From time to time I toy with the idea of starting a blog focused on the day I was born.
Two or three times a week I’d find some scraplet of information from the day, and comment on it at length. Could be a newspaper article, a baseball boxscore, the weather report, the records on the charts, the day’s obituaries, the cost of a new Pontiac, or the cost of a six-pack of Falstaff Beer. And like that.
I could go on and on with that idea — if I felt like it, which I never quite have all the way.
(I should probably also know better than to publicize my birthday. Someday, some intrepid scammer will make me regret I was born — and that I ever let slip, in a public setting, when it took place.)
In the absence of that unborn blog, the following story will just have to live here. It’s obscure, and kinda sad, and a little bit rock n’ roll. And, really, what more could you ask than that?
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The night editor of the Lewiston, Idaho, Morning Tribune, assembling the next day’s paper on the Fourth of July 1973, saw fit to pick up an Associated Press story about an unidentified-but-not-forgotten young man.
Maybe (s)he found it touching. Or maybe there just wasn’t much on the AP wire on the national holiday (s)he’d been scheduled to work, and you can’t put a newspaper out with blank spots, now, can you?
At any rate, the people of Lewiston found themselves acquainted with a mystery that originated July 3, 1970, on a hippie-choked farm in a small town about an hour away from Seattle.
A local rancher named Buffalo Don Murphy had arranged a multi-day music festival, which he passed off as a political convention — “the Buffalo Party National Convention and Pig Roast” — to sidestep regulations against rock festivals.
The festival happened, though it’s not clear how many people attended (10,000? 30,000?) or who performed. Names like Quicksilver Messenger Service and Moby Grape were bandied about, but the one semi-big name anyone’s ever confirmed is journeyman blues-harpist James Cotton.
Buffalo Don’s farm happened to abut Little Mashel Falls, a picturesque 92-foot drop. With all the hippies milling about, it was inevitable that some of them would find their way there to dig the scenery and enjoy the water.
And on the first day of the Buffalo Party Convention, a slim young man clad only in blue jeans fell from the top of the waterfall to his death.
No one police spoke to seemed to know his name; nor did his fingerprints match any in police files. It appears that no one came forward in search of a missing son, brother or boyfriend, either.
Eventually, as the AP story recounted, he was buried on the state’s dime in a cemetery in Puyallup, Wash., under a gravestone that recounted the mysterious circumstances of his passing.
On some national holidays — particularly the Fourth of July, the more-or-less anniversary of his death — some anonymous visitor bedecked the young man’s grave with an artificial flower.
This quiet act of good karma somehow reached the AP, which made a couple of calls to relevant local officials and wrote a story about it.
And so it was that the people of Lewiston woke up to a Page Two mystery with their morning cornflakes, that Thursday after the Fourth of July.
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The Internet being what it is, and nostalgia being what it is, the Buffalo Party National Convention has not been forgotten.
There’s a website laden with recollections about it, which is the source of a fair amount of the info in this post. The webmaster was at one point planning a documentary movie, though I don’t know its current status. (Cotton, the one confirmed performer at the Buffalo Party, died in March 2017.)
Several people who have left comments on the website remember the young man’s death, and two even provide a name for him. He was a high school classmate, they say; his name was apparently Don Christiansen or Christianson, and they say he came from Lakewood, Wash.
I’d like to assume that these folks have shared that info with his family, if any remain, and that the mysterious young man of Puyallup has been named and claimed.
It seems doubtful, 45 years on, that the anonymous flower-giver of 1973 is still at it … so if anyone were to remember this young man, it would have to be his family.
But, some bursts of Googling have not confirmed that. I’ve not found an article (from Lewiston or anywhere else) about a rock-festival mystery solved and a long-lost young man identified.
Maybe the Unknown Festivalgoer has been posthumously embraced; maybe he’s been totally forgotten.
I’d be interested to know which.