Amy Drake, curator of special projects for the Southern Oregon Historical Society, brings two icons of the 1960s out of storage for a new exhibit called “Far Out: Southern Oregon in the 1960s.” Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell

Exhibit will showcase Southern Oregon in the 1960s

The 1960s started out tame and peaceful but soon became a boiling cauldron of change — in civil rights, war protest, space exploration, environmental awareness, drug use and youth rebellion.

A half-century later, the '60s are history and will be remembered in an April exhibit in downtown Medford.

Called "Far Out: Southern Oregon in the 1960s," it will be staged in the Woolworth Building on Central Avenue, a rare showing by the Southern Oregon Historical Society, which lost all its display space in funding cuts over the last 15 years.

Southern Oregon was insulated, culturally and geographically, from "the outside world," where most of these radical changes were happening, but was a destination of the hippie "back to the Earth" movement of the late '60s, says Amy Drake, SOHS curator of special projects.

"We chose the '60s as a topic because so many people here remember it and lived through it," says Drake, "and younger people see it now in elements of popular culture, change that's relevant to our lives today. It's a fascinating decade with a broad appeal."

Given the insularity of the region, much of the exhibit will focus on the simpler day-to-day life, with artifacts, quotes and photos recalling how kids were free to roam neighborhoods. ("I just had to be home by the time the streetlights came on," one resident recalls.)

One renowned Medford High student, Dick Fosbury, will be remembered as the creator of the "Fosbury Flop" and winner of Olympic gold with his new high-jumping technique. The rituals of drag-racing and cruising the "gut" are also honored.

Photos document the explosion of hippie culture, with communes in Sunny Valley (featured on the cover of a 1969 Life Magazine) and in Takilma, with the latter evolving into a free clinic, dome school and baroque orchestra.

Tracy Murphy, who moved to Takilma with her parents, remembers in one display "lots of drinking and drugs and long hair everywhere and naked people and music and dancing. People brought their guitars. It was all about being free — free with your body."

In Ashland of the late '60s, "Hippies were everywhere ... Lithia Park was a meeting place for a lot of counterculture events, both known and unknown to the establishment," says an exhibit. "Ashland counterculture was marked by smoking pot, dropping acid, bell bottoms, long hair and creative endeavors."

Other exhibits note environmental and war protests in Medford's Alba Park, old televisions, go-go boots, James Bond spy movies, Peanuts comics, Civil Defense sirens, drive-in movie speakers and flower-bedecked clothing.

Interstate 5 was built and the 1964 flood scoured the region. Residents gagged in air fouled by smudge pots, wood-burning stoves, wigwam burners and vehicles — all trapped on the valley floor by inversions — and a push for clean air began to take hold.

The Angus Bowmer Theatre was added to the booming Oregon Shakespeare Festival — and the Britt Music Festival was created in Jacksonville. John F. Kennedy campaigned here.

Civil rights slowly edged into a "sheltered" Jackson County in the '60s. Early in the decade, blacks respected the valley's unwritten "sundown laws" and Ashland High School students staged a minstrel show mocking blacks. By decade's end, the exhibit documents, the county's black population had climbed from eight to 31.

The '60s were a time of change, from beginning to end, says Drake.

"At the beginning, it was calm, except for the Cold War. But by the end, things were clearly turbulent. ... The focus is on what happened in Southern Oregon, as it changed with the rest of the country, though it was insulated."

The area in the Woolworth building is vacant, awaiting lease, and was loaned by the owner. Drake says the space will allow SOHS to once again present large exhibits.

"We've got all our artifacts in storage and want the public to see them. ... Even if it's just one month at a time, it's a start, as we try to find stable funding."

The exhibit will run from March 29 to April 27, Tuesdays through Sundays, at 39 N. Central Ave. Cost will be $5, $3 for children 5 to 12, free for kids younger than 5, and free to SOHS members.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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