To put the Woodstock Music Festival in context you have to remember the summer in which it happened. It actually was an amazing summer for a lot of reasons… some good and some not so good.
And of course the summer of 1968 was as bad as 1969 was “good.” The Chicago Democratic Convention was certainly a watershed event. And of course the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy defined that year. After assassinations, riots, wars and general social unrest, the country needed a respite.
Enter 1969, perhaps the greatest summer in American history. Thank God, because 1968 had left us dazed and confused. After the bloodletting of the previous year, it was time for some unifying events and feel-good moments. Well at least a few anyways…
Man Lands On The Moon
Neil A. Armstrong, 39, invented the moonwalk when he stepped down from the Apollo 11 lunar module, saying “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” I still remember watching it on TV with my Mom. We were all proud and filled with excitement and hope. And there were many more moon landings to come but the first was the best.
The Woodstock Music Festival
Rolling Stone Magazine calls it one of the defining moments in Rock and Roll but it was also much more than that. For a generation it defined our new lifestyle and values as being acceptable. We knew we were not alone.
The Mets Amazing Season
The New Your Mets, led by Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, won the World Series.
The summer of 1969 season was the 8th regular season for the Mets who played their home games at Shea Stadium. They had never finished higher than 9th place.
Managed by Gil Hodges, the team went 100-62 and finished 1st in the Eastern Division of the National League, becoming the first-ever divisional champions. From there, they defeated the Atlanta Braves, three games to zero in the inaugural National League Championship Series for the first-ever National League pennant, followed by their first-ever World Series Championship as they defeated the American League Champion Baltimore Orioles in five games.
There were also a few not so “feel-good” moments in the summer of 1969…
Charles Manson’s “family” murders 7 people in Los Angeles. Given this fact it’s amazing that Woodstock was allowed to happen. But you can be sure the world was watching to see if all “hippies” were like Manson and his followers.
Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquidick Accident
Ted Kennedy’s car drives off a bridge in Martha’s Vineyard and his “friend” Mary Jo Kopechne drowns in the accident. His hopes of becoming president drown as well.
The Winding Up of the Vietnam War
Richard Nixon was President and more and more he was escalating the war… even though he said he was winding it down. Despite more and more violent images of the war on TV, he was still able to convince the country it was winnable and worth the effort.
There were also a few silly events worth noting…
The Invention of the ATM
Where would Las Vegas be without those magical machines that dispense cash on demand? Maybe we would all have more money in the bank if Don Wetzel had never developed the first automated teller machine, which was installed at a branch of Chemical Bank on Long Island in New York.
Elvis Presley Begins His Vegas Era
When Kirk Kerkorian finished building his International Hotel (now the Hilton), he asked Presley to be the exclusive headliner, and Presley debuted July 26. The King signed up for twice-yearly monthlong stands for $125,000 per week — and stayed till 1977. For the first time, a Vegas hotel acknowledged it had profited from entertainment, and what had been just another gimmick to entice gamblers became a tourist draw in itself.
The Gay Rights Movement Is Born
Homosexuals and drag queens fought back after police raided New York’s Stonewall Inn; gay people worldwide suddenly discovered they were a community, one which from then on would forcibly resist discrimination.
“The Brady Bunch” Debuts On ABC
America’s favorite family moved into our living rooms on Sept. 26, and refused to leave — four decades later, Brady children still pop up, only now they’re on reality shows. Other zeitgeist-changing 1969 debuts include “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and, perhaps most revolutionary, “Sesame Street,” which used TV techniques to actually teach, rather than merely distract, U.S. children.
Here’s A Chronology of Major Historical Events During The Summer of 1969
June 1 – In Montreal, Canada, Give Peace a Chance is recorded during the famous bed-in for peace by John Lennon. The song, the first single recorded solo by a Beatle, and released under the name Plastic Ono Band, is still a strong anthem for peace.
June 28 – The Stonewall riots in New York City mark the start of the modern gay rights movement in the U.S.
July 8 – Vietnam War: The very first U.S. troop withdrawals are made. The war would still go on for almost 6 more years.
July 16 – Apollo program: Apollo 11 (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins) lifts off toward the first landing on the Moon.
July 18 – Edward M. Kennedy drives off a bridge on his way home from a party on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. Mary Jo Kopechne, a former campaign aide to his brother who was in the car with him, dies in the incident.
July 20 – Apollo program: The lunar module Eagle lands on the lunar surface. The world watches in awe as Neil Armstrong takes his historic first steps on the Moon.
July 24 – The Apollo 11 astronauts return from the first successful Moon landing, and are placed in biological isolation for several days, on the chance they may have brought back lunar germs. The airless lunar environment is later determined to preclude microscopic life.
July 25 – Vietnam War: U.S. President Richard Nixon declares the Nixon Doctrine, stating that the United States now expects its Asian allies to take care of their own military defense. This starts the “Vietnamization” of the war.
August 5 – Mariner program: Mariner 7 makes its closest fly-by of Mars (3,524 kilometers).
August 9 – Members of a cult led by Charles Manson murder Sharon Tate, (who was 8 months pregnant), and her friends: Folgers coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, and Hollywood hairstylist Jay Sebring at Roman Polanskis home in Los Angeles, California.
More than 100 stab wounds are found on the victims, except for Parent, who had been shot almost as soon as the Manson Family entered the property.
August 10 – The Manson Family kills Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, wealthy Los Angeles businesspeople.
August 15–18 – The Woodstock Festival is held in upstate New York, featuring some of the top rock musicians of the era.
August 17 – Category 5 Hurricane Camille, the most powerful tropical cyclonic system at landfall in recorded history, hits the Mississippi coast, killing 248 people and causing US$1.5 billion in damage (1969 dollars).
September 2 – The first automatic teller machine in the United States is installed in Rockville Centre, New York.
September 5 – My Lai Massacre: Lieutenant William Calley is charged with 6 counts of premeditated murder, for the deaths of 109 Vietnamese civilians in My Lai.
September 24 – The Chicago Eight trial begins in Chicago, Illinois.
September 26 – The Beatles release their Abbey Road album, receiving critical praise and enormous commercial success. It’s there last studio album and the end of an era for many.
These events during the summer of 1969 are still resonating in our world today, 40 years later.