Some observers see this second weekend in August, the 8th thru the 10th, 1969, as effectively the end of the sixties’ counterculture as seen through rose colored glasses. The Vietnam War (which was never formally declared a war) was grinding on. In 1969 there would be 11,616 US military deaths, the second highest count during the war; almost 22,000 Vietnamese soldiers would be killed that year. This week would see the deaths of 169 US military personnel, over the weekend alone some 84 US soldiers would die. And every night TV newscasts were blanketed with those images. Vietnam is often characterized as the "living-room war" or the "television war." It was the first war to be methodically documented nightly on television, and at a moment when TV was becoming a compelling presence in daily life.
Other news that weekend included the discovery of the missing plane, Hawthorne-Nevada Airlines, Flight 708, that crashed just west of Lone Pine on February 18, killing all 35 passengers and crew. It was found on the eastern slope of Mount Whitney at an elevation of approximately 11,770 feet.
On August 8, just six days after it was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Zodiac Killer’s first unsigned encrypted message was solved by a Salinas, California high school teacher, Donald Harden, and his wife Bettye. The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer who operated in the Bay area in the late 1960’s. His name was coined by a series of taunting letters and cryptograms he sent to police and newspapers until about 1974. The initial 408-symbol cryptogram stated, among other things, that the Zodiac enjoyed "killing people because it is so much fun." Harden was an amateur cryptographer and he reportedly took about 20 hours to break the code. Navy cryptographers had attempted to solve it, but without success. Of course some 40 years later, the identity of the Zodiac Killer still remains unsolved.
On the 9th, President Richard Nixon announced the nomination of Helen D. Bentley as a Member of the Federal Maritime Commission. Nixon also addressed the nation about domestic programs and a tax reform bill following its passage by the House of Representatives.
That weekend also saw the deaths of Russ Morgan, orchestra leader as well as a long time performer at the Dunes in Las Vegas. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, crackpot eugenicist and Nazi physician, died in an automobile accident. Nobel Prize Laureate Cecil Frank Powell died while walking in the foothills of the Alps; he was 66 years of age. A bench with a commemorative plaque can be seen near the site of his death.
On Friday the 8th, Disneyland opened their doors to the new and soon to be classic attraction, the Haunted Mansion. Adorned with wrought iron fencing and surrounded by creepy tombstones, Walt Disney had envisioned the ghoulish Southern-style mansion even before the park opened in the 1954. The Haunted Mansion was originally seen as a walk-through experience, with cast members walking their guests /victims from one scene to the next as the netherworld unfolds. “Welcome fooolish mortals to the Haunted Mansion. I am your host, your ghost host. Ha, ha, ha, ha ...”
Meanwhile, in sports, the New York Mets beat the Atlanta Braves behind the eventual 1969 Cy Young winner Tom Seaver. At this point in this, their Cinderella season, the Mets were still in second place, 8 and a half games back. The game on Saturday was 3 hours and 14 minutes long and the Mets won 5 to 3 on 13 hits. Seaver would finish his career with 311 wins, 3,640 strikeouts and a 2.86 era in a 20-year career. In 1992, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the highest percentage ever (98.8%).
As for my LA Dodgers, on Sunday they beat the Chicago Cubs 4 to 2 behind the pitching of Don Sutton winning his 14th game of the year, Pete Mikkelsen got the save. Sutton would also wind up in the Hall of Fame, selected in 1998 with a career won lost mark of 324-256.
The 1969 Pikes Peak Marathon, an annual foot race that begins at the base of Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and climbs over 7,700 feet to the peak at 14,115 feet, was won by Steve Gachupin, who in his career would win the event 6 times in his 21 tries up the mountain.
In professional bike racing news, the World Championship was won by Harm Ottenbros in Zolder, Belgium, edging out the favorite Julien Stevens by just a few centimeters.
But of course, the big news, the chilling news that weekend, was the seemingly random and grisly murders in Beverly Hills and the Los Feliz district...
On August 9th, a hot, quiet Saturday night -- one of the killers would later comment that you could hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers up and down the Benedict Canyon -- in a home rented by Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate at 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring and Steven Parent and a eight and a half months pregnant Tate were murdered in violent blood bath, as bizarre, gruesome and insane slaughter of innocents that might ever occur in any dystopia. Less than two days later another grisly murder occurred in the Los Feliz district -- this time it was supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary. Killed in a similarly ghastly manner, this time a fork was used to carve the word WAR on Leno LaBianca’s stomach and left sticking out of his corpse. Authorities would take nearly four months to track down Charles Manson and his Family. And when they were arrested and prosecuted, the world discovered a terrifying mix of a counterculture gone mad and staggering mind-control. Manson, Charles "Tex" Watson, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel's trials ended in 1971; they were all given the death penalty, though later that was over-turned by the state of California, commuting their sentences to life in prison. Another family member, Linda Kasabian, who stood watch at the Tate house, turned states evidence and served no time.
Roman Polanski (The Fearless Vampire Killers, Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, The Pianist), who was out of town, was not Manson’s target. The victims were in the wrong house at the wrong time. Manson, an aspiring singer-songwriter and an occasional friend of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, chose the Cielo Drive house because he had once tried to get a record deal from a producer who used to live there, Terry Melcher, the son of Doris Day, and Manson knew the layout of the house. Past residents included Cary Grant and his wife Dyan Cannon, Henry Fonda, Mark Lindsay from Paul Revere & the Raiders and Candice Bergen. The final resident of the original Cielo Drive house was Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who moved into the house in the early 1990s and built a recording studio there. The studio dubbed Pig, or sometimes Le Pig, was an allusion to the fact that Susan Atkins wrote "Pig" in Tate's blood on the front door of the house during the murders. The Nine Inch Nails ep Broken and their classic 1994 album The Downward Spiral were recorded there, as well as Marilyn Manson's debut album Portrait of an American Family. In December 1993 Reznor moved out of the house, taking with him the original front door, explaining that "there was too much history in that house for me to handle." He insists that he didn’t know about the murders when he bought the house, though I thought there was a law on the books requiring brokers to tell buyers about crimes that may have taken place in a home; the real estate term is ‘stigmatized properties.’ Then again, what do I know? In the late 1990’s the house was demolished and replaced with a new mansion and a new street address of 10066 Cielo Drive.