Hampton Beach Project -- The Riots of 1964 -- August 29 - September 6, 1965

The Riots of 1964 -- Chapter 11

August 29 - September 6, 1965

Project Director's Report
Paul Estaver, Director

August 29 - September 6, 1965

The last two weeks prior to Labor Day are traditionally slow for Hampton Beach business, and in 1965 a period of cold, wind, and rain accentuated this trend. Hotels that had been virtually full through the summer found themselves with but a handful of customers. Obviously the tradition of previous years' rioting was a factor as well. So slight were the crowds, in fact, that it took two full weekends and the week intervening to collect the necessary 300 interviews on the final wave of the Irritability-Deviancy Scale. Particularly adults were simply not present in any number.

Comparison of Pre-Labor Day Weeks - 1964-65

During the equivalent period in 1964, the tension between the young people and the resort community obviously was building. A sprinkling of those who ultimately were deeply involved in trouble had appeared at the beach during this late-August interim. Rumors began to fly. Now, in 1965 virtually none of this was evident: the tension was negligible, few of the troublemakers seemed to be present, and the only rumors of trouble involved other areas - Cape Cod, and particularly Lake George, New York. Continual checks with both the police and many of the young people confirmed these apparently hopeful signs.

In the previous year such press coverage as there had been in advance speculated on the coming riot and police reprisals. However, this year two excellent articles - one in the Manchester Union Leader and one in the Christian Science Monitor - gave extensive treatment to the resort community's effort to find constructive solutions, including in both cases adequate coverage of CAVE's activities and goals. Only in the instance of a single Merrimack Valley newspaper was there the old familiar speculation about big trouble.

There was still no decision possible on the use of the Casino Ballroom for a September 4th dance - not until John Dineen could get through the weekend of August 28 -30 when his major presentation for the season was being presented. The attraction in this instance was the King Family, stars of the television show. Their appearance at Hampton Beach had been widely advertised for many weeks in advance. The Casino had invested in this show more heavily than in any other for the summer. However, advance sales had not been up to expectations and Dineen was concerned.

Unhappily the event proved to be even worse than the expectations. Afterward John Dineen termed it his worst failure in his years of show business. The reasons could have been several - the poor weather (and rain on one night of the show), the light crowds of late August, but perhaps more important, a changing pattern in the entertainment field, at least where Hampton and the Casino were concerned. Earlier in the summer the Beach Boys had sold out to show after show. But now more conventional entertainment, good as it was failed seriously.

This was also bad news for CAVE - at least as far as a Casino dance on September 4th was concerned. Dineen was frankly tired and discouraged and was most reluctant to undergo the tension of running an experimental dance on Labor Day weekend, particularly if it was to be as informal as the previous CAVE dances.

Further, he predicted that crowds for Labor Day weekend would be exceptionally light. He had already closed his dining room and was in the process of closing up the ballroom for the season.

Dineen did not say that a dance for Saturday, September 4, was totally out of the question, but he certainly felt he could give us no encouragement. It was still, in a technical sense, feasible; in an hour's time the veranda furniture could be moved back out of the ballroom and the refreshment stands opened up for one more evening.

He was also frank to analyze and criticize past and present Casino entertainment policies in the face of changing public taste. He wondered whether he hadn't made the mistake of trying to appeal to an age group who now stayed home to watch television instead of going out to spend money on entertainment. Next year, he said, he would certainly need to examine current trends in popular entertainment more carefully. Certainly he felt badly at having booked a flop, but he took a certain philosophical consolation in the fact that it was his first serious failure in all the years the Casino Ballroom had been under his management.

We also conversed briefly on the subject of the Frolics at Salisbury Beach, a few miles south of Hampton. The Frolics had similar anachronistic attributes to those of the Casino: in an era well beyond the heyday of the big bands and vaudeville it had operated successfully by charging healthy prices for its capacious, luxurious atmosphere and for the top names in show business until about 1964 when the financial roof fell in. Since then under other management it had experimented with a variety of variations of its former policies, none of which had paid off sufficiently. During August of the current year, it had gone bankrupt again and had quickly been purchased by the Surf Ballroom of Nantasket Beach. In the few weeks since that time it had been renamed the Surf and had suddenly found new success with Surf policies - the best rock and roll bands for "college mixers", swinging dances for older young people with the stipulation that coats and ties be worn. Whether this would continue to be successful at Salisbury Beach, was a question, but it certainly worked out for the Surf at Nantasket, a similar resort fifty miles or so to the south.

Salisbury Beach Contrast

Salisbury Beach itself has always presented an interesting contrast to Hampton Beach. This could fairly be called a honky-tonk resort, not unlike Coney Island. It abounds in ferris wheels, roller coaster and hundreds of small concessions and rides. Sidewalk vendors offer a bewildering variety of indigestibles. Beer joints flourish, many of them offering entertainment, at least in the form of a band and a postage stamp size ballroom floor. Its jungle of cottages are largely unattractive and run down, yet this is a thriving, light-hearted resort patronized most heavily by laboring classes from the Merrimack Valley. The police at Salisbury Beach have had brushes with scandal in past years, but their reputation is one of being worldly wise, tough, and tolerant. Salisbury has never been a teenagers' hangout, nor has it ever had a problem with riots or disturbances of a group nature.

Stuart Palmer theorizes that if the Hampton Beach riots have been a sort of symbolic protest against middle-class morality and hypocrisy, resorts such as Salisbury have never been affected since there is no middle-class pretension about them. It should also be noted that Salisbury has a state police barracks and that both state and local police are in evidence through the season.

A visit to Salisbury Beach over Labor Day weekend showed that Salisbury's crowds were normal, that business throughout the summer had been better than average, and that there was no expectation of trouble for this Labor Day any more than there had been in previous years.

During the early part of the week prior to Labor Day weekend, there was a continued effort, both by TAR personnel and by the Office of Juvenile Delinquency, to re-establish the dance for September 4th, Saturday. While Dineen continued to agree that such a dance in the Casino could, to some extent, relieve problems on the Boulevard, he maintained that a final decision could not be made until it was clearly established how large a crowd would turn up for the weekend and what sort of people they appeared to be.

CAVE Events

During the week preceding Labor Day there were a few additional CAVE events. As the photographs show, there was some participation in the annual firemen's muster by CAVE members and staff personnel. A firemen's muster, incidentally, is a meet at which old-fashioned hand-pumped fire engines are manned by crews of volunteers to see which can drive a stream the greatest distance. For several years such a meet has been held at Hampton Beach, drawing contestants from all over New England. Several weeks previously the Hampton Beach Fire Department had requested that CAVE members be available to help where crews from various towns might be short handed. At one point this plan had been carried a step further, and it was hoped that one engine could be reserved for CAVE members alone. However, the CAVE staff member who was to pull this event together unfortunately had to leave the area before the termination of the Project, and the engine in question was scheduled so late in the evening of August 28th that a CAVE team proved not to be feasible. However, in a somewhat disorganized fashion there was some participation and fun for CAVE young people. In a future year, with better planning, perhaps such an event could become a more important one for a youth organization.

On September 1st, one final event, a folk song evening, was held at the Onyx Room, featuring the Traveling Wayfarers previously mentioned, various impromptu performances, and participation by the New Original Cave Jug Band, now with several substitutes and rehearsing hurriedly for an appearance in the September 5th CAVE show at the Seashell. Again, there was good attendance, considering the size of the room, at this event.

On August 29th, an entirely different sort of presentation was made: this was a staff-sponsored adult coffee hour, held at the Methodist Church of Hampton. The staff members of the Project extended themselves to make this an effective event and inasmuch as they had conceived and formulated it, proportionately more planning and effort were applied. As a presentation it was very effective, but despite the staff's own efforts through the use of announcements in the paper and contacts with business people on the beach and uptown to publicize the event, the attendance was discouraging. In toto, not more than 30 people were present.

Also through this period Harold Eidlin and the movie photographer from Boston were very much in evidence, covering everything from CAVE dances and songfests to the IACP Training Session and a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce directors, along with interviews with individual directors, both those favorable to and opposed to what the Hampton Beach Project had been attempting through the summer.

Religious Action Groups

Through these same days prior to the big weekend there was considerable activity on the part of a group of evangelists. As reported in the section concerning the month of June, leaders from this group had conferred with us and had then gone through the various channels in an attempt to obtain permission to hold their events at Hampton Beach. When they approached the New Hampshire Division of Parks, they were denied permission to hold religious rallies at Hampton Beach on the grounds that a resort area was not an appropriate place for this sort of event, but more importantly that there might be justifiable complaints from one or another religious order in the area. Thereafter the leaders of this non-sectarian group queried individual churches in the seacoast area and found there was no objection to Hampton Beach rallies from any of them.

Thereafter they approached the Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce directors on August 17th, noting their activities and that the Department of Parks had no further objection to such rallies at the beach. Subject to TAR Committee approval, the Chamber directors sanctioned a series of evangelistic meetings in the Seashell for each night in the week prior to Labor Day weekend and for the holiday weekend itself.

In a TAR meeting of August 23rd the Committee also gave its sanction to this plan, providing that the religious events could be scheduled not to conflict with the CAVE show for Sunday, September 5th. Several TAR staff workers also attended this meeting and it was made clear that CAVE events and religious events should be kept entirely separate. On August 24th the Chamber directors again met and gave final permission to the religious action group for its program.

Through the summer various representatives of this revival group had worked on a one-to-one basis on the beach, talking to young people and handing out pamphlets urging a return to God. The reaction of at least a portion of the young people on the beach varied from mild antagonism to outright hostility. This attitude was, if anything, inflamed by the announcement that revival services would be held.

Apparently the nightly services through the week prior to Labor Day proved impossible for the religious action groups to present, but they were on hand evenings distributing various religious tracts, one in the form of a tabloid newspaper. As a result, clusters of people varying in age from 10 to 30 gathered in various spots on the Boulevard or on the concourse of the Casino itself to the distress to both the police and Chamber of Commerce directors. Several directors decided at this point that the decision to sanction revival services had been unwise and there was talk of canceling the entire program. On the night of September 1st the Executive Committee met to consider this prospect and votes ultimately to modify the sanction as follows: permission would be given for one service on Friday night, September 3rd, and if this went well approval for subsequent events might be forthcoming.

Thereafter there was much talk among the young people about this coming event and rumors began to be heard to the effect that there would be trouble, at the minimum to the extent of catcalling and eggs and tomatoes thrown. Much concern that such an incident could spark trouble for the entire weekend, CAVE took the position that whether or not its members approved of religious rallies, it was their responsibility to do everything within their power to talk down trouble and be on hand for the event to try and prevent any disturbance that might take place.

On the morning of Friday, September 3rd, I received a phone call from Chief Leavitt announcing that he and Colonel Regan had also heard these rumors and in the interests of public safety had decided to cancel the revival program for that evening. There followed a period of tension and anxiety, since, as the group leaders announced, thousands of young people were already on their way to the beach for the event, an important speaker had been engaged, and there was no way to effect a cancellation at this late hour. Of even more concern was the rumor that the participants intended to appear at the Seashell at the appointed hour, permission or not, and to proceed with the event, forcing the police to arrest them bodily.

Fortunately a compromise was worked out at the last minute, rescheduling the event at the Advent Christian Church in Hampton proper, several miles away from the beach.

The next day, Saturday, there were tentative plans to hold an evening rally in the parking lot of a motel at Hampton Beach. An appeal was made to CAVE for use of its building, or for a guarantee that young people would not make trouble if the event were held. Our reaction was that the CAVE membership had adamantly stated that the youth organization should not sponsor religious events; however, we also promised that we would do everything possible to avoid trouble, although obviously we could make no guarantee concerning young people at large.

In the end, when neither police department could guarantee that no trouble would take place, the parking lot rally idea was abandoned. Subsequently, in many conversations on the beach and in editorials and letters in the local newspaper, there was much criticism of the whole affair. Even those who were not convinced of the validity of revival services in a resort area agreed that the last-minute cancellation had been unfair. Many others frankly felt that religion was what was needed at Hampton Beach and were highly critical of anyone involved in blocking the revival services.

Police plans for Labor Day weekend were similar to those for Fourth of July - state police were on hand in force, auxiliaries from other police departments were hired to expand the Hampton Beach Police Department, and the National Guard was assembled close by in case of need. The general plan if trouble should occur was to close off the beach, drive the crowds toward the ocean where there was no place for cover and where they would not have access to buildings. The trouble-makers would then be dispersed both to north and to south. A detailed plan for deployment of personnel was established, again including rooftop locations for observation and, if necessary, control with small arms.

Especially as the weekend approached, there was intensive activity on the part of police to be sure that undesirables were made to feel unwelcome at Hampton. All suspicious young people, all jalopies, cars with out-of-state license plates or gangs of youths in them were stopped and questioned and in many instances instructed to go elsewhere for the weekend. Particularly when it became apparent that the Labor Day crowd would be light, all the various rules concerning cars, clustering, horseplay, etc., were enforced rigidly.

Minimal Labor Day Crowds

The comparison of this year's Labor Day crowd to that of 1964 was startling. By Thursday night it was apparent that the change was radical. In 1964 Thursday night had seen hundreds of young people everywhere on the beach carrying bags as they established themselves for the weekend. In 1965 not only were there few people on the beach, but no carloads were coming in, and the busses which had been jammed the year before were taking more young people away than they were bringing in. A dance at the Seagate Ballroom was almost unattended. Friday and Saturday were little better. The photographs taken over the weekend indicate how sparse was the population. Friday night's crowd was estimated at 5% of normal for Labor Day weekend by one of the selectmen, and young people and Chamber of Commerce directors all agreed that the crowds for those days were a small fraction of what had been expected. Speaking of the young people, one director said, "We hoped they would get the message but we didn't expect it would be like this." Sunday during the daytime the crowd was somewhat closer to normal, but as soon as the supper hour approached the beach became again relatively deserted. In part the weather could be blamed: the days varied from 60 to 70 degrees, clear with a brisk breeze; but, as noted above, the Salisbury Beach crowds, only a few miles south, were not similarly affected by the weather. There was no urgency, no tension, but rather a general feeling of incredulity that so few human beings were on hand. Many of the police auxiliaries were dismissed before the weekend was well under way, so that the town police budget for Labor Day weekend was $8,500 compared to $15,000 for July Fourth weekend.

The reaction of CAVE's staff employees varied from amusement to cynicism. In simplest of terms, they felt the summer's efforts to establish an intervention program for Labor Day weekend had been without purpose. Beyond their remaining labors in the research area, there was nothing for the crew to do except to assist in the logistics of the Sunday night CAVE show.

There was, needless to say, no CAVE dance held at the Casino Ballroom on the night of September 4th. By Thursday and Friday when it was clear that the crowds at Hampton Beach were to be so slight that no possible riot problem could exist, John Dineen concluded that there was no genuine need for such an affair. Our response was that it surely wouldn't hurt anything and that he stood a good chance of making money on it inasmuch as past CAVE dances on unlikely looking nights had been successful, but by this time the Ballroom was closed up for the season and Dineen could see no real reason to undo several hours work and then have to do it over again.

CAVE Show - September 5th

It should be said with equal candor that CAVE's Sunday night show did not, in view of the light crowd on the beach, prove itself as an effective crowd control device in a tense situation. Obviously, if you have no tense situation you haven't proven anything. As Cy Rosenthal put it, "How can you win the game if the other team doesn't show up?"

However, this is not to say by any means that the Hampton Beach Project considered as a whole did not prove anything, nor change attitudes in the community. Further comment on this subject will be found in the concluding chapter.

Nor can it be said that the September 5th CAVE show was unsuccessful in itself. Quite to the contrary, it was highly effective and held a large crowd in weather conditions that grew increasingly unfavorable as the evening progressed. Through our mistakes in presenting the July 4th show we had derived considerable benefit, and the September 5th show was accordingly modified.

To begin with, we did not split the effect of the show between afternoon and evening as we had done previously but concentrated everything into a single 3-hour package for the evening. It should not be inferred from this that we felt no program during the daylight hours was necessary as a part of an intervention program, but instead it was our belief only that this sort of show was not as effective for daytime use.

In contrast to July 4th, this time we used no single performers no matter how good they might be but instead the Dixieland group who were six, the Spaghetti Minstrels who were seven, the CAVE Jug Band which must have been around ten, and the Traveling Wayfarers who were a quartet. In all instances we urged the performers to stay pretty much with upbeat songs, highly rhythmic wherever possible. To the extent that they followed this request they got a warm audience response, and whenever any of them played a slow tune or ballad audience attention lagged.

Two other factors were also changed. First, this time the benches were left in place in front of the Seashell so that it was less possible for the audience to drift in and out on impulse. Secondly, for the Labor Day performance we incorporated the regular Hampton Beach Band, urging them to draw from their repertoire as many selections as possible which would appeal to young people, including one old vaudeville stunt tune "The Three Trees" done with Bill Elliot, which was highly effective. Also, rather than mix professional acts like the Six Pages of Dixie and the New Prince Spaghetti Minstrels with the younger groups like the New Original Cave Jug Band and the Traveling Wayfarers, we scheduled the latter two acts in the middle of the beach band's appearance, so that the evening's performance went in this order: Dixieland Band, Spaghetti Minstrels, beach band, Jug Band, Wayfarers, beach band, Dixieland band, Spaghetti Minstrels, and finally the finale with both the Dixieland band and the Spaghetti Minstrels.

Expectedly, there were one or two hitches, which lost us part of the audience between the first and second shows, but in general the entire affair was received with enthusiasm by both young people and adults. Particularly the New Prince Spaghetti Minstrels did a fine job, presenting not only a lively selection of songs, but a colorful spectacle on the stage. At the peak of the program, with the Spaghetti Minstrels on the stage for the first time (at the hour when a riot, if any, would have taken place) the area round the Seashell was packed; every seat was taken and the adjacent areas were jammed with enthusiastic spectators. Later in the evening it grew colder and a fog bank rolled in and licked its way around the audience reducing them to about the proportions shown in the photograph. Nevertheless a good number, as indicated, stayed to the very end. In general there was a feeling of jubilation on all sides, both because the show had gone well and, much more important, because the danger of a riot was clearly no longer existent.

Cost of the show was $900 to the Spaghetti Minstrels, $300 to the Six Pages of Dixie, $60 to the Traveling Wayfarers and $30 to Tom Evans, the master of ceremonies. Of this amount the Hampton Beach Project budget carried the remainder.

Aftermath - Mixed Reactions

The next day, Monday the 6th, seemed somewhat unreal. Most of us were too exhausted either from the tension or from the long hours to react one way or another except with relief that through whatever combination of ingredients the season was over and the riot cycle had been broken. For the most part, this day and those remaining in the work week were spent by the staff coding and tabulating the results of the various interviews. A few of us spent Monday talking to reporters, and reenacting summer scenes for the documentary film crew.

What had been proven over this summer season at Hampton Beach? The reactions of various groups were mixed and inconclusive. Inasmuch as the usual Labor Day crowd had failed to materialize, most agreed that while the riots had been stopped, the permanent answer had not necessarily been found. Obviously, from a dollars and cents standpoint, the baby had indeed been thrown out with the bath.

Most of the businessmen on the beach felt that for this one year it had been necessary, and they hoped that future years would see a return of business without the return of trouble. Whether this was to be achieved through police efforts alone or through some continuation of the CAVE program was not entirely clear. The majority felt that the success of this summer was mainly to the credit of the police. Walter Vanderpool's pronouncement that he had always believed and still believed that force alone was not the answer did not draw significant response one way or another at the chamber of Commerce annual meeting. Letters of thanks and congratulations were officially sent only to the various police and other enforcement agencies and officials.

A minority of beach merchants felt that too many police were bad for business and chafed audibly under the losses. A handful - for the most part those who had been in support of the Project from the outset - felt that CAVE had never been given a significant chance to prove its value.

On this subject the state police had little comment. As after July 4th weekend, the local police were more prone to credit CAVE with an assist, and Chief Leavitt was emphatic in stating his feeling that the problem had only been arrested, not solved.

To a great extent, the young people on the beach agreed. Many were, as they had been through the season, outspokenly critical of what they felt was rigid law enforcement at Hampton Beach. One young man, who had been a confidant of the police and who had assisted the Hampton Police Department extensively throughout the summer, was particularly adamant on this point. That there had been no riot was of little consequence in his opinion; what was important, he felt, was that much bitterness still existed toward the police from the young people. A beach resort, he said, could not go on indefinitely and prosper if its answer to young people - and to some extent to the public at large - was simply to enforce the law to such an extent that no one would come. A great many others agreed with this viewpoint, articulating one or another facet of it with emphasis.

The question asked over and over literally by several hundred young people - was, would there be a CAVE next year. Those who participated in CAVE were determined that somehow it should be continued, whether or not community support proved possible. Those who had been on the fringes and/or indifferent said that if CAVE were to survive another year it would have to be given a more extensive opportunity to prove itself.