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Historical Hoffman; New exhibition traces Abbie's life.

Byline: Pamela H. Sacks

He coined the phrase, "Never trust anyone over 30." He was 31 at the time.

With his irrepressible personality, defiant behavior and pure dedication to social justice, Abbie Hoffman made an indelible imprint on American society during the revolutionary decade of the 1960s.

A charismatic character who stood 5 foot 8, Hoffman could generate crowds of thousands to march against racial discrimination and the war in Vietnam. He battled poverty, the arbitrary use of power and the repression of dissent. He is perhaps best remembered for his role in the violent demonstrations outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the subsequent trial of the Chicago Seven.

It was in Worcester, where he was born and raised and to which he returned after college, that Hoffman honed his skills as an activist. In 1987 he wrote: "The things I learned in the early '60s were the lessons that I carried with me throughout my career ... how the ball of wax is put together and, more importantly, how to take it apart; how power structures control people and how they divide people, how the gaps are between the mythology of what is said and reality as it exists; the hidden oppression and the hidden resistance to oppression."

Now, an exhibition at the Worcester Historical Museum on Elm Street traces Hoffman's life, from his Worcester youth to his death at the age of 52, which was ruled a suicide. "To Abbie With Love" will be on view through February.

Hoffman's consciousness began changing while he was a student at Brandeis University in the late 1950s, studying under Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse and radical psychologist Abraham Maslow. The process continued when he was a graduate student in psychology at the University of California at Berkeley. He listened to beatnik poets, attended political discussions, participated in demonstrations and joined the nascent sit-in movement.

In 1960, Hoffman, and his first wife, Sheila, returned from California to his hometown. Hoffman was working as a psychologist at Worcester State Hospital when he attended a meeting at the Phoenix, a storefront discussion and action center. He met the Rev. Bernard Gilgun, a Catholic priest, who became an inspiration and a close friend.

Together, Hoffman and Gilgun fought for racial equality in housing and job placement. They formed Prospect Community House, and together launched protests against the war and social injustice. Hoffman founded The Drum, a free newspaper that gave voice to local activists, and the Friends of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which Hoffman headed.

Hoffman organized the only march against the Vietnam War to take place in Worcester. It was held March 26, 1966, to coincide with rallies in New York, Boston and Berkeley. Before a crowd of 2,000, the 250 demonstrators marched from the courthouse to City Hall. They were heckled and pelted with eggs, tomatoes and rocks.

During those years, Hoffman wrote a steady stream of letters to the editor of The Evening Gazette in response to stories about his activities. "It was a dialogue clarifying his position," said Holly V. Izard, curator of the historical museum exhibition.

The archives of The Evening Gazette and the Worcester Telegram were important sources for the exhibition, along with the Hoffman family papers, which are kept at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut. Jack Hoffman, Abbie's younger brother, offered the papers first to Brandeis and then to Clark University. Neither institution accepted.

"It's a huge collection and would have required money to catalog," Izard explained. "There are 16,000 FBI pages on Abbie, along with correspondence, business records, condolence letters and cards and news clippings after he died."

Hoffman was a prolific writer of books, articles and letters. The letters in particular are a window to what he was really like, Izard said. In a letter to Gilgun in 1967, he wrote, "Can't wait til you come to NY again. Will come up to Worcester about the last week in February. Can you arrange a talk at Assumption on `The New Left' etc.? I'd like to do it. Maybe they'll pay something. Maybe a dual header with Assumption and Holy Cross. Abbie."

On Christmas Day of the same year, he wrote Gilgun from the Florida Keys: "I'm writing a weird book, not really a book but a tree. Do you realize for every book there is a dead tree? It's called `Revolution for the Hell of It.' It's about Billy the Kid, Fidel Castro and Abraham, which is to say the three stages of life.

"A group of us are already working on Chicago next August. We plan to bring 250,000 people there to the Democratic Convention. We expect about 100,000 of them to be committed to disruption or sabotage. Both are worthwhile pursuits."

Hoffman had moved to New York City in the fall of 1966 and on to wider fame as a Yippie and radical rabble-rouser adept at raucous street theater and what he described as "pure and revolutionary acts." As time went on, manic-depression ruled his life. He went underground after being charged with selling cocaine. He eventually resurfaced, but times had changed, and Hoffman's time was the 1960s. He died of a massive overdose on April 12, 1989.

Ms. Izard, who considers herself a child of the '60s, said that putting the exhibition together was an exhilarating, engrossing experience. It will be difficult, she said, to return to her normal routine.

"I felt I was colliding with my own history," Izard said as she stood amid the exhibition's 26 photographs. "My values are all peace, love, freedom, happiness. My academic training is pre-1850. My love is pre-Industrial New England. Here, I've tended to focus on my time frame. This exhibit let me go back there and take it apart and put it together as a historian. It was so interesting to face my own history."

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) After studying at UC-Berkeley, in 1960 Abbie Hoffman returned to Worcester for a job as a psychologist at Worcester State Hospital. (Photos at right and far right were provided by the historical museum.) (2) Abbie Hoffman grew up in Worcester, making lifelong friends and enjoying life here. (3) Worcester Historical Museum curator Holly V. Izard said that putting the exhibition together was an exhilarating, engrossing experience.

PHOTOG: (1, 2) WORCESTER HISTORICAL MUSEUM (3) T&G Staff Photo/BETTY JENEWIN
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Title Annotation:PEOPLE
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 16, 2007
Words:1066
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