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Drop City prehistory

First in a series

 TRINIDAD — Back in the spring of 1965, Drop City sprung quickly from six acres of infertile goat pasture overlooking the old mining community of El Moro, Colorado. It never was, in spite of everything said about it in subsequent years, either a hippie commune or a community of beatniks. The original six, playfully self-identified as Curley Bensen, Clard Svenson, Miss Oleo Margarine and her young daughter, Larry Lard and the Drop Lady, were more like visionaries in the old sense of the word Communal settlements were not uncommon in Colorado’s history. Carl Wulsten, a Civil War veteran from Prussia, organized one of the first, named Colfax, in 1869 in the Wet Mountain Valley. Nathan Meeker was “the driving force behind the Union Colony” the same year, a colony which was soon renamed Greeley after his involvement with Horace Greeley. Then, according to Modupe Labode in an article ”Colorado Colonies” in Colorado History Now, in the late twentieth century, “southern Colorado’s high valleys and plateaus were sprinkled with communes founded

by socialists, hippies, feminists and others who desired to create a life opposed to the militarism, competition, and consumption they saw in American life.” Labode calls the creators of Drop City self-styled artists and freethinkers who later spun off other communes such as Libre near Gardner and Lama near Taos, New Mexico, among others. Other early communes associated with being ‘hip’ were at Gorda Mountain (1962) near Big Sur in California, Kerista and, in the state of Washington, Tolstoy Farm (1963). Tim Miller also chronicles the history of intentional communities in his book, The 60s Communes:  Hippies and Beyond. Between 1964 and 1969 Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters brought the bohemian ‘Beat’ movement into the Hip culture, and along the way, lived in a disorganized communal setting south of San Francisco and later, after 1967, on the Kesey farm in Oregon. According to Miller, “Drop City brought together most of the themes of its predecessor communities and “wrapped them in an exuberance and an architecture that trumpeted the coming of a new communal era.” The residents of Drop City were resourceful in the ‘high art’ of scavenging, and they “pioneered in making very respectable geodesic domes out of the tops of abandoned cars.” Their community developed “as a kind of recycling and reuse unit, a closed-cycle economy” which foreshadowed some of the goals we have today for a sustainable society. It would be “Beautiful Drop City, near the banks of the beautiful Purgatoire,” as Gene Bernofsky described it.: ”You mean, like Purgatory?” was John Curl’s comment. By December the Drop City Six, Gene and Jo Ann Bernofsky, Clark Richert, Richard Kallweit, Peggy Kagel and her infant daughter Melissa had become worth a feature article in the Denver Post. After that, the privacy, seclusion and anonymity which led the Droppers to Las Animas County was forever a thing of the past. Next week: The myth of Drop City.