The story of America’s first hippie commune, as well as American utopianism from the Mayflower to the 1960s and beyond.
Named not for Dennis Leary’s mandate to drop out and drop acid but for the “droppings” of art its communards produced, Drop City rose haphazardly from an arid piece of goat pasture in southwestern Colorado—or rather its form rose haphazardly. The egalitarian-libertarian idea for it percolated for years in the minds of two unlikely collaborators—Eugene Victor Deb Bernofsky, a red-diaper baby from Brooklyn with a prankster streak, and Clark Richert, the artistic scion of a Midwestern Mennonite family. The two met at the University of Kansas in Lawrence in the early ’60s, and a bond was formed from their common interest in the avant-garde in politics and the arts as well as in marijuana, both as recreation and as a commodity to be grown and sold. The profits from their first bumper crop helped the pair procure the land for Drop City. In telling the ultimately sad story of this arts colony, Matthews (A Great Day to Fight Fire: Mann Gulch, 1949, 2009, etc.) creates an oral (and e-mail) history of the commune from the principals who created it, built and lived in the geodesic domes and “zomes” that characterized its architecture and publicized it to its death less than a decade after its first shelter rose in 1965—before its denizens were even labeled “hippies” by an often scornful and uncomprehending outside world. The author also delves the history of American countercultural, following a thread from Thomas Morton’s Merry Mount outside of Plymouth Colony and the Ephrata Cloister in colonial Pennsylvania to the B.F. Skinner–inspired Twin Oaks in rural Virginia, which is still going strong today. Though individual communities like Drop City may struggle and die, Matthews writes, the impulse to create them has long burned in the American imagination.
A brief, enthralling history of a specific place and time, and of an enduring American idea.