Visiting Caleb Bevans (Hervey’s son) in El Paso, Texas in 1967 I was given this photo of Hervey’s last house. I recognized it immediately, having been there in 1945, the year after Hervey died. It is the only known photo of Hervey’s last house; and this is the first time it has been published (that I know of). I have lived with this photo now for 52 years, in wonder. If millions of first-worlders had lived like Hervey the last hundred years, we would not even need the Extinction Rebellion.
He lived a lifestyle few of us would choose. He built this house for himself by choice. Hervey stayed light with regard to creature comforts and material goods. The house was all he needed in the summers. He was at home in his community: he walked everywhere, and he was welcome everywhere, to rest, to share food, perhaps to shower.
Winters he shifted to property in St. Mary’s, Georgia which he purchased after getting prepaid for his still-unpublished autobiography, the most disordered, hard-to-read manuscript one could imagine.
The snapshots of Hervey as an old man came to me as I was gathering material for The Family Story. John Pascuitti’s wife kindly mailed them to me.
It shows him where we are now: the “Woodstock Nation,” about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Many of us are either dead or in our 70’s. It ought to be interesting if this year’s audience will again be a sea of white people.
What have we done with our lives? Most of the performers are still performing. Several will return for the sesquicentennial. Some of us moved out of cities to live in the country. We composted, recycled, experimented with communal living and alternatives to the suburban bourgeois model. But we did not challenge the government. We knew that violence creates violence. The Black Panther Party tried hard to change the politics. Their charismatic spokesman, Fred Hampton, advocated that all people, black and white come together and work for the needed changes. Four months after Woodstock, he was assassinated by the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover got wind of him and ordered his destruction.
So few of us tried to challenge the establishment. We may have demonstrated against the war in Viet Nam. I learned how to counsel young men wanting to avoid the war. But we did not change things enough. Our grandchildren speak of transforming the system, of ending the use of petroleum: “leave it in the ground.” Most plastics are petroleum products. A sign carried by one of the Extinction Rebellion demonstrators said “You can’t eat money.”
Can I live in a version of Hervey’s Last House? Yes and No. Not without screens. An old southern blues man was asked what he thought was the greatest invention of the 20th century; he answered “screens.” Ok, if I had food and water etc, I could live in Hervey’s last house… but I want screens.
We on the brink of real change. Rachel Carson knew this in the 1950’s, the oil companies knew, many scientists suspected, as did most thinking people.
Each of us has a story. Mine included leaving inner-city Chicago and moving to the north woods. I was a single mom of two children, born 13 years apart. We lived on an old Finnish farm, drew water from a well, cut our own wood for the winters, and danced to the music that came out of the Festival. When my daughter was 22, my son and I moved to Sweden. I wanted to get out of the USA and did this via a student permit.
No longer connected with academia, I decided to study Eurythmy at the Rudolf Steiner Seminary southwest of Stockholm. We stayed 10 years; five for the training and five to work. I worked at Waldorf Schools, at an alternative clinic, taught English to refugees, and was a caregiver for developmentally disturbed people.
Besides learning scores of Swedish poems and memorizing hundreds of pages of classical music, Eurythmy taught me to live totally present in my body, and to work with shaping forms out of air. I once wrote that Hervey could “…transform wants into wellstones.” These seem related.
Each of us has a story and I guess it is the time for us to sit back and look at our own stories and decide what is most essential to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 1
Living in the north woods, screens are highly desirable. However, I cannot grow my own vegetables. Community is essential. Trading is desirable. Can I do this without a car? Time to get serious. (Please, do I have to?)
But back to Woodstock and the story of how I came to live on the property of Alf Evers and publish The Family Story.Sweden changed my life; politically, physically, and psychically. Sixty-odd years of social democracy had created a society where people did not engage in greed, largely because they could not.
Sweden has a small, fairly homogenous population. It is largely indigenous in the sense that their place on this planet is the same as their ancestors.
All around the country are Viking graves, rune stones, ancient walls and the ruins of hilltop villages. One can read the past in the present.
When life’s circumstances required that I return to the States, I immediately began to explore the literature regarding indigenous people of my area. Learning about the mound builders of the Mississippi River basin, I decided to go look at them.
This became a road trip from Minneapolis via Iowa (the Effigy Mounds) and East St Louis, Illinois (Cahokia) via the Dickson Mounds. In south central Ohio, there is the famous Snake Mound which was a point of pilgrimage for the ancient Hopi clans. 2 Fort Ancient, nearby, has the rough outline of North and South America with mounds built at the cardinal directions within the boundaries.
A whole world revealed itself as I drove through Chilicothe, Ohio where the mounds had been rescued when they were used to delineate the golf course. Seip is beautiful, in an open field. In Marietta, Ohio the big mound has become a graveyard for European settlers. There was a causeway down to the Ohio River. In Moundsville, West Virginia the mound is built as a labyrinth. Six feet from the apex, a small tile was found with apparently Phoenician writing on it. All these mounds were built with baskets of earth. People had leisure time, lived largely at peace, at one with Nature.
In the 20 years since this road trip, the mound culture and Native American cultures have been more explored and more appreciated. We are nearing the 7 generations required to belong to the land.
My next stop was West Cornwall, Connecticut to see an old uncle who kept a box of letters from his lifetime correspondence with my grandmother Vivian. This was slightly uncomfortable, as I moved in with relatives I had not seen since 1965. But they had all spent good times at Woodstock and happily waved me off toward the Hudson River.
An easy drive from western Connecticut, I drove into Woodstock and went directly to the cemetery to dance on my grandfather’s grave. I had come to say good-bye to my lifelong fantasy of living like Hervey in a place like the Maverick. Time to move on. I did notice a girl in a fairy suit tripping by. Might have guessed what I envisioned was not to be. Woodstock definitely has its own magic.
Pete Leahcraft was the official town historian and kindly gave me a copy of Hervey’s autobiography. Then I went to see Gertrude Robinson, Henry Morton Robinson’s widow, still living in her house on the Maverick. Henry and my father were drinking buddies and both brilliant, boisterous and egotistical. Gertie kept a low profile.
She invited me in, made tea, and after musing a bit about the years in between, told me to go and see Alf Evers, the true town historian. He had already written and published two major histories 3. At the time I met him he was working on a history of Kingston, New York.
Alf welcomed me into his hickory house in Shady, NY, maybe 10 miles from Woodstock. We hiked up the hill to his labyrinth made of stones incorporating the curve of a natural wall as part of his creation. The acoustics were excellent. There had been music played there, and theatre. In the 1960’s, he built a log house with a wood-fired cookstove, a table and chair. Also a wooden platform the size of a single mattress. It was his writing retreat – The Hermitage. It was more substantial than Hervey’s last house, but likewise without electricity or plumbing. However, one wall is mostly windows.
In the five days I was in the area, I visited many folk and learned that no one, except Alf, had any idea that Hervey had grandchildren.
I left in the rain, heading north to Ontario to locate another native snake mound. Car camping most of the way, I was glad to get home.
Years passed. I connected with the Reevaluation Counseling Community in Minneapolis. One of the most experienced counselors suggested I write a biography of Hervey. Later, in Woodstock, I found an excellent RC counselor, Tam Cooper, and got to sort out some of those inner issues that keep coming back to haunt us.
In 2001, after a 5-month journey to Brittany, Paris, Stockholm, London, Chartres and Reykjavik, I decided to do something about my preoccupation with Hervey.
I phoned Alf, then 97, and asked if he was interested in writing a biography of Hervey. I would come to Shady and help with the research. Without a pause, he said “Yes.” In November, I flew to NYC and made my way to Woodstock where I stayed at an Inn for 3 nights.
By this time, Alf had a personal caregiver, Tom O’Brien. Alf had diabetes, was 80% blind, may have had a recurrence of cancer, could hardly walk. Tom was a delight. He took wonderful care of him. Alf was destitute and Tom was not being paid for his work; he stayed because it was a labor of love. The townspeople provided Alf with a hearing aid. He was still working on the history of Kingston. With double-spectacle lenses and a huge magnifying glass, he struggled with words and footnotes.
He wanted me to come. I could live at The Hermitage. We agreed that I would return in the warm weather and begin to research what he said was “My next book”.
Part II: Six Weeks at The Hermitage
I carried my gear from the truck up the winding path to the log cabin where I cleaned and set up housekeeping.
On my first full day, I joined Alf and Tom briefly for a coffee and to ask Alf for some direction in my research. He wanted me to ascertain Hervey’s parentage and their origins. I was welcome to his vast library, and should take notes.
Basically, I was on my own, as Alf worked away on the Kingston project. Tom kept him on a strict routine of doctor visits and healthy eating.
Visitors came often. Ed Sanders, poet, and editor of a local newspaper, came regularly to help Alf with editing and footnotes.
The legendary publisher of Penguin Books and The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer, visited. He would publish the Kingston history. (Overlook Press had printed the other two histories.)
The Woodstock Guild videotaped an interview with Alf on the early days at Byrdcliffe.
I researched at the Woodstock Library; a wonderful library with an excellent collection. The head librarian, Diana Stern, let me photocopy vast quantities of Hervey’s unpublished writing. Diana is from an old Woodstock family. She knows the town and gave me precious tips regarding whom I could trust and whom I could not trust. Our grandfathers knew each other. We had lunch. She felt we would meet again.
Woodstock had a fine hardware store but no grocery store so I shopped in nearby Hurley Ridge. I had problems in the parking lot. As a Minnesota-nice driver, whenever a parking space opened up, by the time I got the truck in gear, some NY SUV zipped in front of me.
I visited all the old folk who had actually known Hervey. They spoke of his kindness, particularly to children. Several of them wondered what Hervey thought about. Alf had the same question. He had last seen Hervey in town. Hervey had called “Evers, there’s something I want to tell you.” Soon after, Hervey died and left Alf wondering.
Across the road from Alf’s is the Sawkill River. There is a falls at that point and behind the falls, a wonderful clear pool. Known as Fairy Falls, it once provided the power to the Mill. A well known swimming hole, it is frequented by numerous locals. The sun shone on the pool from 1pm to 3pm.
I hung out a lot with Alf’s next door neighbors, CarolAnn and Mel, a weaver and a sculptor.
It took me about 3 weeks to realize that Alf was not going to even think about writing a biography of Hervey until he finished his definitive history of Kingston with every fact footnoted.
So, besides what research I could accomplish, I began to explore the territory. Byrdcliffe was still functioning with stipends for resident artists. There is the Guild, and the Historical Museum.
Up a winding road, I visited a Buddhist Monastery fluttering with prayer flags. They chant to the Green Tara. There are paths with statues of bodhisattvas and stupas along the way.
I attended only one concert at the Maverick Concert House as the season had just begun.
I went to the Colony Music Café quite often for live music or poetry readings. I met several locals who were children of famous people who had lived in the area. It is a very happening town, so I can see why the children stay around.
I poked around, did laundry, researched at the library. At that time the town center was decorated with brightly painted plywood guitars.
In Shady, out by the old mill, I swam, read novels, journaled, cooked and slept at the Hermitage.
It was an excellent 6 weeks. I gathered boxes of research material. I learned to love both Alf and Tom. We shared good times listening to Garrison Keillor on the radio while sitting in the garden. I met Alf’s daughter, Gunny and son, Kit who ran a bookstore in Saugerties. I visited Pete Seeger’s sailboat Clearwater in the port there. He used it to sail up and down the Hudson, part of a project to clean up the River.
Then I got a letter; I was needed back in Minnesota. So, I packed up and left on the greatest good terms with the inhabitants of the Hickory House in Shady, New York.
Two years later, I drove back and stayed in the Hermitage for about a week. it poured rain every day, and I was driven out by the dampness. But I got to hold Alf, kiss his cheek and say good-bye.
In December of that year, Tom fell asleep in the afternoon (which he rarely did). When he awoke, Alf was dead. Tom called the first responders – the Kingston history had been published and there was to be a book signing the following week – but Alf was gone, not to be revived.
Part III: The Coming Festival
It will be in mid- August, when Hervey staged his Maverick festivals.
There will be many events, some at Bethel where the first concert took place. The townspeople began to enjoy the many visitors who came in the following years. They were peaceful tourists, on pilgrimage-like visits to touch base where the great Festival took place. So Bethel is welcoming a good many performances.
At the time of writing this letter the main event location was not yet decided. Big concerts have an unwieldy aspect and local folk generally do not welcome disturbances to daily lives. It will happen somewhere in the area.
My hope is that people gather in small groups after the music is done for the evening and tell their stories and share their joy and discuss intentions for how to mitigate the climate catastrophe, change the government to work for us instead of against us, reduce the appalling income disparity, become racially colorblind, make whatever economic system things settle into be “…of the people, by the people and for the people” 4 and all living creatures.
Artists are often political and my guess is that the concert-goers are going to hear quite a bit about where we are at as a nation, and where we need to go.
Here on the “Estate of the Godfather” 5 we have had it really good. By and large, life in the last 50 years has been eased by our vast national wealth. How the next 50 years shake down is totally unknown except that the climate is becoming more and more dodgy and unpredictable.
May the coming series of concerts be inspirational. May the Woodstock Nation rise up in its maturity and somehow, peacefully and fearlessly help precipitate the changes needed for survival on Turtle Island.
And have a wonderful time at the Sesquicentennial!
Christie White Dauphin
22 July 2019
- In an early version of the Declaration of Independence, “Happiness” was “property.” Then the Green Mountain Boys rebelled because they had not been paid for battle in the war of separation from Great Britain… so the authors had to change the wording from “life, liberty and property” to “life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness.” Hmmm…
- See Remember Native America by Richard Balthazar (Five Flowers Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico) for a written and pictorial overview of the Mounds from the 1848 survey drawings of E. G. Squier and E. H. Davis. See also Book of the Hopi by Frank Waters (Ballentine Books, New York) Pages 49 and 125 of 1974 edition.
- The Catskills: from Wilderness to Woodstock (Overlook Press, 1982) and Woodstock: History of an American Town (Overlook Press 1987). Both of these histories are detailed and carefully footnoted, with a synopsis of each chapter at the end.
- From the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln
- This appellation is from one of the Minnesota 8 who would then add, “better to be on the estate of the godfather than under the thumb of the godfather.”