Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Groovy artifacts from 1960s Marin County commune sorted

By Susan Ferriss

3M2SIXTIESDETAIL.JPGNOVATO – The '60s aren't dead. They're in an archaeological site north of San Francisco.

An old commune where the Grateful Dead and other bands used to romp is being excavated and items catalogued by state park archaeologists at Olompali State Historic Park.

Among the artifacts: the classic hippie beads, a marijuana "roach clip," fragments of tie-dyed clothes, and a reel-to-reel tape a Marin County studio technician has promised to try to restore.

They are the stuff of memories for Noelle Olompali-Barton, who was 16 when she and her showbiz mom plunged into California's new counterculture, retreating to this once-private ranch north of San Francisco to establish one of the first hippie communes.

The teenager baked bread to give away in Golden Gate Park. She sat with the Grateful Dead under an oak tree for a famous 1969 album photo.

For two intense, often drug-laced years, the commune nourished utopian dreams – and some bad trips, too, she said.

But never in her wildest hallucinations did the teen imagine that more than 40 years later, she would assist an archaeologist in identifying macramé headbands, old records and other commune artifacts retrieved from the abandoned ruins of her former home.

"You know you're old when you're pictured in Archaeology magazine," chuckled Olompali-Barton, now 58, who was profiled in that journal in July along with California state parks archaeologist E. Breck Parkman.

Sitting under oaks outside the park's visitor center, Parkman laughed along with Olompali-Barton, who has been using the ranch's name as her own since she lived here.

The state of California bought Olompali in 1977, and opened a park on its 700 acres of oak-studded rolling hills.

Parkman knows some might scoff at his project to catalog and display the artifacts of an era many alive remember well – or not so well if they were especially indulgent.

But the commune, he said, is as much a part of Olompali as the rest of its history, stretching back thousands of years.

"I see the commune as part of the Cold War," he said. "If we hadn't had the Cold War, we wouldn't have had Vietnam, and if we hadn't had Vietnam, we wouldn't have had the commune. It was one of the reactions to the war."

The years the commune existed, late 1967 to 1969, were some of the most tumultuous and divisive in modern American history, Parkman said.

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