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August 20, 2013 | 10:47 AMI read with interest John Halverson’s article about the 1966 and 1967 summer “riots” in Lake Geneva and noted his appeal for comments about those “riots.”
I was a participant in the first of these “riots” and this column is a response to Mr. Halverson’s appeal for recollections of them.
My participation in the “riot” was primarily due to my youthful exuberance and “anti-authoritarian” demeanor.
First and foremost, those “riots” were completely apolitical.
They had nothing whatsoever to do with the anti-Vietnam war movement.
They were fueled by beer, and if any theme united the participants, it was a loathing of cops.
The cause of the “riots” in Lake Geneva might be ascribed to the nature of the response of the local police force (augmented by deputized citizens) as much as it could be to the boisterous behavior of the participants in the “riots,” as Curtis A. Woods of Lyons and Nick Haviland of Lake Geneva pointed out in their contributions to the recollections of the “riots.”
While the overwhelming majority of those who participated in the “riots” were young males from Chicago and the Chicago suburbs, who had come to Lake Geneva to have a good time partying, there were also numerous youthful participants who were year-round residents of Lake Geneva.
I was slightly older than most of the participants.
I was married and had a two-month-old daughter. On a hot summer day in 1966, as I walked downtown towards the Riviera, I saw that a large crowd had assembled on lower Broad Street.
As I got closer I saw that the Lake Geneva Police Department had deputized many local citizens to buttress the police force.
I recall Doug Gerber, my Badger High School football coach, and Dan Andresen as being among those who had been deputized.
I saw Doug carrying a length of rope that resembled a “hangman’s noose” and Dan carrying what looked to me like a pitchfork.
They were in the center of lower Broad Street, bunched together with members of the LG police force and other deputized citizens.
I can recall the names of many young local residents who participated in the “riots,” but they will remain anonymous since they, like me, were caught up in the youthful exuberance of the moment.
I joined the crowd and as it grew larger and larger, it spilled into the street.
The police began to physically shove people back onto the sidewalk.
The crowd surged forward many times, but it retreated each time the police shoved against it.
Many people in the crowd were passing out cans of beer to anybody who wanted one.
There was a drunken party atmosphere, combined with a collective, universal dislike of the cops.
That night while I was drinking at Miller’s (now Chuck’s) bar in Fontana, people at the bar told me that a large confrontation with the cops had also occurred in front of the bar earlier in the day.
What had happened in Lake Geneva during the summer of 1966 had been a prelude to what would happen in the summer of 1967.
Many of the youth who came to Lake Geneva in the summer of 1967 anticipated a rerun of what had happened during the summer of 1966, and they were not disappointed.
But the “riots” of 1966 and 1967 were not unique to Lake Geneva. During those summers there were numerous beer-fueled “riots” in resort communities all across the county including in Geneva on the Lake in Ohio, just east of Cleveland.
The “riots” were a means by which young people let off pent-up steam, and were fueled by beer. Most were directed against any manifestation of authority.
What happened in Lake Geneva in 1966 and 1967 was not, as some contend, exceptional.
As the summer of 1968 arrived, the hordes of young males who descended upon Lake Geneva knew that the cops would be waiting in force for them.
There was no repeat during the summer of 1968 of the events of the summers of 1966 and 1967.
The movement against the war in Vietnam, which had begun in February 1965, did not grow into a truly mass movement until 1967, after which it captured the attention and engaged the involvement of millions of American youth during the ensuing four years.
There would be no beer-fueled “riots” in Lake Geneva or in any other venue during the summers of those four years (1968-71).
Like Curtis Woods of Lyons, I too would be present at the Dow Chemical anti-war protest in Madison in October of 1967.
To have been there was far more significant than participating in a beer-fueled rite (not riot) of summer in Lake Geneva or anywhere else in 1966 or 1967.
Patrick Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.