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Helter Skelter, Charles Manson, and San Francisco

Helter Skelter is one book that I pore over and for which I want to call in sick.

Charlie Manson, the master mind behind the Sharon Tate murders and scores of others, had his root in San Francisco. Following a 10-year term in jail, he found his way to San Francisco. A prison acquaintance found him a room across the bay in Berkeley, where he would wander Telegraph Avenue or sit on the steps of the Sather Gate entrance to UC Berkeley, playing his guitar. He charmed this librarian, Mary Brunner, who ended eventually left her job and joined Manson’s wandering caravan.

Over time he discovered the Haight in the city. He learned that in San Francisco there was free food, music, dope, and love, just for the taking. He slept in the park and lived on the streets, playing music and attracting a crowd. The self-styled guru attracted followers aplenty like a religion. Somewhere along the line, Manson developed a control over his followers so all-encompassing that he could ask them to violate the ultimate taboo—say “kill” and they would do it. He exerted a hypnotic spell on his followers.

Haight has known for its hippie haven. But Haight has an eerie past. The house on 636 Cole Street was once the home to Charles Manson and his budding “Family” that was responsible for murder of 21 people in Los Angeles area. The reason Manson’s presence in the Haight during the Summer of Love resonates with the historically inclined, though, is that he was in many ways essential to it, and his presence in the Haight became representative of the trajectory of Free Love movement from edenic idealism into hard drugs, violence, and sex.

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