culture. Woodstock Ventures had offered to help train medical personnel, and Ventures was offering big bucks – $50 a day – for nurses. But there weren’t many takers. Local people in medicine were skittish about being associated with the controversial event, Mrs. Sanderson said.
The medics had brought a bottle of Thorazine, an anti-psychotic drug, to chemically counteract bad trips. But the tripsters reported that Thorazine would send a drug user crashing immediately, leading to long-term psychological problems. The consensus at the Hog Farm was that Thorazine was a very bad trip indeed. “We stuck the Thorazine under the table, and I think somebody stole it,” Mrs. Sanderson said. She divided the circus tent into three wards to cover the incoming casualties. The most famous was the ward for those experiencing the imaginary symptoms of bad trips. A second, the largest, was for people with cut feet. Broken glass and pop-tops slashed hundreds. “Their feet were cut to ribbons,” she said. “We sat them down, put their feet in a bowl of clean water and disinfectant.” The third area was for people with a malady peculiar to Woodstock. “They had burned their eyes staring at the sun,” Mrs. Sanderson said. “If they were tripping, they’d lie down on their backs and just stare. There were five or six or seven at a time. That was something.”
The shiny piece of foil glistened next to the black rubber tire of the state police car. Leo O’Mara, 18, of Clintondale, figured there was hashish in the foil, snatched it up and continued walking past the cop as he followed the abandoned cars along Route 17, for what was probably 20 miles. O’Mara opened the foil and found 29 tabs of acid. “They were pinkish, kind of,” O’Mara said. “So I took one and folded the rest up and kept walking.” But O’Mara’s evening was about to turn strange. “I get there and everyone’s saying, ?Look out for the purple acid! Look out for the purple acid!'” he said. “I go,’Hey, that stuff was kind of purple. Uh-oh.'”
Bethel Town Justice Stanley Liese ran a quiet court from his house. But in August 1969, Liese suddenly acquired 18 months’ worth of work – 177 cases. The most common charge: possession of implements to administer narcotics. If the cases were not simply dismissed, the average find was $25. Liese remembered one 16-year-old who was charged with selling marijuana (for $6 an ounce) and possessing six pounds of the stuff with intent to sell. Irate customers followed the troopers into Liese’s house when they brought the suspected marijuana dealer in. The customers demanded that the judge throw the book at the teen because the grass was awful. Liese ordered him locked up in the Sullivan County Jail and sent a sample of the grass to the police lab in Albany for analysis.
The Free Kitchen was created to feed the hundreds of people who would be outside the concert, just making the scene. Organizers felt responsible for a horde of unprepared people, so they planned to feed them. But by Saturday afternoon, the Hog Farm’s Free Kitchen was cooking for thousands after the Food for Love operation turned into chaos. I bought truckloads of grain, barrels of soy sauce,” Goldstein said. “I bought a lot of vegetables from all over. But after the roads shut down, Goldstein’s problem became how to move the food to the people. The helicopters couldn’t find a place to land. “The sandwiches were coming in a National Guard helicopter to the Hog Farm compound, ” Goldstein said. “We had 200 people join hands to form a circle for the helicopter.
A Woodstock acid trip wasn’t always voluntary. “Outside (the tent), they were giving out electric Kool-Aid laced with whatever,” Nurse Sanderson said. “They said, ?Don’t take the brown acid.’ They put it in watermelon. Now, when kids take a tab of acid, they know what they’re getting into. When you drink something that’s cold because you’re thirsty, that’s different. A lot of the kids hurt with this stuff were just thirsty. They didn’t have any choice. ” But while the kids were drinking and taking whatever was around, Lang was being careful. Stationed in the headquarters trailer backstage, Lang couldn’t afford to hallucinate. He says he didn’t even smoke pot that weekend. “I didn’t drink anything that didn’t come from a bottle I didn’t wash or open myself,” he said.
So far, so good for Leo O’Mara. The acid had kicked in, the sun was shining, and he had no bummer symptoms yet. But he was thirsty, yes thirsty. Four cans of cold beer were sweating next to the stump on which he was sitting. In keeping with the code of the counterculture, O’Mara didn’t touch it for an hour, by his reckoning. He even looked at his watch. By the time he says he finally did flip one of the pop-tops, the sun would have baked those beers, but O’Mara swore they were still ice-cold. The facts of physics are clear. O’Mara was hallucinating either time or temperature. “I couldn’t believe it,” he marveled. “I’m serious, man. Really.”
On Saturday evening, Lou Newman’s ears pricked up when he heard the murmuring on the sidewalk outside his gift shop in Liberty. “The kids were going, ?Walla-walla-walla.’ I couldn’t really hear what they were saying,” Newman said. “Then I found out why. This guy comes in and says, “We’re with the Jefferson Airplane, and this is Grace Slick.’ I didn’t know anything about a Jefferson Airplane.” Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen and Slick were staying at the Holiday Inn down the road. All three signed Newman’s guest book.
The show wasn’t going on. Janis Joplin, The Who and the Grateful Dead refused to play Saturday night. Their managers wanted cash in advance. Woodstock Ventures feared the fans would riot if the stage was empty. The promoters pleaded with Charlie Prince, the manager of the White Lake branch of Sullivan County National Bank, to put up the money. Prince knew that Ventures President John Roberts had a trust fund of more than $1 million. Late Saturday night, Prince negotiated his way through the clogged back roads from Liberty to White Lake, where he opened up the bank. He discovered the night drop slot was overflowing with bags of cash. Prince called Joe Fersch, the bank’s president, who told him to use his judgement. After Roberts gave Prince a personal check that night for “50 or 100 thousand dollars,” Price wrote the cashier’s checks. The performers were paid. The show went on. “I felt that if I didn’t give him the money for the show to go on, well, what would a half-million kids do?” Prince said.
One festival-goer, who asked to be identified only as Andrew, had decided that Janis Joplin was in love with him. Andrew knew that he had a shot at instant on stage romance. “I knew that if I could just make passionate love to her, everything would just be all right and she would fall in love with me forever,” Andrew recalled. “I got about three feet on stage, and about 40 policemen disagreed. They dragged me off. I wasn’t the only one. That happened all the time.” Daniel Sanabria, the fence installer, who stayed for the show, also remembered Joplin’s set. He was 10 feet from the stage. “I think we were under the influence of certain mind-altering substances,” Sanabria said. “We would tell the performers, ?Down on stage.’ She (Joplin) would sit down and let us see.”
Thever was just back from ?Nam. Now, possessed with paranoia, he cowered on a cot in the Freak-Out Tent. ” He kept saying the same thing over and over again,” Mrs. Sanderson said. “He was afraid of something. ?Don’t come near me,’ he said. ?Don’t come near me.’ They tried to talk him down, but that time we did use drugs. They gave him a shot of something, and an hour or so later, he was down. We asked him, we always asked, what he had taken. I’m not awfully sure that we got the right answers.”
Phil Ciganer’s buddy was Grateful Dead guitar guru Jerry Garcia, who used to pop into Ciganer’s hippie boutique in Brooklyn. But, friendship aside, Ciganer had to be honest about the Grateful Dead’s performance at Woodstock. The band members were standing in water, their electric guitars were shocking their fingers. “It was the worst show of theirs I’d ever seen,” he said.
The Who had released their first rock opera, “Tommy,” in June. Now, just after midnight, the English hard-rockers were performing the three-record set’s theme song, “See Me, Feel Me.” “Listening to you, I get the music,” sang the fringe-shirted Roger Daltrey, “gazing at you, I get the heat…” Head Yippie Abbie Hoffman sat on the stage with Lang during The Who’s set. Hoffman had been working the medical tent since the festival’s opening act, gobbling down tabs of acid to stay awake. Lang and Hoffman had been looking for an imaginary guy with a knife under the stage. Lang decided it was time to calm Hoffman down. He had become increasingly obsessed with publicizing the case of John Sinclair, a Michigan teen-ager busted for possession of two marijuana cigarettes.
So he jumped up and grabbed the mike, spitting out a few words about Sinclair, who had gotten a 10-year jail sentence. Who lead guitarist Pete Townsend didn’t recognize Hoffman and figured he was just another whacked-out festival-goer rushing the stage. Townsend bonked Hoffman on the head with his guitar. Hoffman wandered away. ” Abbie was being Abbie,” Kornfeld said. “He was very out of his head at Woodstock. He didn’t have contact with reality.”