The most obvious change in the air in 1974 was the unraveling of the
presidency of Richard Nixon. While that was happening the culture
shifted. Tastes in music, clothes, politics, movies, drugs, and
you-name-it, took off in new directions. Among other things, it was also
the year in which social causes went out of style for most of the baby
Going into 1974, no one would have guessed the most popular gesture of
group defiance on campus -- the protest march -- would morph into
spontaneous gatherings to cheer on naked people, as they ran by. Yet, in
the spring of 1974, streaking on college campuses became a national
Richmond’s police chief, Frank Duling, announced that his department
would not tolerate streakers running around in the city’s streets,
alleys, etc. He didn’t care whether they were students, or not. But the
VCU police department said if it took place on campus, streaking was a
university matter and would be dealt with by its personnel.
The relationship between Richmond and VCU was somewhat awkward in this
period. Leading up to this point, there had been a series of
confrontational incidents on, or near, the VCU campus. Perhaps the most
bitterly remembered of them occurred on Oct. 12, 1970, after Allen
Ginsberg spoke at the VCU gym. The city police used overkill force to
break up a street party in the area of the 1100 blocks of Grove Ave. and
Park Ave. Debris was thrown, a cop was hit by a brick and police dogs
were set loose in the crowd.
So, leading up what happened on the 800 block of W. Franklin St. on the
night of March 19, 1974, Richmond’s police department had some history
with what might have been characterized as the anti-establishment crowd
based in the lower Fan District.
Several groups of streakers had made runs before four naked kids rode
down Franklin in a convertible at about 10 p.m. The crowd of 150-to-200
cheered as the motorized streakers waved. The mood was festive. I know
this firsthand, because I was in that crowd. This scene played out a
block from the Biograph Theatre and I had walked over to the commotion
with Biograph usher Trent Nicholas to see what would happen.
Seconds later a group of some 50 uniformed policemen stormed in on small
motorbikes and in squad cars from every direction to arrest those four
streakers in the car. No VCU cops were involved.
After a lull in the action, the Richmond cops inexplicably charged into
the assembled bystanders. A few of those bystanders were dragged into
the middle of the street. One kid was knocked off of his bicycle and
slammed repeatedly against the fender and hood of a police car. Others
were beaten with clubs or flashlights.
The Richmond cops were acting like Brits in Belfast or Derry, free to
abuse the gathering, at will. That the unprovoked brutality was about
terrorizing fad-driven streakers on a college campus made it all the
more absurd -- 17 people were arrested. Most of them were bystanders,
In person, I've never seen so many cops go crazy violent. More important, it was without being in response to any threat to people or property.
It was a shocking scene.
Crazy violent cops made bigger news at the Cherry Blossom Music Festival (which was
headlined by the Steve Miller Band and Boz Scaggs) on April 27, 1974, at
City Stadium. That was where the war between Richmond's partying
hippies and its police force escalated beyond all previous clashes. When
police officers attempted to arrest pot-smoking members of the
audience, things got out of hand. Way out of hand!
Several police cars were destroyed in what turned into a four-hour
battle. In all, 76 people were arrested. This unprecedented melee, which I missed, put the kibosh on
any outdoor rock 'n' roll shows in Richmond, with alcohol available, for
To conserve on gasoline President Richard Nixon signed a
bill mandating a 55 mph speed limit, coast-to-coast.
Patty Hearst was abducted; eight days later the Symbionese
Liberation Army told the extremely well-to-do Hearst family it had to
give $230 million in food aid to the poor.
Richmond's Biograph celebrated its second anniversary
with free movies and free beer and a wee prank. Once all the seats were
filled for the 6:30 p.m. show thousands who had lined up around the
block were turned away. For more on this event see "The Devils & the Details
Nixon was named by a federal grand jury as a
co-conspirator in the Watergate cover-up. At this point it was still
hard to see that he wouldn't last out the year.
Playing for the Atlanta Braves outfielder Hank Aaron
broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record with his 715th round-tripper.
Later we found out about the death threats Aaron had received leading up
to his feat.
According to photographic evidence Patty “Tania” Hurst
seemed to be helping her captors rob a bank at gunpoint. Nobody knew
what to make of it.
Richmond-based A.H. Robins Co. yielded to pressure from
the feds to take its contraceptive device, the Dalkon Shield, off the
One of the best films ever made, "Chinatown," premiered at the Biograph Theatre. It was owing to a lucky quirk of business that allowed the independent cinema to play several of Paramount's top first-run pictures that spring and summer.
Argentina’s President Juan Peron died. His wife, Isabel, took over, which eventually lead to a Broadway musical -- "Evita".
The House Judiciary Committee voted 27-11 to impeach
Nixon. Three days later the Supreme Court said Nixon had to surrender
tape recordings of White House meetings that had been sought by the
Watergate investigation’s special prosecutor. Nixon's presidency was in a death spiral.
Nixon resigned in disgrace; President Gerald Ford was
sworn in. Millions of hippies celebrated Nixon's downfall; some of them stayed too long at the party.
The Biograph Theatre closed to be converted by a
24-hour-a-day construction crew into a twin cinema in four weeks. The
after-hours Liar's Poker games were the stuff of legends.
Ford pardoned Nixon, which all but sealed Ford’s defeat when he ran for reelection in 1976.
Muhammad Ali regained the world heavyweight boxing crown
he had lost by refusing to be drafted into the army in 1967. In Zaire,
Ali defeated the heavily favored champion George Foreman by a knockout in
the eighth round.
Yasir Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation
Organization, addressed the UN with a pistol strapped to his waist.
Supporters of Israel cringed. Israel's enemies puffed up their chests.
Lovers of peace weren't necessarily encouraged, but hoped
for the best.
Georgia governor Jimmy Carter announced he would run for
president. Nobody noticed. Outside of his immediate circle of friends
and advisers, who could have imagined it would matter?