The Hippie Trials
Photos by Bob Krueger
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“Aspen is stockpiled with freedom freaks and darting dogs,” complained a letter to the editor in 1967. “I do not like sitting down in an eating place across from a filthy person who has no way of making a living.” “Aspen has undeniable charm and interest and is surrounded by truly magnificent beauty,” wrote another reader. “But unfortunately, the charm and interest of Aspen is sorely marred by litter and trash in the form of uncouth and filthy humans who resemble disheveled barbarians.”
The police cracked down, and vagrancy became the most common charge, for which Guido often gave offenders the maximum 90-day jail sentence. Aspen Times editorials chastised Guido and the Aspen aldermen for appointing him. “There is no doubt that Meyer is a well-intentioned citizen, working hard to do what he thinks is best for Aspen,” conceded editor Bil Dunaway. “However, his lack of knowledge of, and respect for, the law, makes his tribunal a mockery of justice.”
“Episodes began with shakedowns and harassment by police,” recalls Michael Solheim, who ran a restaurant at the Hotel Jerome in the late ’60s. “Anybody who looked like a freak got attention they didn’t deserve. A lot of them who looked like hippies were visiting physicists, artists and music students. That’s just how they looked.”
Joe Edwards, an attorney who came to Aspen in 1966 to work for Bill Janss in the development of Snowmass, had a background in civil rights. He rallied to the hippies’ cause for social justice after witnessing a particularly debauched court scene before Guido in July 1968 when three “hippies” were given maximum sentences for vagrancy.
“That summer of ’68 is when I got involved in the Hippie Trials,” explains Edwards. “Haight-Asbury was breaking up at that time, and people were coming to Aspen and hanging out. The chamber thought that was contrary to business, so they got the police to discourage ‘undesirable transients.’ If you had long hair, you got arrested hitch-hiking; if you had short hair, you didn’t. If you had long hair and were sitting on the sidewalk, you got arrested.”
Suspicions of Guido’s bias in dispensing justice were confirmed by a collection of Guido’s quotes published by Aspen Illustrated News reporter Bill Rollins:
• “Beatniks, hippies, they all have long hair. That’s how I can tell them. I prefer dogs to hippies. Dogs are cleaner and have more manners.”
• “Hippies are supported by Communists. They are working from within. It’s the same as the Third Column in the ’30s that gave rise to Hitler.”
• “Riots, hippies, beatniks. They are all the same; working from Moscow. Lawlessness and disorder will be our downfall.”
• “We have gotten too weak. We are not tough like we were in the old days when we took care of the cattle thieves.”
A group of concerned citizens gathered at the Physics Center and took a collection in a hat. They raised $179.15 for Joe Edwards to take on the police state. Edwards pressed the court system to challenge Guido’s unconstitutional and illegal judgments, citing how Guido claimed that those brought to his court were already guilty by the fact of their arrests. The Pitkin County Bar Association joined a court injunction against Guido and the police, filed by Edwards, and in August 1968, the city council removed Guido as “unfit” for the job.
“They got their ears boxed,” recalls Edwards, “and the police chief was fired and the entire city council was ousted. They were replaced by liberals, and that was the turnaround for Aspen.”
The Love-In had sparked a revolution that culminated in the Hippie Trials, all of which spurred a backlash against the “police state” by reshaping the political, economic and
cultural framework of Aspen and much of the Roaring Fork Valley. Liberals—Joe Edwards, Dwight Shellman, Michael Kinsley, Stacy Standley—were swept into Pitkin County and Aspen government by an invigorated and empowered Democratic Party, and Hunter Thompson nearly won election as Pitkin County sheriff.
The new order curtailed development with a county-wide downzoning that infuriated vested interests and an aggressive land use overhaul introduced a radical quota system that set limits on growth while, contrary to many doomsday predictions, actually escalating real estate prices, which in turn drove growth downvalley. The vagrancy laws were relaxed, and Aspen became a more tolerant, bohemian Mecca whose reputation as a liberal bastion exists today.