By Dave Walters
This picture is famous. This picture is amazing and it is crap all at the same time. It perfectly sums up a feeling and it is complete hypocrisy all at once. I wouldn’t want it any other way. It is part true, it is part playing into a myth. It in part makes up the fabric of who we are as a culture and it compels us to explore our history. It sometimes causes us to post or debate inaccurate information and it helps us to trace our roots. All that fancy intro means, is that i wouldn’t change a thing about it.
But how much do we know about what is fact and what is fiction/myth? Should we and do we even care? Sometimes the story is better than fact. Sometimes we just beat the fuck outta a dead horse. However, i love history and i have seen some questions pop up and discussions and i wanted to add a little bit of what i know. I know a lot of history, a lot. I’m not an expert though, i learn just as much from ya’ll, so if ya got something, throw it in. First i feel like the man in the background never gets enough attention. That is Gus De Serpa.
Gus was a movie projectionist for the local movie theater in Hollister. The movie theater is to the left if you’re looking at the picture, that’d be his right shoulder. He had just gotten off work and saw Eddie Davenport (the man on the bike) coming out of Johnny’s ( does Johnny’s need an intro??) and he saw Barney Peterson (the man that took the photo) encouraging a drunk Eddie to get on a bike parked at the curb. A bike that wasn’t Eddie’s. Eddie had also been drinking in the bar, Barney didn’t get those beer bottles from Eddie. Gus said in a 1997 interview “He pulled them from a trash can and a few on the sidewalk and started to place them around the bike”.
A lot of us already know that. We know the picture was staged. Most also know that there is another Picture of Eddie holding a Motorcycle Club jacket on the bike. That was also not Eddies. Barney borrowed it from a passer by (Things were different in the mid 40s). Gus then tried to break up the picture. He and his ex-wife stood in the way of the photo thinking Barney would not take the pic… He did. The rest is photo history. This picture made its way to Life Magazine. Life ran it with a 150 words that describe some of the chaos but leave it as little more than beer soaked fun. Life takes a lot of the credit (or blame) for the out of proportion alarm on Hollister, but that isn’t fair to Life. While they published the legendary picture, the reports of battle, chaos, and destruction were published 2 full weeks before in the LA Times and SF Chronicle.
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These two publications used words like Battle of Hollister and 4,000 Drunken Cyclist (in fact we know only about 40-60 drunken arrest were made with most just spending the night sleeping it off). The LA Times reported that an undetermined amount of jail sentences were handed out (nobody to this day has been able to find a record of anyone receiving jail time or anything more than a fine or a night in lock up). These articles were published on July 6th and 7th and Life magazine hit stands July 21st. If we really want to look somewhere to place blame for the hysteria or even to put congratulations for the imagine then the one who gets overlooked is Frank Rooney. Frank Rooney wrote “The Cyclist Raid” in 1949 for Harper’s Magazine. Frank’s writing took a lottttttt of liberties in describing the event and was combined more with the “Riverside Riots” of ‘49 (another motorcycle tour that ended in “Chaos”). Rooney wrote of the chain wielding hooligans and the death that followed ( one person did die, but it was 75 miles away from the Riverside Rally).
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Rooney’s work is the main influence for Stanley Kramer’s “The Wild One”, making Frank Rooney more instrumental in the creation of the “Riot” Myth i’d argue than Barney Peterson, but we could debate that without Peterson’s photo, there is no Rooney book. It also goes without debate that “The Wild One” (which had technical advisers from two legendary MCs) created much of the rebel image that we grew out of and associate with the 50’s and 60s style of biker. Depending on your attitude or train of thought you were either Johnny or Chino. One of the first widely published motorcyclist magazines was known as … wait for it….. Motorcyclist Magazine haha, had a editor by the name of Paul Brokaw who wrote an angry letter to Life magazine for what he called irresponsible journalism. Paul is pointed out by scholars William Dulaney and Daniel Wolf as most likely being responsible for the thought to be AMA statement of the “One Percent”. The AMA never issued the statement, however two widely circulated letters to large newspapers were wrote by people that held AMA Membership, one being Paul, and both letters condemned the small segment of motorcyclist putting a stain on their reputation as good cyclists…He also laid the blame at “mercenary minded bar keeps, who wanted nothing but money” for encouraging these hooligans….
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I love the history off all this. I love the early history from the first MC ever (formed in London) to the history we are creating today. Among all the fantasy, made-up, and half truths that came out of Hollister one of the best and most accurate quotes was captured in 1996 and Ill leave this article with that – “It was a time when you could have a fistfight with someone and when it was over, you’d have a beer together,” J.D. Cameron, told the LA Times. “This was way before all this guns and dope crap.”