Skip to comments.Sputnik I begat beatniks (YET ANOTHER LEFTY CONSPIRACY THEORY - THIS TIME FROM '57)
Posted on 03/18/2007 6:06:56 PM PDT by Chi-townChief
SAN FRANCISCO -- You could be anything you wanted to be in the Beat movement. This year is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, in which he wrote how he stayed in San Francisco for a week and had the "beatest" time of his life.
San Francisco is still a good place for that.
The Beat Museum opened last fall in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. It honors the Beat creed of tolerance, inclusiveness and having the be-all to follow your dreams. That's how remnants of the Sputnik I satellite landed last month in the museum.
You have to think outside the box to dig this:
The Russian-made Sputnik I was the first man-made object to orbit the Earth. It was launched on Oct. 4, 1957, and it scared the bejesus out of America. The Russians were experimenting with the atom bomb.
The late Herb Caen was sort of the Mike Royko of San Francisco. On April 2, 1958, he used the Sputnik moniker to coin the phrase "Beatnik" when he wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle about a party held for "50 Beatniks." With old-school resignation, Caen wrote, "They're only Beat, y' know, when it comes to work."
And that's why 13 alleged parts of the Sputnik satellite are in the Beat Museum.
Beat Generation relics The pieces sit in a glass case like precious diamonds. The remnants are hand cut and not machine tooled. The U.S. Air Force has identified two of the pieces as parts of a transmitter. They're featured among 200 Beat items like the referee shirt Neal Cassady wore while driving the Further bus for Ken Kesey (featured in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) and a signed copy of Alan Ginsberg's 1957 poem "Howl."
Jerry Cimino owns the non-for-profit museum with his wife, Estelle. If he can verify the satellite parts he will take the space trash on a cross-country tour in an Airstream trailer to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sputnik I. Cimino speaks about the Beats at colleges with John Allen Cassady, the son of Kerouac's buddy Neal. They travel around in an Airstream called the Beatmobile. The Beatmobile pulls a storage van with large pictures of Kerouac, Cassady and Bob Dylan.
"The 'Beatnik' term meant the Beat Generation writers -- who were intellectuals -- immediately became Communist sympathizers," Cimino said during a radioactive interview at his museum. At the 1960 Republican National Convention, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover stated the three greatest threats to the American way of life were "Communists, eggheads and beatniks."
The Beat Museum was born in 2004 in an Airstream trailer in Monterey, Calif., as "The Beat Museum on Wheels." Cimino, 52, moved it to Kerouac's beloved North Beach a year ago. The 5,000-square-foot museum is across the street from City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio Cafe, 255 Columbus Dr. In 1960 Kerouac was supposed to head down to Big Sur to confer with author Henry Miller, who was a fan of Kerouac's The Dharma Bums. The shy Kerouac started drinking at Vesuvio to calm his nerves. He never met Miller.
A work in progress I thought the museum would be a beat-up hole in the wall, but the spacious joint incorporates dozens of glass cases that feature items such as a first edition of Kerouac's Tristessa, a Kerouac bobblehead that was a giveaway at a minor league Lowell Spinners game (his hometown) and a $10.08 check Kerouac wrote to Nunzie's liquor store. The museum also features vintage pulp fiction paperbacks like North Beach Girl by John Trinian. Appropriately, the museum is in a former bookstore. Jack's only daughter Jan gave Cimino her blessing for his 1-800-KEROUAC number before she died of kidney disease in 1996. The gift shop includes drawings made by Carolyn Cassady (widow of Neal) that sell for $100. I cracked up at the life-size 1955 "Beat pad" Cimino created in the rear of the museum. The digs have an Underwood typewriter, a 1955 RCA television set and an RCA turntable (on loan from the California Historical Radio Society). The pad has a working 1928 stove and a beat-up "fainting couch."
Now I always have someplace to stay in San Francisco.
Cimino is beginning work on a Day-Glo '60s room and the museum also has a small movie theater where Beat-related films and documentaries are screened.
Back to the Sputnik A replica model of Sputnik I hangs from the ceiling near the museum entrance. The original Sputnik was about the size of a Southern California beach ball. Around Christmas a visitor noticed the satellite. Cimino recalled, "I say, 'Yeah, the Beats became the beatniks and the beatniks became the hippies and it all came from that term Sputnik.' Then the guy says, 'I know someone who has the real thing.' And I go, 'The real what?' And he said 'The real Sputnik.' "
Cimino was told how a man from Southern California had satellite parts and letters from the U.S. Air Force. "I said it was impossible; it burned up on entry," Cimino said.
Bob Morgan had the parts. He lives in Santa Barbara County, where he makes parts for jet skis. The satellite parts are not jet ski parts. Cimino called Morgan and spoke with him for an hour. "We had a great conversation," Cimino said. "I realized he wasn't wearing a tin foil hat."
The two eventually met. Morgan was in town during my late February visit to San Francisco when the museum hosted a press conference about Sputnik I. Cimino said, "We think there's a good possibility this is real. On Dec. 8, 1957, the family dog [Buttons, named after Red Buttons] woke up from a commotion. Bob's father went outside and saw this stuff glowing on the ground." The alleged Sputnik pieces landed on Morgan's grandfather Earl Thomas' property near Encino.
Morgan, 60, said, "We're looking for people who know about this material. There's no doubt verification is difficult, which is why we're asking for help." In mid-February the New York Times reported that the smaller parts of Morgan's booty could have been part of Sputnik's booster rocket.
On Dec. 11, 1957, Morgan's grandfather took a plastic ring to the Air Force public information division in Hollywood, Calif. The ring was intact. Now in pieces, it's part of the museum display.
"When my grandfather got it back from the Air Force there was a 5-inch piece missing," Morgan said. "And the Air Force told my parents point blank the United States had nothing up there in 1957."
Wait, it gets better.
On Dec. 8, 1957, KDAY Radio in Redondo Beach offered a $50,000 reward for Sputnik parts. The top-40 radio station had been tracking the satellite over Northern California. DJ Mark Ford was to give away the reward on air. Thomas took his satellite parts to Air Force officials who were at the radio station. The museum now has the original receipt of the Air Force receiving the items, dated Dec. 11, 1957, and signed by USAF Col. Dean E. Hess. And Ford, who has since died, also signed the receipt as a witness.
"My grandfather never got his money," Morgan said. "They returned the parts in a brown box. He moved up to Sacramento, put the parts in a box in a cellar and left them down there for who knows how long. But from 1958 to 1965 my grandfather wrote letters to [California] Gov. Pat Brown, President Kennedy and President Johnson." The museum even has a Feb. 21, 1962, letter from President Kennedy's office. It apologizes for being tied up with other matters. The Cuban Missile Crisis was going down.
Conspiracy theory? "We found out Mark Ford's real name was Marvin Howard," Cimino said. "He was in the Air Force, got out in 1956 and joined the radio business." The museum features a section of the book Los Angeles Radio People, in which Ford said, " ... I was sent to a language school during the Korean War and studied cryptoanalysis. I listened to Russian broadcasts to break the codes for U.S. Intelligence ... " Cimino smiled and said, "The government realizes Sputnik is coming down, they wonder 'How are we going to get this thing?' and it's 'Oh, that guy who used to work for us is the Air Force is now a DJ in California." Unbeatable.
Following his dream Cimino was an American Express and IBM salesperson before going Beat. "The museum started with my personal collection," said Cimino, who was reared in Baltimore but relocated to Northern California in the early 1980s because of the Beats.
"After we opened people started bringing me stuff. The first day someone brought me that," and Cimino pointed to the Lawrence Ferlinghetti LP "Poetry Readings in the Cellar," which would fetch $300 today. And don't miss the museum's copy of Holy Goof, Neal Cassady's biography. The title comes from On the Road, where Kerouac says of Cassady (he inspired the Dean Moriarty character), 'That's what Dean was, 'the Holy Goof.'."
"I did OK during the dot.com era, but I was looking for something that had meaning," he said. "The Beats were the most tolerant people in the world. Their thing was, 'We don't care who you are, what you look like or what you're into, as long as you're not hurting anybody else, come join our party.'
"That's an important message, especially for young people to hear today. Allen Ginsberg was the bravest man in America in the 1950s. He came out of the closet in 1955. Nobody was doing that. He stood up and said, 'I'm here and I'm queer and I want to be part of the solution -- let me put my queer shoulder to the wheel [the closing line from Ginsberg's poem "America"]. I started to use the story of the Beats to promote a message I believe in, which is to follow your own dreams."
I saw it, it wasn't a rare occurence. Anybody old enough could have seen it.
This information age is getting too scary./s
But you take PayPal? HMMM.... What else did you do?
"Vanguard was a project of the NRL (Naval Research Laboratory), which was regarded more as a scientific than a military organization... However, Vanguard was a US Navy rocket project!"
Yeah, better research needed before posting, check. Whoah, nice pic! Definitely not one of the Navy's better moments.
You bet. I specifically remember it. TIME has this from an article up on the web:
Twilight Sight. The Russians made their sputnik more conveniently visible in their own territory than in the U.S. during its first trips around the earth, but U.S. observers will get their chance eventually. Dr. Joseph A. Hynek, director of the observatory's satellite-tracking program, calculates that the satellite's orbit shifts around the earth at 4° per day. This will bring it over the U.S. at twilight on about Oct. 20, when it should be visible through small telescopes or binoculars.
I love that "eventually". The article is date Oct. 14, and probably didn't make home delivery until after the 20th. We were used to that though ... factored it in.
Michael Savage is very funny when he spoofs, "Howl." (by the way, he was friends with many of the original beatniks)
Oh my! Bookmark!
I saw it, it wasn't a rare occurence. Anybody old enough could have seen it.<<
Then again, I would daresay I may be the only freeper to have been born on Oct. 4, 1957, and have most of the media reminded of my birthday for most of those years. The last real reference I saw, was the 2nd flight of the winning of the Ansari X prize.
It was a wonderful tribute to the largest birthday candle ever.
Quite frankly, "Blue Monk" is great but stuff like "Brilliant Corners" was and is hard to listen to.
I like his comment from the Paris Review interview where Jack said hoe the United States gave his French-Canadian family a good break and, because of that, he sees no reason to protest.
OOPs - hoe=how
Beatnik girls were pretty and had long, straight hair. That part I liked.
I think it was 1961 that my uncle took my cousin, brother, sister and me to New York City. I remember going to Macy's and eating lunch there, going to the observation deck on the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, eating dinner in Chinatown (where I ordered a hot dog!). My uncle took us through Greenwich Village and we walked around checking out the beatniks. The artists had their paintings displayed along the sidewalk. I remember going into a coffee house and listening to folk music and poetry readings and smelling "burning rope" (pot) :-) and afterwards, seeing a beatnik girl, just as your described, long straight hair, pretty, wearing sunglasses at night, walking what looked like a mink (it could have been a ferret). We had bongo drums at home!
What a great set of pictures!
I think it's a requirement to have a set of bongos, clear evidence of subversive thinking. You can bet there's a copy of Maos' little Red Book on the shelf!
He did look the part, though. And what I wouldn't give to have a name like that!
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