The Riots of 1964 — Chapter 1

Project Director’s Report
Paul Estaver, Director

Historical Background

On the eve of Labor Day, 1964, Hampton Beach, New Hampshire suffered through a senseless youth riot which lasted from dusk to midnight or later. There were somewhere between 2500 and 10,000 young people involved, along with 40 local police, 68 auxiliary police and 85 state police, ultimately assisted by the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Department, the New Hampshire National Guard and a contingent of Maine state police. Miraculously, no one was killed, although both police and rioters sustained extensive injuries. The expressed desire of the youth to burn the Hampton Beach Casino was thwarted, but two small buildings were fired by Molotov cocktails. Some 155 youths were arrested, and the newspapers filled their columns with talk of tear gas, rock salt, birdshot, brutality and Communism. The numbers of rioters were quoted at figures of 15,000 or higher, and one highly respected columnist the property damage at half a million dollars when in fact the total was about $20,000. The event was spoken of as the fourth Labor Day riot, although the first two were insufficient in violence or damage to warrant the honor.

When it was over, the town of Hampton – officials, businessmen and laymen – determined there would be no fifth year . . .

Hampton Beach began as a trolley car resort. Its earliest development dates from the 1890’s, but its boom came with the advent of the street railway just at the turn of the century. At that time, the trolley companies, whose lines webbed the northeast, sought to increase their service by creating resort parks at a number of attractive lakeside and oceanfront sites. Such a one was Hampton.

It was possible to reach Hampton Beach by trolley from either Portsmouth or Haverhill, and it was a place worth the travel, for the street railway company had built and owned both the Ocean House and the Hampton Beach Casino, a huge rambling complex of halls and piazzas embracing arcades, a restaurant, a theatre, bathhouses and an enormous ballroom.

In 1898 a development organization, the Hampton Beach Improvement Company, leased from the town for $500 a year a narrow strip of land between Ocean Boulevard and Ashworth Avenue, extending from Ashworth Corner to Q Street. This property abuts what was, and is still, the main section of Hampton Beach. The Improvement Company laid in the cross streets so that from its appearance on a large-scale map the strip somewhat resembles a millepede. Land was leased out lot by lot.

The cottages and hotels on this subleased land of the Improvement Company, was mostly constructed before 1925. Today, with some 35 years remaining on these leases, there has been raised the question whether leased land under such circumstances has not impeded the updating and upgrading of Hampton Beach property, although Hampton’s town manager points out that similar resorts with outright deeds in New England are at about the same stage of property improvement as Hampton Beach, and an active real estate broker agrees.

In 1907 Hampton Beach was established as a separate precinct, with three commissioners to build and maintain a fire protection system. The precinct remains in existence today, its authority slightly increased to include street lightning, maintenance of the playground and yearly advertising campaigns, all supported by a precinct real estate tax of $6.00 on a thousand above and beyond the town tax.

The village of Hampton and Hampton Beach have often suffered strained relations, although nothing today like the ’20’s when the Beach Precinct went so far as to seek the status of an independent town. Yet even today in many ways the town and the beach have little in common, separated as they are by extensive marshlands and rather different orientations – the one an old-fashioned Yankee residential community; the other a seasonal resort, many of whose businessmen came from the Merrimack Valley or Greater Boston.

Nevertheless, the beach remains Hampton’s major industry. A substantial portion of the beach area property is still held by the town and leased to tenants in 15-year increments. These funds, together with taxes on beach area buildings, constituted over 40% of Hampton’s real estate income as recently as 1964.

Compared even to other New Hampshire beaches, the sands at Hampton’s main beach do not comprise a large area, extending a little over a mile from Church Street to Haverhill Street, at an average width of about 300 feet. South of Haverhill Street a narrower band of sand extends past a residential area to the state-owned bathhouse, which is about a mile from the Casino. The other extensive beaches north of Boar’s Head are in the town of Hampton, but it is the main beach which has been the central attraction from the beginning.

South across the Hampton River, long stretches of sand extend through Seabrook, New Hampshire, and Salisbury, Massachusetts, but Seabrook’s beach community is almost totally middle class residential and Salisbury is inclined to be classed as a honky tonk by Hampton’s advocates, who have always prided themselves on keeping Hampton Beach a family resort, free from liquor, ferris wheels, roller coasters and the other gimcracks which can clutter and choke a vacation community in Rockingham County.

To the north of Hampton the coast consists of rockbound promontories interspersed by beaches of varying size and beauty, but none are so fine as Hampton’s. Here also the development is primarily residential, varying in scope from palatial estates to modest colonies of small homes and cottages.

During the depression years of the 1930’s, Hampton Beach prospered. Then indeed it was a family resort. A great number of cottages adjacent to the main beach were lived in by their owners or were rented to single family groups for extended periods, preferably season or month.

In 1933, when it was apparent that the Atlantic erosion was more than the town’s resources could cope with, Hampton deeded its beaches to the state of New Hampshire, from store fronts to watermark, and since that time the state has made various improvements in the form of seawalls, highways, parking areas and, most recently, an attractive seashell and office complex at the center of the main beach. Even the old boardwalk was finally replaced in 1962 with cement paving.

The thirties were also good years for the Hampton Beach Casino, and especially its ballroom, for this was the era of the big band. Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo — it would be hard to find one that was not a feature attraction at Hampton.

During that decade Hampton Beach experienced no serious crime, but there was by then, or perhaps earlier, a tradition of antagonism between police and the young people in particular. One conservative beach spokesman relates that Hampton’s police force had a reputation of being tough in those days, and a police official is even more outspoken in his criticism. He notes that, while there were some good officers, many others were untrained, undisciplined, and occasionally unscrupulous. The police department had no organization and no personnel policy, but coped with each situation as it occurred. Pay was poor. As recently as ten years ago, top pay for a patrolman was $60 for a 72-hour week. Although Hampton’s Board of Selectmen was then composed of three men, as it is today, many feel that the town’s extended domination by a political boss was a factor in the lack of quality in its police force. Others have said the police work was good and the town well run.

The advent of World War II and gas rationing seems not to have affected the economy of the beach seriously, but at this time began a trend away from family beach life which has never quite reversed. During the war the beach was jammed with unattached young people, and as they came family summer cottages began operations as rooming houses to accommodate them.

Then, with the war over, the trend accelerated. More money was available, living standards were up, and Hampton’s way of summer life began to seem a little old-fashioned. Even then Hampton Beach was threatened with becoming a teenager’s paradise, and this early trend was reversed only when international travel restrictions were lifted and the stable patronage of Canadian family groups helped to balance the structure of beach society.

Prior to World War II, there had been some development of the land west of Ashworth Avenue, but it was the post-war era that saw the appearance here of many new streets, motels and cottages. These back street cottages are smaller than the multi-story residences on or adjacent to the waterfront. Many of them appear to differ from the earlier development in one other important respect; while the builders may have intended to occupy them for part of a season, they also had rentals in mind, and a good number of the new properties were certainly built solely as an investment. Thus the overnight accommodation capacity of Hampton Beach was rather quickly increased and the trend to a more transient population was accelerated.

Hampton Beach and Youth

During the 1950’s police problems were not primarily centered around young people. Although there were many teenagers on hand, comparatively few of them seemed to have automobiles and there were no apparent fads of guitars, bongos, beards or long hair. Hampton has always been strict in its attitude towards excessive drinking, but it was not until 1959 that the law prohibiting illegal possession of alcoholic beverages by a minor was passed, creating a rather specific line of demarcation between the legal and illegal. While young people habitually jammed the concourse of the Casino in this era, and to some extent made a nuisance of themselves, the police have no recollections of group problems with the young until 1960. The big holiday weekend then was July 4, and the peak arrest periods were the nights of July 3 and other Saturday nights, when there might be drunkenness, fights, larcenies, or the more routine traffic congestion.

The first instance of group action remembered by Hampton Police Chief Paul Leavitt was in 1960, when gangs of youngsters would occasionally throng in front of the Casino to hoot and cheer when a drunk was taken into the police station, which was at that time directly across the Boulevard on the ocean front at the center of the beach. Leavitt says this jeering was a sometime thing during 1960, not worse at Labor Day than any other time.

However, the 1961 fracas, late on Labor Day eve, grew out of this tradition. Different people remember it differently, but apparently there was either a snake dance on Ocean Boulevard or simply a swarm of young people, who surged onto the sand and back to the boulevard, making a lot of noise but doing no damage.

Chief John Roden and the half dozen or so men he had on hand ignored them as long as they could, then finally removed one or two of the most boisterous ones from the crowd and told the rest to disperse, which they did. Apparently a fire truck was also called, but its hoses were not used on this crowd.

The performance in 1962 at Labor Day was more extensive. On Sunday afternoon it was necessary for the police to break up a snake dance on the boulevard with the help of two dogs. In the evening a crowd again gathered and swarmed around chanting, lighting firecrackers, setting trash buckets ablaze, and snake dancing. The Hampton police called for outside help and were eventually reinforced by 25 to 30 state troopers and a lite number of auxiliaries.

Once again a verbal order was sufficient. An officer with a bull horn announced that the beach was closed and instructed the crowd to go to their rooms or to their homes. During part of the evening, Governor Wesley Powell appeared at the beach to observe and assist, and subsequently there was commentary about it in the press, which may have given additional impetus to the importance of the disturbance. As in 1961, there was little physical contact with the crowd and no missiles were hurled. All through these years, including 1963 when the trouble was much more severe, the number of arrests for the Labor Day weekend remained at the average of 60 to 80, which was no more than in years past.

Following the 1962 event, Hampton’s selectmen did their best to underplay its importance. The Labor Day troubles were officially classed by them as a “disturbance”, but the newspapers called it a riot and described it in considerable detail.

By Labor Day, 1963, the tradition of a fracas, if not a riot, at Hampton Beach was fairly well established. The fad had grown elsewhere as college and high school age youth descended in throngs to make trouble at resorts as widely scattered as Ocean City, Md., Lake George, N.Y., Seal Beach, Calif., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Newport, R.I., and St. Petersburg and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. All these were in the news in the early 60’s. The settings and the circumstances varied rather widely, but the effect was the same as far as Hampton Beach was concerned.

The setting at Hampton Beach was also somewhat changed. The old beachfront bandstand and police station were gone, and during the summer, construction was taking place on the new seashell complex. A temporary stage served for the daily band concerts. A new police station was also under construction on Ashworth Avenue, and the Hampton police were temporarily housed in the so-called Casino Garage adjacent to the fire station, also on Ashworth Avenue.

For Labor Day weekend this year the police department was augmented with some 60 auxiliaries, for the most part small-town or part-time policemen from such communities as Nottingham, Brentwood, Newington, along with a number of professional police from Dover. Part of this auxiliary police force were non-professionals – a group called the Rockingham County Volunteer Emergency Corps. In addition there were several police dogs and these, in particular, were remembered by the young people as an antagonistic element.

During the day, particularly the afternoon, the tension mounted as the young people engaged in various bits of horseplay – human pyramids, sand fights (or perhaps mud fights), and a blanket tossing performance during which a girl lost the top of her bathing suit, became hysterical and had to be rescued by the police.

One other particularly troublesome complicating factor was the horde of adults who appeared late afternoon and evening expressly to watch the performance that everyone seemed to know was coming. Later, during the time the riot actually was in progress, these adults were constantly in the way of police. Not only that, but they became outraged if they were jostled or if they found themselves subject to police orders.

As evening came on, a mass of humanity thronged the beach, and the trouble actually started when the congestion of human bodies began to block traffic. Apparently about this same time also, a boy gathered a crowd around him on the beach by mounting one of the wooden lifeguard stands to imitate President John Kennedy. As in previous years, there were the chants at the police, trash buckets set ablaze, and firecrackers everywhere. The police dogs were a prime target for firecrackers.

A Hampton police official now states that the 1963 riot could have been prevented had the police then had their present knowledge – a good plan and calm, well-trained men. This official goes on to say that in the instance of 1963 he feels that the police actually were the element that sparked the riot. There was no organized squad movement, but instead perhaps a hundred police were assembled on a sort of skirmish line opposite to the young people. The chief of police mounted the temporary bandstand in an effort to try and talk the crowd out of its mood, with such statements as, “You’re Americans; think of your country…What’s the matter with you people”, but the crowd’s response was only more hooting and more firecrackers. One officer remembers it as like being in the midst of a mortar barrage. This year, for the first time, objects were thrown – sand-filled beer cans and rocks. Police on the skirmish line would group into the impromptu squads of perhaps half a dozen and charge into the mob after an individual they might have seen throwing a firecracker.

Then, finally sick of playing the crowd’s game, they waded in, and it became a two-way brawl. The crowd surged around the Boulevard area, then down the side streets to assail the police and fire stations. They were beaten back with tear gas and fire hoses, and eventually fire trucks were brought out to hose down the crowds on both side streets and on Ocean Boulevard. Had there been any organization to it, the tactic might have had some affect, but the lack of planning made it so that crowds were driven this way and that, and they made a game of it, daring each other to go out and dance in front of the high pressure streams of water.

Although there was apparently little deliberate property damage, a number of the business people feared for their property, and more than one corralled a group of employees to guard his land with fists or lengths of copper pipe.

Most of the violent action was over in a matter of two hours. Unfortunately, the state police did not arrive on the scene until very late in the evening, when the situation was already fairly well under control, and they were much criticized for their tardiness, both by the press and by local officials.

Of course the press, once again, reported the happenings with relish. Particularly in 1963, there were many adamant charges of police brutality and subsequent countercharges of savage behavior on the part of young people and defense of the police forces. To show how severe a problem the police had faced, pictures were offered to the press showing collections of impromptu weapons taken from youth, and one photo in particular showed a bulldozer at the town dump, plowing under hundreds of cans of beer confiscated from the young people.

This year there was no denying that Hampton Beach had indeed had a riot, and various elements in the community began the long search for a solution. The Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce had, in fact, already given the matter serious concern.

Search for a Solution – 1962 – 1964

In the fall of 1962 a committee of four men – John Dineen, Joseph Dineen, James Fallon and Secretary William I. Elliot – was appointed by President Joseph Flynn to visit other areas who had been plagued by teenagers over recent years. Together they made a trip to Hyannis, MA., Newport, R.I., and Narragansett, R.I. where they received most cooperative treatment from town officials. Ultimately they submitted an extensive report of their findings and, in each instance, the response of the community in question had been to crack down hard on the youngsters. The committee listed the following among measures taken by the communities they had visited: dress requirements for patrons of bars and restaurants after 8:00 P.M., early closing of business and bars, licensing of lodging houses, immediate arrest for obscene language in a public place, the closing of beaches at a moderate hour of the night. In its second year, Newport allowed no minors on the streets of the city during the festival, whether or not they were drinking. Litter laws were strictly enforced. Gangs of young people were broken up immediately. Lounging was not permitted. When crowds were heavy, police made it a point to keep them moving constantly. At the three main points of entrance to Newport, liquor was confiscated from cars in which a minor was riding, and the car was turned back. >/p>

At Narragansett a prompt call for state police had helped to reduce property damage in a troublesome situation. At the time the committee visited, a bill was in the Rhode Island legislature calling for a loss of licence for thirty days, or sixty days for a second offense, for a minor who was found driving while in possession of alcoholic beverages.

Throughout the report, much attention was given to police budgets, which were apparently more adequate than that of Hampton up to 1963, and to the use, particularly in Narragansett, R.I. of police reserve units trained for heavy crowd situations.

The committee apparently also corresponded with other resorts at length, for in their files is a copy of a regulation used at Atlantic City, N.J., which required all non-residents working in the area to obtain a registration and identification card within 48 hours of time of employment or face a penalty of $200 or 90 days in jail.

Subsequent to the 1963 riot, the Chamber of Commerce Labor Day committee, expanded to eleven men, put forth a lengthy memorandum calling for a number of specifics for the summer of 1964. They voted to request ten state troopers to be assigned to Hampton Beach every Friday and Saturday night and during the daytime on Sundays from early June through Labor Day weekend. In addition, they voted to request 50 state troopers for both Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends. They hoped to establish an order of command among police departments, fire departments and sheriff’s department; they recommended that, in case of a riot, the state police take charge of all units.

They also asked that the standing laws forbidding sleeping on the beach or in cars, and dressing in cars, be strictly enforced, along with the state litter law.

Additional plans called for the publication of a courtesy announcement welcoming newcomers to Hampton Beach, but warning them that laws would be strictly enforced. They asked the Board of Selectmen to pass an ordinance prohibiting the wearing of blankets on the beach, boardwalk or in the stores. It was hoped that a way could be found to regulate dress further, particularly in the evenings.

Training programs were called for and additional requests went to the governor and to the state police calling for help and for the invocation of the state’s riot law, and for the establishment of new laws to control disorderly conduct. The statement concludes, “It was stated and unanimously agreed upon that the situation at Hampton Beach is an extremely dangerous one which has gone far beyond talking about or considering public relations. The Board of Selectmen were requested to make every effort to stop the Labor Day problem. It was further agreed that there is now real danger to life and property at Hampton Beach. The committee voted unanimously that the situation MUST stop. However, no pat solution could be arrived at.”

During this same time, the selectmen of the town of Hampton were at work and came up with a proposed seven-point program which included licensing of hotels, motels, etc., requesting help from the state of New Hampshire, the purchase of a radar unit to control traffic problems, the standardization of news releases, research regarding laws and procedures and, finally, an ordinance establishing a closing of all restaurants from 1:00 A.M. to 6:00 A.M. during the summer season.

This ordinance became quite a bone of contention in the subsequent months. However, it was kept in force throughout the summer of 1964 and 1965 with the exception of the Fourth of July weekend of the latter year.

Subsequent efforts of the town and of a subcommittee of the Chamber of Commerce to find a practicable way to establish and enforce a licensing law for places of public accommodation were never successful despite many hours of study. The town manager, Kenneth Boehner, was officially appointed as health officer, but by law his visits to hotels, motels and rooming houses could be made only during daylight hours, and his time was limited. More important, the number of public accommodations on the beach which were able to meet the minimum standards was only about 20%, leaving the town with the alternatives of declaring that 80% of the places of public accommodation at the beach were not fit for license, or of putting official sanction on unqualified places and running subsequent risks of suits from tenants.

Thus it can be seen that the town’s response to its youth program, to this point, was entirely a restrictive and punitive one. The youths were regarded as outsiders, come for no clear reason to destroy Hampton’s otherwise peaceful resort. The feeling was that the town had been too easy on them, and that the answer must be to limit them more sharply and, if possible, keep out the troublesome ones and the vagrants.

One or two individuals did feel that there should be some way to reach the young people, possibly by working with them or entertaining them, but such suggestions carried little weight and their proponents saw no way to put their thoughts into action.

Hampton Methodist Church Efforts

The first group to seek alternative solutions to force was the Commission on Christian Social Concerns of the Hampton Methodist Church. This is a standing committee in all Methodist churches. In the case of Hampton, it was chaired by Richard Stone, a Northeast Airlines pilot in his mid-thirties who resided in Hampton with his wife and three children. He and his family were typical of the desirable new population coming to Hampton as a part of the town transition from a Yankee agricultural community to a mid-twentieth century suburb in the megalopolis. Like many other newcomers to Hampton, these people were aggressive, intelligent, upper middle-class in income, college-trained, and inclined to be interested in community betterment. Particularly in Stone’s case, a pilot’s schedule allowed single days, or clusters of days, of open time for non-business pursuits.

In May of 1964, Stone and the church committee met to discuss pressing social problems. Civil rights seemed to be a leading topic, but at the same time it seemed to be beyond the scope of this committee. On the other hand, Hampton’s own riots were close at hand, and the outlines of a yearly program of discussion and action were sketched out.

In June of 1964, the committee met for a panel discussion. Attendance was disappointingly small – only about ten were there – but it was an important first step. Panelists were William Elliot, Executive Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, Chief John Roden of the Hampton Police Department, and Dr. Stuart Palmer, Chairman of the Sociology Department at the University of New Hampshire, twenty miles distant. Elliot stated the problem, indicating clearly that young people at Hampton Beach were going well beyond the stage of being merely difficult. He spoke of youth’s excesses in music and dancing and morals. In searching for motivation for the apparently senseless riots, he brought before the floor the suggestion that youthful behavior was possibly communist motivated.

In turn, Chief Roden stated that it was his job to be sure that the beach was adequately policed and protected. He made it clear that he understood it was police responsibility not to provoke a riot, but he also clearly stated that if a riot began it was also police responsibility to see that it stopped. He said that he had no choice but to retain the controversial police dogs, but that they would be kept in the background in the future as a part of a deliberate effort not to incite trouble.

Dr. Palmer’s statement concerned societal motivations and an attempt to analyze them, with particular emphasis on the behavior of the young. He was particularly concerned with Hampton’s falling into the trap of the self-fulfilling prophecy and warned of the danger of a set of mind, or a mode of speech, which accepted the fact that another riot was inevitable. He indicated that the press reaction to Hampton’s situation was a part of the chain of elements which kept the fad in motion year after year.

After outlining the factors which create the theme of violence in American culture and the conflicting ideologies and needs which frustrate a society and its individuals, he pointed out that these frustrations are passed by the adults along to the young people. Therefore, he said, since it is axiomatic that frustration leads to aggression and aggression to violence, it could be said that a logical target for youthful aggression in our largely middle-class society might be a middle-class family resort like Hampton Beach, where the young are already congregated in great numbers. He advanced no specific solutions beyond the statement that the answer would have to come from within the community, and that it might best be motivated out of an attitude of concern for, and kindness toward, youth.

Although this meeting was a small one, it was significant. Present were four men who were ultimately to play key roles in the Hampton Beach Project: Dr. Palmer, Elliot, Stone and Lt. Paul Leavitt, who was ultimately to become chief of the Hampton Police Department. Here, for the first time, was laid the philosophical groundwork out of which the Project grew.

A subsequent meeting in July at the Hampton Junior High School drew a larger attendance – some forty people – representing elements of both town and beach culture. Present were selectmen, precinct commissioners, representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, and business people from both Hampton and Hampton Beach. The meeting was broken down into three discussion groups, then reassembled for a summing up.

The conclusions were that Hampton’s problem was elusive indeed. No one could put a finger on any sort of pat answer. In general, it was agreed that there was a breakdown in the moral fibre of the coming generation, and police force was advanced as the immediate solution.

But again, it was a step forward. The fact that town and beach factions could get together and agree that the problem was a mutual one was an important step. It established the precedent which ultimately resulted in the invitation to Richard Stone and to the minister of the Methodist Church, Reverend Manning E. Van Nostrand, to join, as representatives of the uptown community, with the Chamber of Commerce Teenage Relations Committee in searching for answers.

Subsequent to this meeting, the Methodist Church committee did make some attempts to establish a program of some sort for youth at the beach. Particularly, they hoped to have a hootenanny over the Labor Day weekend, 1964, and they had gone so far as to contact some folksingers when it was decided, by the local police department, that in the interests of public safety it was wiser to cancel such a program.

Summer – 1964

Over the course of the summer, 1964, both the Chamber of Commerce and the selectmen rigidly adhered to their policy of making no comments to the press, feeling that statements of any kind would only add to the tension and to the expectation of future trouble.

And through the summer season the Hampton Police Department pursued a deliberate policy of tolerance toward the young, referred to afterwards as “rolling out the red carpet.” If many of the restrictive laws suggested by the Chamber of Commerce’s Labor Day Committee were not put into effect, there were at least rules established, about mid-summer prohibiting the use of bongo drums on the beach and the wearing of blankets anywhere on the Boulevard and beachfront area. The state police were not on hand on a regular weekend-to-weekend basis, but they did turn out in real force for the entire weekends of Fourth of July and Labor Day. Taking their cue from the Hampton Police Department, they conscientiously carried through a policy of tolerance and patience.

Although there had been no previous tradition of mass trouble for Fourth of July weekend, the year 1964 saw a buildup of tension on the occasion that very much resembled Labor Day the previous year. The holiday fell on a Saturday, so that there was a three-day weekend to contend with. Crowds were heavy, almost beyond precedent, and once the sun went down the concentration of youths was very great.

Friday and Saturday nights saw no particular untoward action, but by late Sunday afternoon the crowd was so thick and the atmosphere of tension was sufficient that the police saw fit to blockade the several roadways to Hampton Beach for vehicular travel, telling all comers that traffic conditions prohibited further entrance to the beach.

On Sunday there were some signs of approaching trouble that had been seen the previous Labor Day. During the afternoon there was horseplay on the beach. At dusk, knots of 25 to 100 youths gathered around guitar players, first singing, the beginning to chant. Firecrackers were thrown, and one or two trash baskets were set ablaze. By nine o’clock, perhaps 500 or more young people were gathered in an intense knot on the boardwalk opposite C Street. A girl’s bra was flung in the air, then tossed from hand to hand a symbol of defiance. Someone cried “Riot” and others began to pick it up.

But there was no riot. Instead, policemen took the abuse with a shrug or with a smile. Patiently they walked in pairs through the crowd, breaking up the assemblage as gently as possible with quiet admonitions and care to say “please”. For perhaps three hours, dozens of state police marched back and forth through the heavy crowd of youths, keeping everyone else walking endlessly. At one state, a group of young people rolled one of the wooden lifeguard stands up to the railing between the boardwalk and the sand, and tried to break it up for a fire. They were quickly and quietly removed from the crowd.

Across the Boulevard, the Hampton Police, this time aided by some 60-odd professional police from other cities in New Hampshire, were carrying on the same operation. There was no running, no shouting, and dogs were not in evidence. When an arrest had to be made, it was done with little fanfare.

Late in the evening there was on surge of humanity across the street toward the storefronts, but it melted before it became an assault.

Toward midnight the tension diminished and finally, little by little, the crowd melted away. Everyone was tremendously impressed with the effectiveness of the police policy, and real hope grew that a solution had at last been found.

Even as the weeks stretched toward Labor Day, that hope continued. If one year could pass without trouble, perhaps the cycle could be broken for good.

But the young people thought otherwise. The word was out: “Come to the annual fourth Hampton Beach riot – we’re going to burn the Casino.” Subsequent to the weekend there was much talk that leaflets had been distributed, specifically inviting one and all to the riot, and that signs had been posted as far away as Florida. If these things were done, there was never any proof produced. But the question is almost academic; certainly the rumor mill had been busy and certainly crowds of young people were on hand in force for the occasion.

Labor Day – 1964

Friday and Saturday nights of Labor Day weekend were in some ways similar to July 4th, with a gradual buildup of tension which was, in turn, gradually dissipated. During the daylight hours there was the horseplay as in previous years – mudfights and, this year a new wrinkle, shaving cream fights. On Saturday night, a crowd of young people surged into the area by the bandstand. One or two of them mounted the stage and began to harangue the assemblage. State police officials feel strongly that this was a mass meeting whose purpose was to elect officers in a carefully planned conspiracy to carry the riot off with dispatch. The young people themselves unanimously deny that any such election took place, feeling that the riot’s leadership was more spontaneous.

However that may be, the state police quickly broke up the assembly and nabbed one or two of the leaders.

Once again roadblocks were set up, this time both for Saturday and Sunday afternoons, which did have some effect in limiting the crowd size. However, many young people came in by foot or on bikes along the roadways and over the marsh. >/p>

Yet, despite the rumors and despite the crowds of young people, many beach veterans felt there would be no trouble this year, reassured by the sight of cluster after cluster of policemen – at each corner, along the sidewalks and on the beach itself. The memory of deft and delicate police work over the weekend of July 4th was still strong. One beach business man has since recalled taking his mother and his business records to Exeter for safekeeping, then driving back feeling a little silly about it, so sure was he that there would really not be trouble.

Apparently there was no such question in the minds of many young people. Young beach employees and other regulars recall that, as the crowd began to build up toward Labor Day weekend, new faces began to appear – so called “hoody types”, who pretty much kept to themselves. It was apparent to the others that these newcomers were the tough ones, drawn to the beach specifically in expectation of action.

Labor Day eve differed from the other nights during the summer when trouble had threatened. This time there seemed to be hardly any tension. People simply waited. There was very little indication of drinking, and subsequent arrests for it during the evening were few. The youngsters appeared to be stripped for action, gathered in knots on the boardwalk or on the beach, or perched endlessly like pigeons on the rail, while newsmen and photographers were the sparrows, clustering and darting in search of crumbs of excitement. This writer was a sparrow, if you will, on hand tonight as on several previous occasions during the summer.

At about 7:35 P.M., as another photographer and I strolled up the boardwalk, we were accosted by a boy, perhaps sixteen, who whispered, “ten minutes”, then darted on to pass the word elsewhere. Surely enough, at 7:45 a mass of young people ran and gathered in a large crowd on the beach. I did not witness it, but it was said that the signal was a cherry bomb and that the assembly point was marked by a flag from a golf course implanted in the sand. Thereafter the crowd surged back onto Ocean Boulevard, up toward the Casino, then across towards the Seashell. Other groups raced down several of the side streets, where they proceeded to assail the police station with rocks and sandfilled cans.

Quickly the riot squads from both local and state police forces assembled, fortified variously with night sticks, helmets, dogs and tear gas grenades. As they would advance on one or another mob of young people, the rioters would fall back, but the law officials were simply outnumbered and the youths, apparently, were not to be stopped except by main force.

By perhaps 8:30 or quarter of nine, the police were able to clear Ocean Boulevard from approximately A Street to F Street, at the southern end of the Casino. Here they were stopped for pitched battles on two fronts for several hours, and as a result these were the places where the heaviest property damage took place. The sand of the beach itself was something of a no-man’s land, partially controlled by police use of tear gas but still providing access for young people from one front to another.

Particularly at G Street, there were dozens of broken windows in store fronts and in cottages along the street. One newly constructed drive-in restaurant, enclosed almost entirely in plate glass, was very heavily stoned while its proprietors took refuge inside in considerable terror.

Police strategy was apparently to clear the Boulevard and Ashworth Avenue, which parallels it, cutting off small groups of young people in the various side streets. However, as property damage and personal injuries mounted, it became necessary to use rock salt and birdshot to disperse heavy crowds of young people. By midnight, when general hostilities had ceased, there were minor injuries extensively to both sides, and several policemen and young people were hospitalized with severe injuries. One boy subsequently lost an eye from birdshot.

It was perhaps between the hours of nine and ten when the rioters began to yank at the strings of colored lights over the children’s playground on the Boulevard just south of F Street, and before long these had short-circuited and gone out. Then a Molotov cocktail landed in a parking attendant’s shack, sending it up in flames, and shortly thereafter a second small building was similarly fired. The town’s fire apparatus was called, but both shacks burned with sufficient severity that they were destroyed before they could be brought under control.

By midnight the scene was uncomfortably similar to memories of the Second World War — a community newly taken by armed force, guards posted at each corner to allow young people to return to their quarters by ones and twos down the center of the wide boulevard, while an amphibious vehicle full of helmeted men cruised the street to prevent further outbreaks of violence On the back streets the National Guard was entering the community and, with Maine State Police, driving stragglers north and south, either across the river into Seabrook or up along the coastline. A number of them were unable to get back for several days to pick up their automobiles or belongings.

All day Monday the National Guard continued to deny entrance to any unauthorized vehicle to the resort area. Among the articles taken from youths arrested were several two-way radios, adding to the belief of many that Hampton’s riot was the result of a deliberate conspiracy, whether or not it was communist inspired. Only a subsequent investigation by the F.B.I. finally dispelled rather general fear that the Communist Party had somehow been involved.

Afterward, when I interviewed Paul Leavitt, then temporarily in charge of the police department while the chief was on vacation, I was impressed with his objectively toward what had taken place. By no means did he minimize the damage or the potential damage from the riot, pointing out, for instance, that only by luck did a Molotov cocktail fail to explode inside the amphibious duck, killing or maiming up to a dozen men. On the other hand, he stated that he felt there was a certain ethic within the crowd. Despite the rumors, there were no cases of looting, rape or aggravated assault, as there had indeed been when a gang of motorcyclists descended upon California town not long before.

Subsequent conversations with several young people disclosed scenes where the rioters seemed to have drawn a line of decency beyond which they would not go.

Nevertheless, a good many of the young people felt that the violence and destruction had gone much too far, whether they sympathized with their peer group or with the community. The consensus was that the community would never let it happen again.