User talk:Dennis Bratland/Hollister riot

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Hollister Riot
Date July 4, 1947 (1947-07-04) — July 6, 1947 (1947-07-06)
Location Hollister, California
Also known as 1947 Hollister Gypsy Tour[1][2]
Participants 2,000 to 4,000 attendees, including about 750 motorcyclists. Members of the American Motorcyclist Association, Boozefighters, Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington and other motorcycle clubs[2]
Outcome Media frenzy, contributing to 50+ years of moral panic over dangerous outlaw motorcyclists.[3][4] Origin of the term one percenter. Fictionalized in film The Wild One, whose style was in turn imitated by real bikers.[1]

The Hollister Riot refers to the 1947 Independence Day weekend Hollister, California Gypsy Tour Rally,[5] near which were run a road race at Bolado Racetrack, and a hillclimb event that had been a local favorite in the years before World War II.[2][6] The event was sponsored by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), and attendees included members of various motorcycle clubs. The disturbance that weekend became infamous at the time, but is celebrated today as a seminal, watershed event in the history of motorcycle clubs and the outlaw subculture, and the general public's image of the biker, both real and imagined.[1]

The race in Hollister had been run several times in the past, most recently in 1936,[6] but had been suspended during the war. The 1947 race was the return of the event, popular with the locals.[6]

Drunkenness, fighting, and street stunting during the event were sensationalized by yellow news reports[4][7] of bikers "taking over the town," particularly after a lurid photo, judged today to have been staged by a freelance photographer sent by the San Francisco Chronicle, went nationwide when picked up by Life magazine. This triggered editorials, letters, and a 1951 short fiction story in Harper's Magazine that would be adapted into the 1953 film The Wild One, spawning biker icons, good and bad, that would spread around the world and hold sway for the next half century.[8][9]

Events of the 4th of July weekend[edit]

Fifth and San Benito
Looking North from the east side of San Benito at Fifth, in 2007. Many of the arrests took place in front of the building on the left.
Driving South on San Benito towards Fifth in 2009. This street was the scene of drag races and motorcycle stunts.
The SF Chronicle reported, "Armed with tear gas guns, the officers herded the cyclists into a block on San Benito street, between Fifth and Sixth streets, parked a dance band on a truck and ordered the musicians to play."

The rally began with around 2,000 attendees on Friday night, July 4, and peaked at about twice that, 4,000, over the weekend, many of them camped at the edge of town or in parks.[6] Police estimated there were about 750 motorcycle riders, the rest of the attendees arriving as passengers on these bikes or in other vehicles.[citation needed] After completing the Gypsy Tour ride to Hollister, events included races at Bolado Racetrack, and also a hill climb at another nearby location.[2][6]

This took a turn for the worse when heavy drinking led to the use of the city's main street, San Benito, as an impromptu dragstrip with hundreds of onlookers crowding the sidewalks. There were 40[6] to as many as 60[10] injuries, the most serious of which were results of drunken motorcycle stunts in the streets for the entertainment of the crowd.[6]

About 49 people were arrested during the event, most for public intoxication, reckless driving, and disturbing the peace.[6] A special court session was held to deal with the flood of arrests, and about $2,000 in total fines were handed down to the revelers.[6] Members of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club, in particular, were reported to be fighting and racing in the streets.[citation needed]

By Sunday night, the half dozen Hollister police officers were reinforced by 40 California Highway Patrol officers, and they were able to restore order equipped with tear gas and riot gear.[6] They diverted a dance band from a show at the American Legion Hall, and had them play from atop a truck parked on San Benito street between Fifth and Sixth Streets, to distract the drunken revelers.[6][10]

Until it wad made famous as the victim of the Hollister riot, the town claim to fame was for producing 70 percent of the country's garlic crop.[8]

After the SF Chronicle reports, "other papers jumped on to exploit the bandwagon."[4]

While there were arrests for drunkeness, it "was certainly nothing resembling a riot." One local resident said they didn't realize anything had happened until they read it in the San Francisco papers, and another resident said it was "a mess but there was no evidence of physical damage. Local pharmicist Marylou Williams brought her two daughters along and wasn't worried for them.[4]

"Before Hollister in '47 we were bikers, after Hollister, we were a brotherhood," Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell.[11]

"Red Dahlgren, 76, an original Boozefighter, proudly holds the distinction of being the first person thrown into jail 50 years ago, said he was glad to be back."[11]

Rough outline:

  1. Reports of drunkenness, fighting
  2. Stunting in the streets, arrests, court hearings, fines for intoxication, fighting
  3. SF Chronicle reporter and photographer flown to Hollister
  4. Publication of two stories and photos in SF Chronicle
  5. Life magazine has < 200 word story plus large photo, drawing national attention
  6. Short story in Harper's
  7. National debate, press releases, letters to editor
  8. One percenter comes into common currency

Billingsly unedited quotes[edit]


Gunning their chopped Harley-Davidsons down the main street of Hollister, Calif., they swigged liquor, terrified the locals and rumbled with the police.

...made the outlaw biker an icon on the American pop scene and inspired a booming post-World War II motorcycle culture.

...some 100,000 of them in "Return of the Wild Ones," a commemoration during the coming Fourth of July weekend in Hollister, an agricultural town of 20,000 souls about 100 miles southeast of San Francisco.

In 1947, Hollister had a population of about 5,000 and was part of the circuit for the Gypsy Tour - races sanctioned by the American Motorcycle Association. Several thousand people arrived for the event, but the town's few small bars pushed drinkers into the streets, where things got out of hand.

"The whole town was filled with motorcycles," says Harry Hill, a Hollister native who lived two blocks from the action. "They brawled with the police, who had to wrestle them down. It was bad enough, but they played it up more than it was."

The bikers did not take over the whole town, as in "The Wild One," and they rode Harleys, not the Triumphs and BSAs used in the film.

"Guys were just having a good time, riding up and down whooping and hollering," says Gus DeSerpa, who worked then as a projectionist at the town's Granada theater. "Of course, there are always a few rotten apples."

Mr. DeSerpa appears in the famous Life magazine photo of a menacing biker, which he says was staged. "That's me standing behind the guy on the motorcycle, with my hands in my pockets," he says.

As Mr. DeSerpa describes it, a photographer scraped together broken beer bottles around a motorcycle and when a drunk staggered out of bar, got him to pose.

"It wasn't even his motorcycle," Mr. DeSerpa says. The photo has appeared twice in Life magazine, but Mr. DeSerpa adds, "I never got a dime."

... As for the original "Wild One," he won't be showing up.

He is "Wino Willie" Forkner, the World War II veteran who founded the Boozefighters in 1946. Mr. Forkner had planned to lead the motorcycle rally through the same streets where he and his fellow bikers romped 50 years ago. In recent years, the original Boozefighter had been in ill health but said the prospect of returning to Hollister was keeping him alive.

However, he died of heart disease in Santa Rosa on June 23 at age 78.

Infamous Life magazine photo[edit]

Placeholder for fair use image

Much of the mythology surrounding the outlaw biker rests with a single iconic photograph published in Life magazine on July 21, 1947,[12] showing a dazed and drunken man looking at the camera, slouching on a motorcycle with its front wheel planted in a pile of empty bottles and broken glass. In the background is a bearded man with his hands in is pockets, smiling, and also looking at the camera. Life reprinted the same image twice, January 18, 1954 prompted by the release of The Wild One,[13] and July 21, 1972 in the "25 Years Ago in Life" series. Life noted the influence of the Stanley Kramer-Marlon Brando film on subsequent outlaw biker films, and that non-outlaws have had to live down the bad publicity from the movie ever since, making no mention that Life's coverage itself in creating and influencing these same attitudes.[14]

The San Francisco Chronicle sent reporter C.J. Dougherty and freelance photographer Barney Peterson on a small chartered plane to cover the disturbance, arriving Friday night.[15] Dougherty filed two stories, appearing in the Chronicle July 5 and July 6, which did not use the photograph of a drunken man on a motorcycle.[16][17] The unused photo was made famous when picked up by Life and published to a worldwide readership in their 21 July 1947 issue.[18]

According to local projectionist Gus DeSpera, the bearded man standing in the backgoround, the motorcycle did not belong to the drunken rider, and the bottles were added by the photographer.[4]

Cite error: A <ref> tag is missing the closing </ref> (see the help page).

"'It was ever as bad as they reported,' said Gus DeSerpa, who served as background for the now famous Life magazine story. (Mr. DeSerpa was the man standing in the background with hands-in-pockets.) 'These were common, ordinary folks having a good tie — isn't that what it's all about? Live and let live?'"[11]

Rough Outline:

  1. Brock Yates' analysis of photo.
  2. Symbolic use by MCs

Origin of One Percenter[edit]

'We [the American Motorcyclist Association] acknowledge that the term ‘one-percenter’ has long been (and likely will continue to be) attributed to the American Motorcyclist Association, but we've been unable to attribute its original use to an AMA official or published statement—so it's apocryphal.'

— Tom Lindsay, AMA Public Information Director[19]

The story behind the term one percenter runs generally to the effect that an AMA official, such as the president or public relations officer, said in a speech or published in a press release, that, "Most motorcyclists are law abiding citizens. It is only one percent who are outlaws."[20][21] In one version, the statement is said to have been in response by a call from the League of California Cities to ban all motorcycle rallies. (Life July 28, 1947, p 17-18, cited in Maz Harris ???) [8]

Whether an actual riot occurred is debatable, but there was a motorcycle rally in Hollister from July 4 to July 6 of that year that was attended by about 4000 people.[citation needed]

It has been reported that the press asked the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) to comment on the Hollister incident, and their response was that 99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens, and the last one percent were outlaws. Thus was born the term, "one percenter." The AMA now says they have no record of such a statement to the press, and call this story apocryphal.[19]

Representatives of the AMA, seeking to deflect the negative press surrounding the rally, stated at a press conference that "the trouble was caused by the one per cent deviant that tarnishes the public image of both motorcycles and motorcyclists." This statement led to the term "one-percenter" to describe "outlaw" bikers. The AMA now says they have no record of such a statement to the press, and call this story apocryphal.[19] William L. Dulaney points to three letters printed in Life in response to the Hollister photo, each of which make statements that indirectly echo the famous AMA quote. In one letter, Paul Brokaw the editor of Motorcyclist magazine, wrote, "We regretfully acknowledge that there was disorder in Hollister – not the acts of 4,000 motorcyclists, but rather of a small percentage of that number, aided by a much larger group of non-motorcycling hell-raisers and mercenary-minded barkeepers." Another letter claims to know that only 50% of the supposed 4,000 participants were AMA members, and that only 500 of the non-AMA members were responsible for the disruption. A third letter, from Keenan Wynn of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, lists Hollywood celebrity motorcyclists as better representatives of the motorcycling community.[2]

Regardless of whether the legendary AMA statement was ever made, it was told and re-told, and the term one percenter was embraced as a badge of honor by bikers who conflated the rules of the AMA with persecution bye the police and authorities, and so clubs with names like the Gypsy Jokers, Road Rats, Satan's Slaves and, forerunner of the Hells Angels, the Boozefighters, began wearing the 1% patch as a declaration of where they stood.[8]

Claim that Lin Kuchler [9] of the AMA actually said statement: [10]

AMA secretary Lin A Kuchler said, following a biker disturbance at Riverside, California in 1948, that "the disreputable cyclists are possibly one percent of the total number of motorcyclists; only one percent are hoodlums and troublemakers"[22][23]

The Wild One[edit]

See also: The Wild One

The 1953 Marlon Brando film The Wild One was inspired by the event, or rather on a short story in Harper's magazine, which itself as based on hyperbolic San Francisco Chronicle stories written by reporter C.I. Dougherty who was specially flown into Hollister to cover the disturbance. The Chronicle story was picked up and given national exposure in a small article Life magazine which included a lurid photo of a drunk man resting on a motorcycle amidst a mass of beer bottles. The photo, believed to have been staged by the San Francisco Chronicle photographer ..., has become an iconic image embraced as a wry, ironic symbol of the truth and the myth of the biker.

The Wild One was based on a short story, The Cyclists' Raid by Frank Rooney, in the January 1951 issue of Harper's Magazine. The story was later published in book form as part of The Best American Short Stories 1952. The story took a cue from an actual biker street party on the Fourth of July weekend in 1947 in Hollister, California that was elaborately trumped up in the July 21, 1947 issue of Life Magazine, and dubbed the Hollister riot, with staged photographs of wild motorcycle outlaw revelers. The Hollister event is now celebrated annually. In the film, the town is located somewhere in an unidentified western state.

Coincident with the coinage of one percenter was the use of the word outlaw, which was meant, technically, only to indicate that these renegade clubs were beyond AMA control and responsibility, but interpreted by many outside the clubs, and some inside, as the mark of lawbreakers and even criminals. The mythic anti-hero outlaw protagonist, dating back to Rob Roy and Robin Hood, was again about to surge in popularity in the 50s and especially the 60s and 70s, with films glorifying Bonnie and Clyde and perhaps the definitive biker film, Easy Rider.[8] Though the heroes of Easy Rider didn't bear a hint of connection to any motorcycle gang or club, the characters played by Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda became as much biker idols as Marlon Brando was before them.

After Hollister, the Life photo, and The Wild One, a black leather jacket became a symbol of menace, and some motorcyclists sought to distance themselves from the bad element with more collegiate wear, for example as a two-tone jersey bearing the Harley-Davidson logo.[24]

The AMA picketed the opening of The Wild One.[4]

Annual Hollister Rally[edit]

Black Cooper Sander Funeral Home, Hollister, California motorcycle rally, 2007.jpg

2009 Hollister Motorcycle Rally Canceled[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Kresnak (2008) p. 34-35
  2. ^ a b c d e Dulaney (2005)
  3. ^ Polheums (Mainstreaming Bike Culture, 1998) p. 91. "America was in the grip of a moral panic. Back in 1947, a group of bikers had 'invaded' the town of Hollister, California — an event that was first hyped in Frank Rooney's 1951 Harper's article 'Cyclist Raid' and was immortalized in the 1953 film The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Brown (2000) p. 352
  5. ^ Gypsy Tours were "organized rides to a specific destination. Gypsy Tours allowed riders to gather for a long ride and then enjoy themselves at the destination for a day or two before heading home." (Kresnak 2008, p. 34) and "long-range rides to motorcycle rallies, and were known as friendly, good-humored events" (Osgerby, p. 28)
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Osgerby (2005) pp. 26-31
  7. ^ a b Billingsley (1997). Several thousand people arrived for the event, but the town's few small bars pushed drinkers into the streets, where things got out of hand.

    'The whole town was filled with motorcycles,' says Harry Hill, a Hollister native who lived two blocks from the action. 'They brawled with the police, who had to wrestle them down. It was bad enough, but they played it up more than it was.'

    The bikers did not take over the whole town, as in The Wild One Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Billingsley1997" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).

  8. ^ a b c d e Polhemus (The Art of the Motorcycle, 1998)
  9. ^ McCandless (2005) "Adaptations' also details how the controversial 1954 film "The Wild One," starring Marlon Brando as a member of a band of motorcycle rebels, was based on Frank Rooney's award-winning 1951 short story "Cyclists' Raid," which was in turn inspired by a staged photograph."
  10. ^ a b Dougherty (1947)
  11. ^ a b c Cite error: The named reference Beltran1997-2 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Yates (1999) p. 17-23
  16. ^ Doughty (July 5 1947)
  17. ^ Dougherty (July 6 1947)
  18. ^ Cyclist's Holiday (1947)
  19. ^ a b c Dulaney (2005) "The Life story caused something of a tumult around the country (Yates), and some authors have asserted that the AMA subsequently released a press statement disclaiming involvement in the Hollister event, stating that 99% of motorcyclists are good, decent, law-abiding citizens, and that the AMA’s ranks of motorcycle clubs were not involved in the debacle (e.g., Reynolds, Thompson). However, the American Motorcyclist Association has no record of ever releasing such as statement. Tom Lindsay, the AMA’s Public Information Director, states 'We [the American Motorcyclist Association] acknowledge that the term ‘one-percenter’ has long been (and likely will continue to be) attributed to the American Motorcyclist Association, but we've been unable to attribute its original use to an AMA official or published statement—so it's apocryphal.' "
  20. ^ Joans (2001) p. 16
  21. ^
  22. ^ Drewry (2003) p. 27. "The following year, after some further trouble at Riverside, the AMA secretary at the time Lin A Kuchler said 'the disreputable cyclists are possibly one percent of the total number of motorcyclists; only one percent are hoodlums and troublemakers' (Zierl & Rebmann, 1998). The Riverside Police Chief described the motorcycle hoodlums for the first time in public as 'outlaws'. The non-AMA clubs, in the tradition of taking the insults of the enemy as a badge of honour, became 'outlaws' and those described by Koehler as 'one percenters' proudly wore a ‘1%’ badge on their jackets and vests, a tradition that continues today."
  23. ^ Zierl (1998)[verification needed]
  24. ^ Dregni (2006) p. 71


External links[edit]