Prologue: Caged

(February 19, 1969)


I was caged.

Then, I was driven.

Driven to Cherokee.

A hazy memory of riding caged in the back of a police car.

Two shadows in the front seat, the county sheriff and a female escort.

Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” buzzing from a tinny transistor radio.

Outside, the Iowa landscape bleak:

Cloudy and cold, condensation and frost riming the windows, piles of dirty snow dotting the countryside.

I, cargo.

Destination: Cherokee’s other place, the outline on the hill.

Shifting, crossing my legs…

Please, can we stop?

Hot and steamy inside.

Shivering, my teeth rattling.

Please…I have to go!

Hear something, George?

Naw, nothin’ important.


Cargo has no voice.

Madness has no voice.

Listen, crazy girl…

Two voices: We have come to take you away, ha, ha…

“I’m crazy, crazy…”

Fragments, crazy-quilt impressions, acid flashbacks…

I, crazy?

* * * * *

From I, Driven: a memoir of involuntary commitment ("Prologue")

© 2008-2010, by Jennifer Semple Siegel

Excerpt may not be used or copied without author’s permission.


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Friday, August 29, 2008

Memoir Madness: driven to involuntary commitment (Research Note)


Fortunately, I am a pack rat and have saved letters, written from late December 1968 to May 1969, between Jeff A. Brown and me; therefore, I was able to recreate my youthful voice by referring to them. In addition, these letters helped me to remember, for without them, much of that time would have been a blur. I also obtained copies of my court and hospital records, both of which revealed surprising insights into the commitment process, in the days before the powerful 1972 and 1975 Supreme Court rulings on involuntary commitment. In addition, the records also offered some surprises regarding my grandparents’ actions.

I wrote the first draft of this memoir in 2004-2005, while I was living abroad (in Skopje, Macedonia); thus, the internet was very helpful in clarifying the current events of 1968-1969, though I have since cut from the final version most of those references.


Copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Memoir Madness: driven to involuntary commitment (Notes on Narrative Threads: Flashbacks, Other Voices, and Dramatization)


Primary Narrative Thread: Christmas Eve 1968 to May 1969. Although the prologue is from the perspective of my current persona–thus, past tense–the primary narrative thread (the bulk of the memoir), recreates Jennifer L. Semple’s 18-year-old voice through the present tense.

My goal: to place the reader in the middle of that volatile time and into the life of a rebellious teen.

I incorporate other narrative approaches as well:

Secondary Narrative Thread: August 18 through August 30, 2004. Beginning in Chapter Eleven, Jennifer’s youthful voice is interrupted by Jennifer the adult attempting to make sense of her past.

On August 18, 2004, as I ponder a return journey to Cherokee, I address some issues I have not really addressed in the primary thread: my relationship with Stoney, my drug-dealing boyfriend and my guilt over a "Dear John" letter I had written in November 1968 to a fiancé, a Marine stationed in Vietnam.

August 29: after experiencing some anxiety, I decide to make the journey to Cherokee to take pictures and remember.

August 30: I describe my return to Cherokee, Iowa, as a sort of catharsis. While there, I experience past emotions, feelings, visions, and smells. I also speculate about the current incarnation of Cherokee.

I also contemplate living abroad for the upcoming year (2004-2005) and reflect on the convention of letter-writing as a tenuous connection between long-distance lovers.

These intermittent present tense passages include Chapters Eleven, Twenty-Six, Thirty-Five, Fifty-Nine, Sixty, Sixty-One, Sixty-Three, Sixty-Seven, Sixty-Nine, Seventy-Four, Seventy-Six, Seventy-Eight, Eighty-Seven, "Released," and "Short History..." (2010 Epilogue).

In terms of length, these passages are short interruptions but important in that they offer a distant perspective of my past and a glimpse of young Jennifer’s future.

Flashbacks to Fall 1968. Although these Hollywood events occur in close proximity to the primary narrative thread, the main focus of the memoir begins on Christmas Eve 1968. Yet, some revealing and important events have occurred before that time. These flashbacks, interspersed throughout the book, are written in the past tense because, for young Jennifer, they were well into the past.

For clarity, most of the Fall 1968 flashbacks have been afforded their own short chapters, which are interwoven contextually (thus, not necessarily in chronological order) throughout the primary narrative: Chapters Three, Nine, Fifteen, Seventeen, Nineteen, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Seven, Thirty-One, Thirty-Three, Thirty-Seven, Thirty-Nine, Forty-Two, Sixty-Five, Seventy-One, Seventy-Five, Eighty-One, and Eighty-Three.

Childhood Flashbacks. In addition, three flashbacks to my childhood, short italicized, present tense, dream-like passages, are included within the primary thread, not in their own chapters.

These passages include a near-death experience at age six (in Chapter Thirty-Four), my younger sister Robin being taken away from our family (in Chapter Forty-Six), and a nightmare, at age four, about bed-wetting and snakes (in Chapter Eighty-Four). These memories tie in with events occurring depicted in the primary thread.

Perspective of My Childhood Guardians. Harley D. Semple, my grandfather, passed away in 1974, Olive Semple, my grandmother, in 1987. Therefore, for their first person narratives, I have referred to interview summaries contained in my hospital records–interviews conducted and summarized by my psychiatrist (and other hospital personnel). I have also relied on my personal knowledge about these people who raised me. Their voices, which I have recreated, are what I remember.

These short present tense narratives have been placed in their own chapters.

During this time in my life, I was harsh and judgmental toward my grandparents; as an adult looking back, I owed them an opportunity to tell their side of my story.

Intermittent passages occurring between December 31, 1968, and February 19, 1969, include Chapters Five (Harley), Seven (Harley), Thirteen (Harley), Twenty-One (Harley), Twenty-Two (Olive), Twenty-Nine (Olive), Forty-Three (Olive), Forty-Five (Olive), Forty-Seven (Olive), Forty-Nine (Olive), Fifty-Two (Harley), part of Fifty-Five (Olive), and part of Fifty-Five (Harley).

Dramatization. In Chapter Fifty-Four, I have included a dramatized scenario between my grandfather and Opal Casey, the Sioux City police matron, as they draw up the papers required for my court hearing, ultimately resulting in my commitment. I based this dramatic scene on my actual court papers, in which my grandfather’s name, as "Informant," has been scratched out and replaced with Opal Casey’s name.


Copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Memoir Madness: driven to involuntary commitment (Synopsis)


Prologue: Caged, February 19, 1969

The memoir opens with my being driven to the Cherokee Mental Health Institute via a caged police car.


I. Going to Cherokee (Chapters One to Fifty Four, pages 2-176)

In the Iowa lexicon of my youth, "going to Cherokee" was synonymous with going crazy; at this point, I had no idea that I was well on my way; Stoney, my drug-dealing boyfriend, and I were just grooving on LSD, my youthful indiscretion foreshadowing what was yet to come.

On Christmas Eve, 1968, through the haze of LSD, I realized that my life was worth more than just getting high. This wasn’t a linear realization, for during this period, I continued experiencing upheaval, ecstasy, discovery, backtracking, hurt, and anger.

Part I begins my journey toward coming of age, follows me as I stumble toward self discovery, and culminates in a generational clash with my guardian grandparents and Woodbury County, Iowa. An altercation with my grandfather begins at the Sioux City bus depot and continues at the police station, thus setting into motion trumped-up legal paperwork, designed to put me, an "incorrigible" teenager, away.


II. Verdict (Chapter Fifty Five, pages 177-193)

Part II is divided into three sections:

Section one opens with my grandmother’s voice as she tries to figure out what has gone wrong with her grandchild. At the end, she asks, "What has this world come to when you send a sweet, deeply religious girl to California, and she comes back as a dirty long-haired hippie, addicted to drugs, with no morals left?" This rhetorical question, her final passage of the memoir, remains unanswered.

Section two presents my court records, word for word, unedited. Woodbury County, in its bumbling, inept manner, speaks for itself.

Section three closes with my grandfather’s lament: "Where have we gone wrong? It’s enough to drive a sane man crazy." This, too, is his final passage.


III. Driven (Chapters Fifty Six to Sixty One, pages 194-207)

This thematic part, a pause between Woodbury County’s decision to commit me to Cherokee and my actual commitment, depicts the myriad ways of being "driven."

Chapter Fifty Six (February-April 1969) describes the rest of the police car drive to Cherokee, my drive to forget those first hours, and my drive to escape from the institution.

Chapter Fifty Seven (February 1969-April 2002): I was "driven for 33 years: to keep secret" my commitment.

Chapter Fifty Eight (April 2002): I found old letters, exchanged 33 years ago between Jeff Brown (later my husband, now my ex) and me, and I felt driven to reread them. At the time I was experiencing an impasse in my writing and personal life.

I emailed Cherokee for my hospital records, again driven, this time to have some unanswered questions finally answered.

Chapter Fifty Nine (May 15, 2004) depicts a convergence of two milestones: my husband Jerry’s upcoming Fulbright in Skopje, Macedonia, and the impending birth of my granddaughter while we are away. "I don’t want to go overseas," I say. "I want to be there for her birth, to hold her minutes, even seconds, after she’s born."

After reaching a compromise, in which we would return to the U.S. in January 2005, I decide to follow my husband overseas, to use the year abroad as an opportunity to write my memoir.

Chapter Sixty closes on August 29, 2004, with my final decision to revisit Cherokee.

"I’ll drive you there," my husband says.

The opening of Chapter Sixty One (August 30, 2004) continues the literal and symbolic meaning of being driven: "This warm summer day, I am driven to Cherokee, northeast of Sioux City, to revisit the Mental Health Institute. Metaphorically, this trip has taken 35 years and thousands of detours and dead ends."


IV. Cherokee (Chapters Sixty Two to Eighty Four, pages 208-365)

"Oh-my-God. I can’t believe they did this to me," I say on February 19, 1969.

So my Cherokee incarceration begins, continuing until April 15, 1969, and ending with my conditional release from the institution. During the two months there, I cope with doctors, staff, and social workers who would meddle with my future.

I develop a strong bond with the psychiatrist assigned to my case; from the beginning, he has realized that my commitment was an egregious mistake and works toward my timely release. I also develop an ongoing clash of wills with a young and straitlaced social worker, yet, despite my sassy behavior, he also works for my release.

Letters from Jeff, my boyfriend, have become my lifeline to the outside world as we exchange ideas on books, popular culture, music, movies, and politics. However, he admits to experiencing mixed feelings about our relationship–there is another girl–so in these pre-email days, our relationship takes on a sort of snail-mail high drama as we banter back and forth.

Meanwhile, I interact with various patients: a psychopath who preys on other patients, a 17-year-old unwed mother, a teen cutter with strange obsessions about rats, a young married mother enthralled with "10 ways of suicide," and D.J., a 42-year-old mentally challenged man and 25 year resident of Cherokee, among others.

Of all the patients, D.J. has the most impact on me. A kind man, he shows that freedom is relative, for in his mind, Cherokee is exactly where he wants to be–that, for him, release would be a burden. "His day-to-day life is here, always to be the same, following the seasons, nurturing new plants, mourning the dying and dead," I say, on the day before my release. "If I were to return 25-35 years from now, I might find him, an old man, in this same spot, the fir tree a mighty sage."


V. Leaving Cherokee (Chapters Eighty Five to Eighty Six, pages 366-396)

"Hooray! I’m out!"

April 16: I have been released on one condition: that I remain in Sioux City for at least six months. I have refused to live with my grandparents. Also, with regret, I have declined staying with a sympathetic aunt; I didn’t want to place her in an awkward family situation. So the state of Iowa arranges for my room and board at a local boardinghouse.

I find a job in a diner, the owner a bitter woman who mistreats her employees. Within ten days, I have quit that job, deciding to split for Pennsylvania, long before the required six months, but only after I have received my tax refund.

To my dismay, Jeff has decided to visit the other girl, who lives in another Pennsylvania city.

My sense of urgency increases as I, for the next two weeks, wait for my tax refund check.

Finally, on May 1, my refund arrives. On May 5, after a minor confrontation with my grandfather at the bus depot, I leave for Pennsylvania.

This part concludes on May 6 as I step off the bus in York, Jeff awaiting me: "It’s been a long, long journey."

VI: Released: August 30, 2004 (Chapter 87, pages 397-401)

This part wraps up my 2004 journey to Cherokee, both actual and metaphorical. After buying Cherokee Mental Health: 100 Years of Serving Iowan’s [sic], an incomplete history of the institution, my husband Jerry and I leave Cherokee and head back to Sioux City. During our return trip, I flip through the book and scan the Chronicle Times, the town’s newspaper: the ordinariness of the stories strikes me as profound.

"No section called ‘Cedar Loop News’ for the institution," I observe as we cruise into Sioux City. "On this day, as it was for me in 1969, these are two distinct towns, one wide open and transparent, the other shadowy and secret–just a no-name outline on the map."


VII. Final Diagnosis: May 9, 1969 (pages 402-403)

In a short clinical passage, my psychiatrist offers my final diagnosis: "Adjustment Reaction of Adolescence."


Epilogue (Summer 2007) (pages 404-414)

I offer a short update on my life since August 2004 and a short, albeit incomplete, history of the institution, culled from the book Cherokee Mental Health: 100 Years of Serving Iowan’s [sic] where I discover some surprising details about the institution’s history and how it might relate to my story.


Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Memoir Madness: driven to involuntary commitment (Blurb)


Christmas Eve, 1968: from lunar orbit, Apollo 8 astronauts deliver their Christmas message, a passage from Genesis.

On earth, 18-year-old Jennifer Semple, tripping on LSD with her drug-dealing boyfriend, embarks on her own odyssey.

Jennifer’s journey begins on the steamy streets of Hollywood, where heads, hippies, drug dealers, freaks, strippers, groupies, college students, Jesus Freaks, counterculture gurus, drag queens, rock stars and wannabe rocksters, svengalis, and con artists converge during one of the most volatile periods in history.

Jennifer’s life soon spirals out of control: she loses her Bank of America job, her boyfriend abandons her, and cops threaten to arrest her. Her grandparents and legal guardians convince her to leave Hollywood and return to Iowa, where she can "get her head on straight."

Instead, Jennifer is committed, against her will, to the Cherokee Mental Health Institute in Cherokee, Iowa, where she is introduced to a world of questionable psychiatric treatments, doctors, psychologists, social workers, and hospital staff.

While incarcerated, she corresponds with a new boyfriend and interacts with other patients: a psychopath who preys on other patients, a 17-year-old unwed mother, a teen cutter obsessed with rats, a young married mother enthralled with "10 ways of suicide," and a 42-year-old mentally challenged man and 25 year resident of Cherokee, among others.

Finally released, she flees Iowa, escaping to Pennsylvania.

In 2004, Jennifer, seeking another kind of release, has returned to Cherokee, this time voluntarily and as a visitor.

"I was driven to Cherokee," the author says, referring to a northwest Iowa regionalism synonymous with being committed. "Writing this memoir has driven Cherokee from me."
* * * * *
© 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel
Excerpts may not be used or copied without author’s permission.



Open Letter to Literary Agents

For a fast-loading (text-only) version of this website, please click here.

I was driven to Cherokee, caged in a police car.

Destination: The Cherokee Mental Health Institute in Cherokee, Iowa.

I had never been charged with a crime--just with youthful indiscretion and recklessness. The Woodbury County court system labeled me, an 18-year-old girl, as mentally ill, a "fit subject for custody and treatment in the Mental Health Institute" (from my court records).

Memoir Madness: driven to involuntary commitment opens with a short scene: I, caged in the back of the police car.

The narrative then shifts to Santa Monica and Hollywood, California, Christmas Eve, 1968.

Sex, drugs, and hard rock. Rebellion. Hippies. Flower Power. Vietnam. Make Love, not War. Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out. The Establishment. The Generation Gap. Naked John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The White Album. Student protests. Hair. The Doors. Women's Liberation. Richard Nixon. 2001: A Space Odyssey. LSD. Purple Haze.

Blue Moons.

As I grooved on, my frightened grandparents, who raised me, plotted to lure me home to Sioux City, Iowa, to help me "get my head on straight."

Memoir Madness's primary narrative thread covers the months between Christmas Eve 1968 through May 9, 1969: my psychedelic days in Hollywood, return to Sioux City, involuntary incarceration in Cherokee, and, finally, escape to Pennsylvania. The narrative also includes some flashbacks to Fall 1968 and from my childhood. In addition, there is a secondary 2004 thread contemplating my return to Cherokee–this time voluntarily and as a visitor.

The manuscript is 415 pages (about 86,000 words). My target audience: baby boomers--those who walked my path and those who wish they had (well, perhaps a little). Also, the book is likely to draw a younger audience; the first person primary narrative thread recreates the youthful voice of 18-year-old Jennifer L. Semple, who could appeal to an 18 to 35-year-old reader.

My publications include The Re-feeding Program, excerpt from "The Big Diet" (short story), The Non-Dieting Weblog (2006); Copyright: Ethics Versus Education in Macedonia (article, page 12), American Writer: Journal of the National Writers Union (2005); Persona Grata (essay), Writer’s Digest Online (2005); Are You EVER Going to be Thin? (and other stories) (2004).

On the left panel links to a book summary, blurb, synopsis, notes on narrative thread, and research note. In addition, I have also included short excerpts from the memoir and other text, which can be accessed here.

I would be happy to send to interested AAR agents and/or traditional editors hard copies of the above and/or print copy of the full or partial manuscript. For more information, e-mail me. If you have read this far, thank you for your time.


Jennifer Semple Siegel

* * * * *

Excerpt--January 15, 1969: "Sioux City Blues"

Harley Semple


Dee Dee’s bugging me in the worst way--says I have three choices: go to my mom’s, Auntie’s (no way), or go back to Sioux City. He’s really acting scary, and Auntie’s turning up the heat.

I’ll pass on Auntie’s and Iowa, thank you.

I’m going stir crazy in this joint. I want to go out for a walk, but Auntie says no.

Hazel Lewis ("Auntie")

“You just want to go and see those damn dirty hippies,” she says.

Yeah, she’s right. Even so, she and Dee Dee can’t keep me locked up forever. Only a few more days of this shit, and I’m splitting into the unknown, though I found out that Dee Dee can make me go back to Sioux City, being that I’m under 21. Bummer. It’s okay for a boy of 18 to be drafted and dodge bullets in Vietnam, but when he gets home his parents can force him to live anywhere they want, even against his will.

One positive: if Dee does make me go, it will be a shorter distance to Pennsylvania. And he’ll think I’m going back to Hollywood--instead, I’ll be headed in the opposite direction.

I miss Jeff in the worst way. I wrote and told him so. Pam’s still putting the moves on him. God, I hope he doesn’t fall for her games. She’s sweet but shallow, a new boyfriend every day–Jeff gets too hung-up, and she’ll break his heart. Pam showed me a letter he wrote while he was on acid, and I’ve never seen him write stuff like that–totally incoherent and far out.

Mo writes everyone I need a psychiatrist; God, she’s so out of it. If everyone who turned onto acid went to a shrink, half the fucking nation would be on the couch.

As soon as Dee leaves, I’m going to hitch cross country--why not? Pam and I were going to take the Greyhound to East Berlin, but it’s $145.00 round trip, and I don’t have that kind of money. I’ll get a map of the U.S. and stick my thumb out.

If Jeff can hitchhike, so can I.

I’ll play Dee Dee’s little game; I’ll stay in Canoga Park. Then when he leaves, I’ll split for Pennsylvania.

Screw Hollywood.


"All Along the Watchtower," Jimi Hendrix


There is only a short time left before Jehovah will destroy this wicked system of things.

The Watchtower
Goodbye, Hollywood, you bitchin’ town.

I leave tomorrow evening for Sioux City, not that I have much of a choice.

I’m coming back, but not to Hollywood. Maybe I’ll come back and hang out in Pasadena–gotta stay out of Hollywood for a while. It’s too hot, what with all the drugs. I’ve learned from my experiences with Stoney and Rudy and the gun; someone could’ve been killed.

You know what really makes me sick? That I chose Stoney over Jeff–he said it kind of hurt him when he saw me with Stoney, but I didn’t think too much of it then. In my last letter, I asked Jeff if it was too late for us. “If it is, I will say no more,” I wrote. “No matter what, though, if Stoney comes back, I’m not going back to him.”

If Jeff doesn’t feel the same way, I hope I haven’t ruined our friendship by blowing off my mouth. I asked him about coming to Pennsylvania, for maybe about a week.


Mo is hysterical; I told Dee Dee that if she lectured me on morals, I’ll simply leave, and I will, too. When I talked to her on the phone, she kept firing off a list of what I could and couldn’t do.

“You’re not shacking up with any dirty hippies,” Mo said.


I heard Peter will be in Sioux City at the same time I’m there. Bad news. I’m not sure I can face him after what I have done, dumping him in that Dear John letter while he was in Vietnam.

Maybe I can avoid him totally.

Tomorrow at this time, I’ll be in the sky, on the way to Sioux City. I wanted to wait until Saturday or Sunday, but Dee Dee says we have to leave tomorrow. I don’t know what his hurry is--it’s not like he has a job or anything.

I have a bad feeling about this trip.


Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Thursday, August 28, 2008

Excerpt–October 1968: “Rev. Arthur Blessitt and His Place”

His Place, Late 1960's


Jeff, Eleanor, Pam, and I were hanging out at Wallich’s, though not much happening.

Eleanor met up with Jim, her new guy, and split.

Before Pam, Eleanor and I had been getting close, but now we seemed to be pulling away. Maybe it was because she was still in high school. True, she had all this freedom to come and go as she pleased and did drugs on weekends, but she still had to go to school and do her homework, so we didn’t do as much together anymore.

When we were roommates, I had to be quiet on week nights.

I also found out that Eleanor wasn’t supposed to do drugs on school nights, only on weekends; her dad came down hard on her when he discovered she was dropping acid on weekdays.

Rick, who stood me up the previous night, showed up.

My heart skipped a beat.

“Sorry about last night.”

I tried to act nonchalant. “It’s cool.”

Rick eyed Jeff up and down and threw his arm around my waist.

“Hey,” Pam said. “Let’s go to His Place.”

“What’s that?” Jeff asked.

“It’s this really cool church on the strip, filled with freaks,” I said.

“I don’t want to go to church,” Rick said.

“It’s not an ordinary church,” I said. “You’ll just have to see it to believe it.”

“I heard someone spiked the Kool-Aid with acid one night,” Pam said.

“Groovy! Getting high for Christ!” Jeff said.

“Over a hundred kids were stoned out of their gourds. Must’ve freaked out Rev. Blessitt.”

“Gives Jesus freaks a whole new meaning,” I said. “I can’t even imagine being around 100 acid heads. In church, yet.”

“Good thing the pigs didn’t get wind of it,” Rick said.

“Funny thing. The cops weren’t even around that night. How lucky was that?” Pam said.

“I still don’t wanna go,” Rick said.

“Come on, it’s really far out, and they serve food,” I said, suddenly starved. I couldn’t eat the gruel served at the dorm: Fish sticks and overcooked broccoli.

“Bagels and sandwiches, Kool-Aid–” we all snickered “–and coffee.”

“I am hungry,” Rick said.



Witnessing at His Place, 1968

When we arrived at His Place, a toilet service had just begun.

Rev. Blessitt read from the Bible,

“Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” [2 Corinthians 5:17].
A few heads witnessed in the john as they tossed their dope into the toilet and sang,

Down, down, down, down,

All my dope is gone.

Down, down, down, down,

All my dope is gone.

I fished around in my pocket; I still had that Blue Cheer from Rudy’s party two weeks ago–no way was I going to dump it down the toilet and watch it swirl away.

After the service ended, we dug in and ate bagels smothered with peanut butter and jelly.

We hung around for a bit.

I don’t buy into the religious bit, but I can’t help it: I like Rev. Blessitt. He believes in what he does, not just going through the motions, like some of those priests back home. The Reverend puts his ass on the line every day, and the Establishment kicks it daily, especially the religious Establishment. What hypocrites. You’d think they’d want to help Rev. Blessitt in his mission. But they can’t see past the run-down church on the strip, the long hair, and the dope.

Still, there was something creepy about ex-heads taking up Jesus in place of acid.

The worst converts in the world, always shoving tracts and Bible verses in your face, the “Eithers/Ors,” the black and whites–you’re either for Christ or against him, no room for doubt.

If I wanted to be told what to believe, I’d still be going to Mass.


Hippies and others just hanging out. Everyone was welcome. Late 1960's

Jesus Revolution--Arthur Blessitt

2008 Update: Rev. Arthur Blessitt is now known as "The man who carried the cross around the world in every nation, The World's Longest Walk as listed in the Guinness World"

His Website


Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.



Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Excerpt--A Short History of The Cherokee Mental Health Institute

Cherokee Mental Health Institute, August 2004.
Summer 2008

(York, Pennsylvania)

In late September 2004, I gathered my laptop, notes, photocopies of old letters to and from my ex-husband, Cherokee Mental Health: 100 Years of Serving Iowan’s (Cherokee centennial book), maps of Iowa and Cherokee, and the August 30 issue of the Chronicle Times. I carried them to Skopje, Macedonia, where I spent October 2004-May 2005 cranking out a 700-page draft.

A stranger in a strange land attempting to codify an unresolved past. Still, writing that first draft was exhilarating: I had few distractions: for eight solid months, I simply wrote.

Often tapping away eight hours a day, five days a week, I became 18 again, an odd space for a 21st century baby boomer.

Not only did old issues and angers rise up again, but after rereading my ex-husband’s letters, I even developed a slight (albeit temporary) crush on him–also compounded by the impending birth of our granddaughter Rhia, born late 2004.

Since my July 2005 return to the U.S., the revision process has presented a rockier road, ordinary life often interfering and my trying to decide what to delete and add. Because this is my story, every detail seems important, so deleting has often been problematic.

A short history of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute does feel like an important aspect of my story, but it seemed out of place in the main narrative thread, so I moved it to the end of the book and here on this blog.


Cherokee Mental Health Institute (August 2004).

The exterior of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute does not resemble a state hospital.

The grounds, on a gentle slope leading up to the main buildings, are stunning and kept pristine by the grounds keepers and not walled or gated from the community. In summer, a lush greenery dominates–the carpet grass is cut and watered regularly, and several varieties of trees, including conifers and deciduous types, majestically dot the landscape. Iowa trees in general tend to be sparse and scrubby, so these grounds offer an oasis, a gift to Sioux Valley Iowans, perhaps explaining their broad appeal to the community, who often use the roads as hiking trails.

Grounds of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute, August 2004.

The buildings are over 100 years old, some of them resembling red stone and brick castles, with spires and circular annexes, but in good exterior condition.

If there is anything forbidding about the place, it can be found in its history and my commitment there. According to Cherokee Mental Health: 100 Years of Serving Iowan’s, the institution was founded in 1902 as the “Cherokee State Hospital for the Insane.” It is not a stretch, then, to view the long shadows cast by the trees and spires as sinister. Also, the red brick portion is somewhat an anomaly in Iowa, not indigenous to this area, known more for its black, loamy earth.

The facility resembles a private secondary school or even a college campus, except for one section, now used as a sex offender unit and housing 35-80 inmates. According to a Department of Human Services press release from Governor Thomas J. Vilsack’s office, the Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders (CCUSO), dedicated on September 8, 2003, has been designed to treat “dangerous sexual offenders.”

Cherokee Mental Health Institute, Sex Offender Unit, August 2004.

“The litmus test for everything we do is safety,” said Kevin Concannon, Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services. “We’ve gone the extra mile to make sure this facility is safe for patients, safe for staff, and safe for the community.”

CCUSO is housed in a remodeled wing of the institution, the sex offenders having “no contact with patients at the mental health institute.” The section does resemble a maximum security prison, cordoned off with steel fences and barbed and razor wire, incorporating “security cameras and locks,” and mandating “special training for security personnel.”

At 18, I would have been upset about having a sex offender unit housed on the same grounds. Safety is a relative term, “safety and sex offenders” an oxymoron, no matter how many security cameras, bars, locked doors, and razor wire used. In a 2005 blurb on Online Highways, the sex offender unit is not mentioned:

Cherokee Grounds, August 2004.

The Cherokee Mental Health Institute (MHI) is a state of Iowa psychiatric facility, operating under the Department of Human Services. The institute provides psychiatric inpatient and outpatient services. Forty-one counties in northwest Iowa are served for adult patients and fifty-five counties for children and adolescents.

The MHI is proud of its campus, The Cherokee Human Resource Center offers patients, as well as the Cherokee community, access to a hiking trail and nature study. In addition to the MHI, the campus is also home to other agencies including Synergy (Chemical Dependency) Center, The Boys’ and Girls’ Home, the YES (Youth Emergency Services) Center, Job Service of Iowa, Vocational Rehabilitation, Juvenile Court Services, and the Ecumenical Institute.

Supreme Court Building, date unknown.

Traditional psychiatric inpatient admissions have dwindled since involuntary commitment of patients for frivolous reasons was struck down by two significant Supreme Court decisions: Humphrey v. Cady, 405 U.S. 504, 509 (1972), which ruled involuntary civil commitment to a mental institution as “a massive curtailment to liberty,” and O’Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 574 (1975), which ruled that there is “no Constitutional basis for confining such [mentally ill] persons involuntarily if they are dangerous to no one and can live safely in freedom” and that the presence of mental illness “does not disqualify a person from preferring his home to the comforts of an institution.”

Evidently, incorrigible minors at Cherokee are still not accorded the same rights as adults. A May 10, 2002 Des Moines Register article reveals that

An 11-year-old boy with extreme behavioral problems is subjected to enemas, made to wear diapers and forbidden to bathe at the DHS-run Cherokee Mental Health Institute until a judge orders the procedure halted. DHS promises an investigation into the boy’s treatment. Another state agency later finds that the DHS staff implemented treatments that were “conducted in accordance with doctor’s orders.”

(For more info, click here).
Fortunately, I wasn’t incorrigible enough to be subjected to such indignities.

At the time of my involuntary commitment, my only protection was the Supreme Court decision Specht v. Patterson, 386 U.S. 605, 608 (1967), which offered legal protection at the mercy of the court system itself: “...involuntary commitment to a mental hospital, like involuntary confinement of an individual for any reason, is a deprivation of liberty which the State cannot accomplish without due process of law.” Even a neophyte can see how a lower court could (and did) interpret that decision; my court record speaks for itself.

Back in 1969, I met some the employees, many of them dedicated to serving Iowans. But Cherokee owns a sad history of warehousing the mentally ill, the incompetent, and the incorrigible. Before the two important Supreme Court decisions, people not fitting into conventional boxes prescribed by the dominant culture were often punished and hidden away.


Cherokee itself simply fulfilled a mandate created by an antiquated judicial system mired in nineteenth-century wild west justice.

My residual anger lies with Woodbury County, Iowa, and the police officers, lawyers, judges, and doctors who pushed through sloppily prepared paperwork and trumped up reasons without considering a person’s constitutional rights.

I came out of my experience fairly well-adjusted, though my “inclination to conflict with social convention,” as predicted by R. Lowenberg, has persisted, for I have always believed that so-called conventional wisdom is vastly overrated. Ralph Waldo Emerson articulated the herd mentality best: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” The world needs people who would flout conventional wisdom, not warehouse and silence them.

Cherokee Grounds, late 1880's or early 1900's.

The Cherokee book does offer some interesting history about the institution’s origins. The first superintendent, Mathew Nelson Voldeng, M.D., was hired in 1902–his beginning salary $250.00 a month. He served from 1902 to 1915 and died in 1934.

Cherokee Mental Health Institute, Staff, early 1900's.
: Dr. Long, Assistant Superintendent; Dr. Earl, Night Physician; Ella McNiven, Matron; Dr. Dragoo, Assistant Physician.
Seated: Dr. Mathew Nelson Voldeng, Superintendent; Dr. Lena Beach, Physician; Andy Rae, Farm Superintendent.


One would not suspect Cherokee as being a hotbed of feminism, but, surprisingly, Iowa’s first female physician, Dr. Lena Beach, served there, starting in 1902, for which she was paid, as Woman Physician, $100.00 a month, less than the 1st and 2nd Assistant Physicians (presumably men), who were paid $133.33 and $116.66 respectively, but more than the 3rd Assistant Physician, paid $91.66. Somewhere, there exists a biography of Dr. Beach, this pioneer spirit who started the wheels of women’s rights rolling in Iowa.

In the early years, many of the staff lived on the campus; however, children were not allowed. Children born to employees were “farmed out to foster homes within the community to be raised.”

Now that’s workplace loyalty.

First Cherokee Patients, August 1902.

The first eight Cherokee patients were admitted between August 15 and August 26, 1902. In late August 1902, 563 patients arrived via two trains: 310 from Independence and 253 from Clarinda. In Independence, curious citizens looked on as the stronger patients walked two miles from the hospital and the weak and sickly were transported by trolleys or hay wagons to the Cherokee train. According to the 29 August 1902 Cherokee newspaper, Clarinda offered a higher class of patient: “better dressed, better behaved and showed a little more intelligence.” More patients, 777 from Clarinda and 144 from Mt. Pleasant, were expected in the next few days.

Between 1933 and 1951, Cherokee boarded over 1,400 patients. At its peak, the institution housed over 1,700–no date is given for this number, but with the 1954 introduction of Thorazine, patient population began declining. The book offers no figures for 1969, but the population must have still been fairly substantial, for most of us had roommates.

Each patient was issued a "Ground Card"; specific privileges depended on the patient's mental health progress. For example, my privileges were fairly liberal in that I could travel the grounds by myself (without a fellow patient or staff person). I don't remember the exact wording of my card, but this looks fairly close. The date of this photo is unknown.

Throughout the years, patients have been subjected to insulin and electric shock therapies, integral parts of Joyce’s treatment [Joyce was another patient whose name, in this memoir, has been changed].

Cherokee Patient Undergoing Hydrotherapy, date unknown.

Straitjackets were discontinued in the early 1950's, but lobotomies were performed into the early 1970's. Had I known what a lobotomy entailed, I would have been terrified that if I didn’t behave, the procedure would be in my future. However, lobotomies were done as a last resort, reserved for the most violent patients. To my knowledge, I did not meet any lobotomy patients at Cherokee, but, at that time, I would not have been cognizant of their characteristics. I suspect that these patients were kept segregated from the general population.

Years later, I met a person who had endured a lobotomy; it was frightening to witness the damage done to him. He would simply turn on and off like a light switch, talking one minute and then drifting off into some kind of trance and then coming back, picking up exactly where he had left off.

During World War II, from February 1944 to May 1946, the Civilian Public Service Company #131, made up of conscientious objectors, served at the facility in lieu of military service. This company consisted of 25 conscientious objectors, 10 of their wives, and one sister. They served as nurses’ aides, kitchen workers, drivers, lawn and garden assistants, housekeepers, and stenographers. I would have appreciated knowing this bit of history, given my own objection to the Vietnam war and my fears for Jeff [Brown, my ex-husband] and my cousin Steve.

Cherokee Facility, Bird's Eye View, date unknown.

At its peak, the hospital, on its 840 acres on the hill was, in itself, a small functioning town, boasting its own coal-burning power plant; a complete working farm; hospital facilities, including a dentist’s office, lab, geriatric ward, and morgue; a cemetery; a full restaurant; a butcher shop; laundry facilities; residences; carpenter and machine shops; a sewing factory; a bakery; an “amusement hall” and orchestra, made up of staff, who were often “hired on their ability to play an instrument”; a softball team; a pharmacy; and a barber and beauty shop.

Certainly, if the rest of the world disappeared, the institution could have survived, taking care of its patients and following the standard drug and psychological therapies.

The book does clarify one matter that, for years, has puzzled me: in April 1969, I spoke with a Mrs. Williams about job training in Floriculture; I could never figure out why she was pushing this career so hard, but the book reveals that Cherokee, in addition to its working farm, complete with vegetable fields, flower gardens, orchards, and beef and dairy cattle, also maintained an extensive greenhouse, overlooking the southeast section of the grounds, where the institution grew flowers and vegetables year round, even exhibiting some of their products at various state fairs.

Cherokee Exhibit at State Fair, date unknown.

I don’t remember seeing or even hearing about this greenhouse, but I might have embarked on a career because of its existence.

Cherokee Greenhouse, date unknown.

At various points in its history, several other training programs were offered to patients: bakery and butcher schools, to name two, and a physician residency program, for doctors just out of medical school. Currently, the facility offers a physician assistant specialty training program.

I complained bitterly about the food; in my mind, a good Cherokee meal consisted of roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, and peach cobbler, reserved for Sunday dinner. However, most of the time, we were served such delights as instant scrambled eggs (with a green tinge), overcooked vegetables (mushy cauliflower comes to mind), a strange meat–which I suspected was liver–and wicked coffee, often served lukewarm, so I was surprised to read about the T-bone steaks and oyster stew served during the 1960's. I don’t recall such meals, but I do remember losing a lot of weight there.

One odd, though darkly humorous, note: 100 years ago one group of female Cherokee sewing factory workers were scrutinized very carefully, for “...some medical authorities warned that professional seamstresses were apt to become sexually aroused by the steady rhythm, hour after hour, of the sewing machine’s foot pedals.”

Female Cherokee Patients Sewing, early to mid 1900's.

Had I known that, I would have happily taken up sewing as a career path, but then the next part of this equation might have given me pause: “[These same medical authorities] recommended slipping bromide–which was thought to diminish sexual desire–into the women’s drinking water.” [In response to this “minor” reference to these women who were so cruelly treated, I was inspired to write a poem and an essay in honor of them.]

The hospital also had its own morgue, but this building was torn down in 1966, well before my time as a patient. Interestingly, the morgue was located near the Kinne Building, demolished in 1972, where the tuberculosis patients were kept. The morgue may have disappeared, but a cemetery remains on the grounds–831 patients interred between 1907 and 1962, the last a 62-year-old woman. The deceased, unclaimed by family members, were placed in wicker baskets in graves marked with numbers, for being a mental patient was considered too shameful to be made public, even after death. I never saw or heard about this cemetery–and D.J., a patient who had worked on the grounds, never mentioned it.

Cherokee Cemetery, date unknown.

Back in 1969, I knew nothing about the morgue and cemetery, but I must have suspected something; on April 11, after recounting a frightening nightmare I had at age four, I asked, “I wonder if anyone has ever died here?” I’m glad I didn’t know; I was frightened enough about the possibility of being incarcerated for a long time and then dying in the institution.

Wicker Caskets Used to Bury Deceased Patients, date unknown.

Chronicle-Times (Cherokee) journalist Ken Ross noted that “The cemetery is down a road beyond a locked gate. Trees surround the cemetery and Beacon Hollow Creek runs nearby.” So I wouldn’t have stumbled upon it during my walks.

In 2001, as mental illness became less of an embarrassing secret and more visitors asked to see the cemetery, the institution decided to create a memorial and formed a committee to plan the cemetery reconstruction, offering a dignified resting place for the 831 patients. In the past, when descendants visited the graveyard grounds, they were disappointed. “We were apologetic about the condition of our cemetery,” said Mike Thompson, plant manager for the institution. The project was completed in 2002 and slated for dedication in time for Cherokee’s 100th anniversary celebration on August 15, 2002, denoting the 1902 arrival of the first patient.

I don’t know how much Cherokee Mental Health: 100 Years of Serving Iowan’s really explains in terms of my time in Cherokee, but it does reveal some of the ingrained attitudes toward mental patients that still persisted in 1969. I would have liked more information about the history of the institution, including the subsequent superintendents, psychiatrists, and psychologists who practiced there, and more detail about the therapies, but confidentiality issues might have hampered the committee charged with pulling this history together.

Perhaps my story will reveal something important about Cherokee and other similar state hospitals.

Source: The CMHI Centennial Committee. Cherokee Mental Health: 100 Years of Serving Iowan’s. A Pictorial History. Iowa Department of General Services Printing Division, November 2001.

Flowers in Cherokee Greenhouse, date unknown.

Text is copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel

Text of summary may not be reposted or republished without author's permission.


Off Topic: For the Record, I Support Barack Obama



With all due respect to John McCain (and his ad on my site), I am an Obama supporter. While I have agreed to allow ads on my site, I don't select the specific ones placed here.

I have no intention of smearing Mr. McCain, but I'm a Democrat, and I find Barack Obama's arguments and viewpoints more compelling than McCain's.


Yes We Can (will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas)


The Emmy Winning video "Yes We Can" is a collage style music video inspired by a speech delivered by Barack Obama following the 2008 New Hampshire primary, derived from similar union catch cries. The song was released on February 2, 2008 by the Black Eyed Peas member will.i.am on Dipdive.com and also on YouTube.

YES WE CAN was bestowed an Emmy for Outstanding New Approaches - Entertainment at the 35th Annual Daytime Creative Arts and Entertainment Emmy Awards Ceremony on June 13th 2008 at the Frederick P. Rose Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City.


Thanks for your understanding.

Now back to the topic at hand....

Monday, August 18, 2008

News Clip--October 19, 1968: Nixon Presidential Campaign


Regional pacts...can prevent a local conflict from escalating into world war. The regional pact thus becomes a buffer separating the distant great powers from immediate threat–and the danger of a Social conflict escalating into world war is thereby reduced. A regional pact would provide a buffer between the United States and the Soviet Union in future flare-ups.



Sunday, August 17, 2008

New Text: 1968--The Year That Shaped a Generation

Jennifer Semple, high school graduation picture (1968)

For baby boomers, 1968 was a defining year, a year in which we, as a generation, lost our 1950's innocence. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy simply added another sickening dimension to President Kennedy's assassination four and a half years earlier.

President Kennedy had been assassinated at a time when, essentially, 1950's values were still in place and the shameful significance of the Viet Nam War was still unclear.

Nineteen sixty eight brought all these pieces together, and the result was not pretty.

In 1968, while the slightly older members of my generation set out to change the world, I went from naive girl to young woman, lost in the counter-culture, sex, and drugs.

My official memoir--the one I'm sending out to agents and publishers--begins in Hollywood, California, on Christmas Eve, 1968, but, really, my back story begins in Sioux City, Iowa, on June 5, 1968:

Ten days after high school graduation from Heelan Catholic School.

6:00 a.m.

Mo, my grandmother, yanks my covers back.

9:30 a.m. flight. Still a bit groggy, I go over my itinerary: Sioux City to Denver on Ozark, Denver to L.A. on TWA, L.A. to Mother and stepfather Larry, then--who knows?

L.A., here I come!

“My God, they’ve got Bobby, too!” Mo says.

Bobby who? I don’t know any Bobby....

“What’s this damn world coming to, anyway?” she says, wiping the tears from her eyes.

And then it hits me, last night’s California primary, Bobby Kennedy’s expected big win--JFK’s younger brother, our hope for the future, now apparently gone.

I sit up in bed. “What happened?”

“He was shot by a goon.” She stands up and runs her fingers through her hair. “A Goddamn goon.”

It’s not like Mo to take the Lord’s name in vain, and the profanity sounds shocking coming from her lips.

“A Goddamn goon,” she whispers, as if she has read my mind and wants me to know that at this moment she hurts enough to risk her immortal soul and eternal Hellfire should she drop dead right now.

“A Goddamn goon...”

I kick the sheet off, sit at the edge of the bed, and put my arms around her. “Is he dead?”

She shakes her head. “But it don’t look good. Not good at all.” Then she covers her face. “God, don’t they ever learn? Don’t they know Bobby was just asking for it? You’d think of all people he’d know better than to expose himself like that....” She starts crying again.

I get out of bed and hug Mo, and we both cry together, remembering another time almost five years ago when we stood in another room--another house even--and mourned the loss of another Kennedy.

Years later, I’ll look back on the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations and realize how much they have changed my generation, but, more than that, how they have changed me personally--I think it has something to do with loss of trust.

But, today, the day I’m supposed to embark on my new life, all I feel is sad and a sense of complete helplessness.

After I have finished dressing and packing, Mo, Dee Dee (my grandfather), and I gather around the TV and watch the Today Show to try to sort out what has happened. For the first time, we hear words like “The Ambassador Hotel,” “Lone gunman Sirhan Sirhan,” “How could this happen again?” And for the first time we see the scenes that will become a part of the historical landscape: the victory speech; the camera being jostled; Bobby laying in his own blood on the floor and someone yelling, “The gun, get the gun”; a man in a white jacket, or maybe it was a woman, supporting Bobby’s head as he lay dying; and Bobby’s last public words, “Is everybody okay?”

And we understand that while Bobby clings to life, he’s not expected to live. And if he does live, he’ll be a vegetable, definitely not the brilliant man who campaigned so vigorously for the presidency, who had an obsessive desire to continue the Camelot years.

Yes, I’m unhappy that Bobby’s been shot, but after the deaths of JFK and Martin Luther King, I almost expected that another Kennedy would die violently.

And as Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs try to sort through what has just happened, I remember another time: when a line was drawn down the middle of November 22, 1963, my 14th year, clearly dividing Then from Now.
My grandparents, Harley and Olive Semple, had no idea what kind of a world they were sending me into.

I had a vague idea, though, and I was ready to go:

“It’s time to go, Jennifer,” Dee Dee says in an unsteady voice. He has tears in his eyes, but I’m not sure whether it’s because he’s going to miss me or Bobby. Maybe both.

I’m all sweaty and uncomfortable in my maroon polyester jacket and skirt; Mo insists that a real lady dresses up for traveling. I disagree, but now it’s only a few hours to real freedom, and then I can wear whatever I want. I know one thing: this smelly outfit goes straight to the Goodwill.

Jennifer and Olive Semple, June 5, 1968


Dee Dee picks up one of my suitcases and takes it to the car. I drag the other bag across the carpet until he returns and takes it from me. He puts both cases into the trunk and slams the lid shut.

“Well,” he sighs. “That’s that.”

“Don’t forget to write once in a while,” Mo says.

“I won’t.”

“Never forget where you came from,” she says. “We’re your people.”

Then, in silence, he and Mo slide into the front seat, and I into the back, where I sprawl out, pulling my skirt up to my thighs in hope of catching a slight breeze from the air conditioner.

Not likely: the crotch of my pantyhose digs into my groin, and the band cuts into my waist. My panty girdle also cuts into my gut, the top rolling down around my belly.

Who invented these torture chambers, anyway? Women shouldn't have to suffer like this.

My bra is new, a size 38 C, stiff and formal. This morning, when I took it out of its box, it crackled like a piece of paper, and the cups resembled those steel cups that opera singers wear on stage. Now, sweat rolls down from between my breasts and onto my midriff, and I can only hope the temperature on the airplane is turned down low.

I won’t miss Sioux City humidity.

On the way to the airport, Mo clicks on the car radio. “Wild thing/ You make my heart...” blaring through the speaker, and I’m thinking “Wow! What a send off....”

“Caterwauling,” Dee Dee says, running through the dial. More music:

“Hot town/ Summer in the city...”

“Damn hippie stuff!”

Then “Lucy in the sky with diamonds...” (crackle)

“And it’s Summa-time in the city, a SIZZLING eight-o at 8:00 a.m.”

Dee Dee mutters something about “disrespect for Bobby” as he continues to search.

He fiddles with the dial until he finds what he’s looking for: Bobby Kennedy is barely hanging onto life, I barely hanging onto my sanity....

“It don’t look good,” Mo says, shaking her head.


My plane sits on the tarmac, waiting for me, engines revved up, heat waves distorting its potbelly. At the thought of climbing aboard and waiting for that bucket of bolts to lift off, I feel ill.

I hate airplanes.

But it was either fly or stay in Sioux City and settle down into a boring job. No matter how much I begged to take Union Pacific instead of the plane, Mo and Dee Dee nixed the idea. Why, I don’t know. Maybe they figure that I need to grow up, to get over my fear of flying.

And I have decided I’d rather die in a fiery plane crash than slowly suffocate in Sioux City.

“Here, take this pill,” Mo says, handing me a blue and white capsule and a cup of water. “It’ll calm you down.”

“What is it?”

“Just a tranquilizer. Here, just take it.”

I pop the capsule in my mouth and under my tongue and pretend to wash it down with the water. “Someone told me marijuana has the same effect,” I say.

“Someone” being my high school English teacher, but I’m not about to snitch.

“Don’t you be gettin’ no ideas,” Mo says, shaking her finger at me.

“Oh, Mo.” But the idea has been in my mind for a long time.

I turn away from my suddenly aging grandparents and walk toward the plane.

I don’t look back.

I spit the soggy pill into my hand and drop it into my pocket.


As the plane taxis down the runway, I think a lot about death, about dying in a burning heap of twisted metal. I’m not afraid of death, really, not even a violent one--getting run over by a large orange truck at six quelled that mystery long ago.

But I am afraid of dying without having yet lived.

The flight goes without a hitch--no turbulence or incidents.

The captain on the Denver to L.A. leg updates Bobby’s deteriorating condition, and several passengers sniffle during the bulletins, but I’m past that now.

JFK had already drained every significant emotion from me.

And then the plane lands.

I disembark to my other life.
When 1968 started, I was still in high school and only vaguely aware of world events unfolding around me; I was more interested in getting through high school and leaving home--June 5th was supposed to be a festive day.

By December 31, 1968, I was stoned and living with my drug dealing boyfriend, still superficially involved with the world around me. Other than the two assassinations, my most vivid memory was Apollo 8, juxtaposed with an acid trip.

It was only later that I realized the significance of 1968.

In 2005, as I was finishing up the first draft, I decided to weave relevant news clips throughout the main narrative and spent two months building a day-by-day history through short news clips--a good idea that didn't work out, at least for my memoir:

1. Given my then-disinterest in current events, the clips felt out of place and phony.

2. The clips added more than 300 pages to the manuscript.

3. They detracted from my narrative.

But when I decided to create a blog containing excerpts from the memoir, I soon realized that the clips would work out well on the internet. Since 2005, YouTube and other video technology has advanced enough so that I, a casual user, would have little difficulty finding and embedding relevant video content.

As I comb through the various video clips from 1968 and documentaries about that year, I realize how much of 1968 has shaped me personally, even though I was not very engaged in current events.

The following documentary (in six parts) pretty much covers the highlights of 1968:


1968: The Vietnam War Protests (Part 1 of 6)

1968: Black and White--"Martin Luther Assassination" (Part 2 of 6)

1968: Counter-Culture (Part 3 of 6)

1968: International Protests (Part 4 of 6)

1968: The Long, Hot Summer--"The Whole World is Watching," "Prague Spring," and "Mexico City Massacre" (Part 5 of 6)

1968: Lawlessness, Protest, and Politics--"A Night of Sorrow," "The Black Power Salute," "Law and Order Movement," and "The Selling of a President" (Part 6 of 6)

artstar11 says,

1968: The Year that Shaped a Generation

War. Assassinations. Riots. This dramatic program examines the turbulent political and social landscapes of 1968 by combining dramatic archival footage and interviews with many key participants, including Walter Cronkite, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Senator Tom Hayden, Barbara Ehrenreich, Carlos Fuentes, and Pat Buchanan. Individual sections spotlight topics such as Vietnam, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, student revolts, the counter-culture, the Democratic National Convention, the Prague Spring, the Mexico City student massacre, and the '68 presidential campaign and election.

Release Year: 1998

Run Time: 57 minutes


News Clip--October 18, 1968: Gold Medalist Tommie Smith and Bronze Medalist John Carlos Suspended

The U.S. Olympic Committee suspends Gold Medalist Tommie Smith and Bronze Medalist John Carlos for giving the “black power” salute as a protest during the awards ceremony for the 200 meter race. The IOC forces the Olympic Committee to withdraw the two athletes from the relays, banish them from the Olympic Village, and expel them from the Olympic team.

Source and Source

The following six-part BBC documentary provides an in-depth look at the background leading up to Tommie Smith and John Carlos' controversial black power salute, resulting in their permanent ban from the future Olympics, and the ensuing aftermath of that courageous act.

Part 4 is especially poignant, moving, and historically important; viewers are offered in-depth footage of the actual medal ceremony in which Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their fists in solidarity, even as they paid a personal price for their political statement. Parts 5 and 6 emphasize just how much this one act of dissidence changed the Civil Rights Movement.


Black Power Salute (Part 1/6)

Black Power Salute (Part 2/6)

Black Power Salute (Part 3/6)

Black Power Salute (Part 4/6)

Black Power Salute (Part 5/6)

Black Power Salute (Part 6/6)


At the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games the enduring image was Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the African American athletes raising their gloved clenched fists in support of the Black Panther movement during the Star Spangled Banner, they were subsequently banned from the Games for life. This film looks at what inspired them to make their protest, and what happened to them after the Games.

Featuring Tommie Smith, Lee Evans, Bob Beamon and Delroy Lindo. Some strong language.

Thanks, Benandonner1, for posting this awesome documentary. You rock!

News Clip--October 17, 1968: Barbra Streisand Sings "Hatikvah"

At an Israel Bond luncheon at the Hollywood Palladium, Barbra Streisand sings “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem.


Barbra Streisand Sings "Hatikvah"


Barbra Streisand at the conclusion of the 1978 Stars Salute Israel show.

"Jennifer Juniper," Donovan Leitch, 1968 (YouTube)

Jefferson Airplane


Jefferson Airplane: "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love"

Jefferson Airplane performing live both "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love" on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. More