Memoirville

EXCERPT: Gonzo By Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

By Jeff Cranmer

“He shot out of the womb angry. And then he left that same way. “

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How do you tell the tale of Hunter S. Thompson? Arguably, no one has told the story of the Louisville, Kentucky-born rebel who went on to change journalism (and inspire hordes of awful imitators) better than the man himself, via his two volumes of letters. Now, Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone, has edited, with Corey Seymour, the surprisingly exclamation point-free titled Gonzo: An Oral History of Hunter S. Thompson. More than 100 friends, family, ex-wives, and other assorted characters from his inner circle—Ralph Steadman, Pat Buchanan, Marilyn Manson, Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson—take a fishbowl look into the life and times of Hunter S. Thompson.

Below is an except from chapter one of Gonzo, which unfurls a piece of the Thompson story even some of his most fervent fans know little about, the boyhood days in Kentucky. These were the emerging artist’s days of war games and BB guns and sports and pranks and booze and jail and learning, as historian Doug Brinkley recounts, that “the game was fixed.” In others words, the days that shaped the things to come.

LISTEN to a wonderful and meaty interview on NPR with Gonzo authors Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour.

Coming of Age in Louisville

We had guns in our cars. We shot houses, mailboxes, garbage cans. We shoplifted. We broke into liquor stores. We’d jimmy a lock or break a window. I never paid a hotel bill when I was with Hunter. We’d just go out the window or the fire escape.

SANDY THOMPSON (now Sondi Wright) met Hunter in 1958 and was married to him for seventeen years. Hunter was born different—very different. His mother, Virginia, and I talked a lot many, many years ago about Hunter as a little boy. He was angry. He was charming. He was a lot of trouble. And what I always used to say— which is interesting, in light of the end of his life—was that he shot out of the womb angry. And then he left that same way.

NEVILLE BLAKEMORE grew up with Hunter in the Highlands neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky. My grandmother owned a house a block away from Hunter’s. I couldn’t tell you the first time I met him; I just knew about him.

It was a neighborhood in which people would sit on the porch and talk to the people walking by. Washing was hung in the backyard to dry, and ironing was done with flatirons heated on stoves. Everybody knew everybody—the generations knew everybody, everybody knew the help, and so on. In the afternoon we’d listen to radio programs like Superman and Sky King. Television did not exist.

Hunter’s dad, Jack, was born in Horse Cave, Kentucky, in 1893 and came to Louisville with his three brothers when his widowed mother moved here. His first wife, who was from eastern Kentucky, died in 1923—two years after their first and only child, Jack Jr., was born. Jack Jr. was raised by his maternal grandmother in Greenup, Kentucky, so he wasn’t around much. And he was a lot older; he served in World War II and Korea.

Mr. Thompson was a tallish man with glasses and gray hair combed straight back. He had served in World War I, and he was stern. Hunter’s mother was Virginia Ray, who Jack married in 1935, and her mother was named—well, we called her Memo. Hunter was Jack and Virginia’s first child—born on July 18, 1937. Mr. Thompson was an insurance agent, and Memo helped with raising the children and was always around the house. She’d read to us.

DEBORAH FULLER was Hunter’s personal assistant from 1982 to 2003.
Hunter’s mother told me that he was born a night owl. She cursed him for that—”Oh God, he never slept at the same time as his brothers.” But Virginia loved him and was very proud of him. She told me he was very charismatic as a young man, even as a boy. Kids— boys and girls—would come around to the house and sit on the front steps to wait to walk to school with Hunter. But she also said that he was a feisty one—that he got in trouble quite a bit.

NEVILLE BLAKEMORE
My parents didn’t like my hanging around with him—even when we were pretty young. They thought he was a bully. I think they may have been right. But we always wanted to go over to his house. Hunter was a magnet. There was always something going on. We had toy soldiers and we’d play these huge war games. World War II was a big influence. We’d play Germans and Japanese, and have battles all over the neighborhood. People would have cardboard guns and cap pistols and backpacks and helmet liners. Some guys had BB guns.

Hunter got his interest in guns from another neighbor, Joe Bell. Joe understood firearms when he came out of the womb. He loved them, and he always had the latest thing.

Hunter would go over to another friend’s house, and behind the street where this friend lived was Bear Grass Creek and a culvert. A lot of African Americans lived on the other side of the creek. Hunter and his group would shoot these guys with BB guns and hurl racial insults, and the black guys would finally have enough and swarm down into the culvert and up the wall, and Hunter and the others would retreat into their friend’s house and hide. They’d start these little mini-race wars.

Everybody had bicycles. Hunter used to ride his bike around the neighborhood, shooting matches with a clothespin shooter. You could make a shooter out of just a clothespin and a rubber band and a “strike anywhere” match, and all you have to do is squeeze the thing and out shoots a lit match. People used to burn their leaves in the fall, and they’d rake them into the gutters first. But Hunter would ride around the neighborhood and shoot these things into the leaves and start fires all over the Highlands.

Another time, when I was twelve or thirteen, I had all the neighbor kids over for lunch, and we played soldiers in the backyard. Hunter stole a bunch of my soldiers. I figured it out that night, and it really hurt me. My father said, “Well, I’m very sorry, but it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, because that’s the kind of guy he is.” That for me meant, “Okay, he’s fun to be around, but be careful.”

GERALD TYRRELL also grew up a block away from Hunter.
Our group would go to Cherokee Park to play football, or go to the basketball courts, or grab a dime and go downtown to the movies—we would go all over the place—but going to the library and reading books was always given equal billing. Hunter would say, “Let’s go to the library,” and seven or eight of us would grab our bikes and ride down. It’d be all grab-ass and being rowdy and loud marching up the steps of the library, and then we’d be quiet as church mice inside and each pick out a book and sit down and read for a couple of hours, and then put the books back and leave and be rowdy and grab-ass and ride our bikes home. And it wasn’t just on rainy days. It was year round.

PORTER BIBB grew up with Hunter in Louisville.
I first met him when we were eleven or twelve. Louisville then was a very elitist town, and very small. Geographically it’s Midwestern, but we all thought of it as very southern.

He lived in a slightly decaying middle-class neighborhood. It had been a prominent upper-middle-class part of the city, but it was within walking distance of downtown, and the city had gone out to the country by the time we were growing up. His mother, Virginia, was a wonderful, very intelligent, very hospitable lady who worked as a librarian. She looked like Betty Crocker. Hunter also had two younger brothers, Davison and Jim.

SANDY THOMPSON
He was very good-looking, tall, slender. He had this wonderful gait—and just a tremendous power of seduction. And he knew this very early on: how he could seduce not just women but men, children—anybody he really wanted to.

LOU ANN ILER was Hunter’s high school sweetheart.
I was a new student at Highland Junior High when I met Hunter in ninth grade, in 1951. He was at my locker between classes, and before I knew it he rode home on the bus with me, and then he carried my books; he put his arm around me. It was a very innocent time. We’d go to the movies, which was only twenty-five cents a person—even with popcorn and a Coke you could have a very nice date for a dollar—and we would go to high school football games or walk from my house to the ice cream shops. Sometimes we got around on the bus, or he had older friends who drove and we double-dated with them. Afterward he would drop me off at my house and say goodnight, but once I arrived at my door, my mother knew I was home and she set a time limit: five minutes, and that was it. So after we said goodbye, Hunter would throw pebbles at my bedroom window, and he would stand outside my window and we would talk for another forty-five minutes or an hour.

He was very charming and handsome, and had wonderful manners, and treated me very well. I wouldn’t take any guff from him, and I think he liked that. And I could out-stare him, which used to annoy him greatly. He had a lot of energy—I wouldn’t call it sexual energy at that point, because it was ninth grade, in the fifties–but he was different from the other young men I dated. There was just a presence about him. And, yes, he would draw attention to himself.

In our sophomore year we were double-dating at a neighborhood theater called the Bard. Afterward he told me that he was going to go with the other couple, and he’d be back. In a few minutes, up drove a car with this little old lady in the back, all dressed up, screaming, “Help me! Help me! I’m being kidnapped!” Well, it was Hunter. He had dressed in his mother’s clothes—he had a hat and a veil, and he had on her stockings rolled down to his knee, and he was screeching in this high voice. Well, I got so mad, because it called so much attention to himself. I started walking home, with Hunter following me in the car, hanging out the back window, shouting, “Please get in the car. . . . I promise I’ll never do this to you again.” I walked all the way home.

We dated through that summer, and then we both went to Atherton [High School] in our sophomore year. Hunter was there for about six weeks, and then something happened—I don’t know what—and he immediately went to another school. One day he was there and the next day he was at Male High School. I didn’t see him for a while, and I started dating other people, but he kept coming in and out of my life. He would show up unexpectedly at my house.

PORTER BIBB
There were basically four schools. There was Male for the white males who were going to college. There was Manual for the guys who were not going to college and were going to be manual laborers or blue-collar workers. There was St. Xavier for the Catholics and Central High for the blacks. Male, though, was really an extraordinary place, even though it was a public high school. We had people teaching there who had turned down tenure at Yale and Princeton.

GERALD TYRRELL
Hunter went to Highland Junior High School and then Atherton High School for a semester, and then down to Male. It wasn’t long before he joined the Castlewood Athletic Club and later the Athenaeum Literary Association. Those were the two organizations that shaped all our young lives—particularly Hunter’s.

To get into both Castlewood and, later, the Athenaeum, you had to rush. Hunter loved to pledge people. One of the things he liked best was to have pledges throw “fits.” We’d go into a restaurant, and all of a sudden on his command you’d throw an epileptic fit and scream and roll on the floor and carry on. Sooner or later they’d have to call either the police or the ambulance, and you’d have to run off. Hunter would be outside just doubled over laughing.

We were all very keen on athletics. We hired coaches and we played football against other teams in other parts of the city, and we generally won. Hunter played end, and I played tackle. In basketball we played in the city fifteen-and-under league. Three out of four years we won the league championship.

One of Hunter’s big disappointments was that he didn’t grow in the ninth and tenth grades, when he was fifteen and sixteen. He was short. It wasn’t until his junior year that he grew–maybe three or four inches. But by that time it was all over—he was a smoker and a drinker, and he wasn’t the athlete that he really wanted to be.

His best friend from his early days was probably Duke Rice. He was a skinny kid and not all that tall, and suddenly he shot up to be 6″ 6′ or 6″ 7′ and got a basketball scholarship to the Citadel, where he was the only player of the time who was able to shut down Jerry West. Duke was the athlete that Hunter always wanted to be. And Hunter’s little brother Davison was an All-American high school football player and went to Vanderbilt on a football scholarship. Hunter was surrounded by guys who had the sports dream, and he was really the best of all of us growing up in any of these sports—and then he stayed a little kid at the critical time, and then two years later it was too late to catch up.

Since Hunter couldn’t be an athlete, he had to turn his energies to something else—and he turned it to social activities based around various shapes of bottles. Now when we took the bus downtown to the orange bars for hot dogs and orange drinks, we’d put gin in our drinks and go to the movies.

DOUG BRINKLEY is the literary executor of the Hunter S. Thompson estate and the editor of three volumes of his letters.
He learned that he could essentially become a leader or a bully by verbal extravagance and by doing the most outrageous pranks—that he could become cooler than the football quarterback or the head of some glib Kentucky high school club by being a wild-ass maverick ready to find the weaknesses in somebody and rip them to shreds. It gave him the upper hand.

GERALD TYRRELL
Hunter was the most charismatic natural leader I’ve ever been subjected to. I could walk into a room with him, and everybody would gravitate to Hunter. He just had a way about him. He was very appealing to all the girls, and he was a cutie. It was probably his mother’s training: He was very nice to girls, almost chivalrous, really.

DOUG BRINKLEY
It’s not easy for a working-class woman to raise three boys full of testosterone when you don’t have a support system for it. So she turned to gin. Add to that the fact that Hunter at a young age had a bit of a deformity with his legs—the bowlegged walk that people would imitate later was there when he was young—and it kept him from being the sports star he wanted to be. It wasn’t just that one leg was longer than the other—he had a bit of a pain problem with his back and spine, a birth defect in a sense. He didn’t cultivate that distinctive walk that he had. He couldn’t help it. He turned it into an asset, but he always thought of it as a deficit. And Hunter quickly learned that you can be made fun of when you have a deformity, and the way to not be made fun of is to take the Nietzschean offensive and lash out before you can even be hit, and get people afraid of you. He was railing after bullies or the people that he thought were screwing the little guy.

LOU ANN ILER
Hunter’s father died in July between our freshman and sophomore years. Hunter showed up on my doorstep—I had a large porch—and sat for hours, not saying too much. One of the loneliest things I’ve ever seen was Hunter walking away from my porch to catch the bus on the night his father died. It was dark, and the streetlight was on. He wasn’t openly emotional, but I held his hand. He had decided that he needed to be here.

SANDY THOMPSON
Hunter’s father had been, from what I heard from Hunter’s friends, quite a strict disciplinarian. So I’m guessing that he held Hunter in check. And then he was gone. Virginia became an alcoholic. And even though Hunter was drinking then, he hated Virginia’s drinking.

DOUG BRINKLEY
Hunter never really liked Jack Kerouac’s On the Road—he thought the writing was kind of sloppy and romantic and over sentimental—but he told me he thought Kerouac was a genius for two things: discovering Neal Cassady, whom Hunter thought was flat-out amazing, and using the literary construct of “looking for the lost dad I never had.” Neal was never properly raised by a father. He didn’t even know whether his dad was alive or dead, and the notion of a young son who never had a dad, looking for his biological father, appealed to Hunter a great deal. Hunter didn’t get to know his father, and at times this loss would burst out as oedipal anger, but underneath it all was just a deep longing for the dad he never had and an unanswerable question of how knowing him could have made his life richer and different. He had to figure it all out on his own.

His mother stayed on top of Hunter and his brothers the best that she could, and it was her bringing books home from the library like Huck Finn and White Fang and making her boys read that turned Hunter into a writer. Hunter had a criminal cast to his mind, and he would have become a criminal if not for the literature that his mother infused into their household.

PORTER BIBB
Louisville had what we called literary societies, but they were basically social clubs. The one that Hunter and I were in, the Athenaeum Literary Association, was 125 years old and very prestigious. We would meet every Saturday night for several hours, wear suits and ties, and different members would stand in front of the rest of the group and read something they’d written and be critiqued. After the meeting was over, you took off your tie and your jacket and went out and raised a lot of hell and got drunk.

NEVILLE BLAKEMORE
We published The Spectator, a literary magazine, and we’d put on a spring dance and a Christmas dance in the Crystal Ballroom at the Brown Hotel to raise money. Our dances were followed by breakfast—it was an excuse to stay up all night. And we’d have hill parties—there was a hill in Cherokee Park where you could go up on top and build a fire and sit around and sing, with dates.

PAUL SEMONIN was an Athenaeum member.
The Athenaeum was something that some of our fathers had been in, or even our grandfathers. It was the oldest literary society, and it was a social group—mostly upper-middle -class, people with family ties and things like that—and also a drinking group.

PORTER BIBB
Hunter and I and Paul Semonin hung out every day. We all believed we were Fitzgerald incarnate. Hunter was as passionate as the rest of us about this. This is when he started typing out Fitzgerald and Hemingway books word by word. I used to kid Hunter a lot and say, “You’re not Fitzgerald. What the fuck are you typing The Great Gatsby for? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“You know,” he said, “I just like to get the feel of how it is to write those words.”

I just took that as pure pretension.

PAUL SEMONIN
Athenaeum was tied into the Louisville elite, and it had this atmosphere of tradition, which I think is important in understanding where Hunter came from. He has this element buried in his personality, and the older and wilder he got, the less it became obvious, but there was this sort of tie to the old American dream that seemed almost nineteenth century. It got mixed up with a lot of other things along the way—the counterculture, of course—but Athenaeum was a place where I could see that element in his personality blending with other elements which were quite contradictory and rebellious. There was a lot of talk about The Fountainhead and Ayn Rand and the loss of individuality. It was one of the things that gave impulse to our rebellion. We wanted to become more individualistic—which seemed as much a part of the American dream as anything else—and we wanted to fight for that, to demonstrate it in varied, somewhat extreme ways.

PORTER BIBB
I was always amazed at Hunter’s networking ability. He was solidly middle-class, yet he was hanging with some multi-multi-millionaire families. Paul Semonin’s family owned half of Louisville. They were the biggest real estate people around. My family was what we called “name rich and land poor.” We lost tremendous amounts of land in the Civil War, but we still acted like we had it. Most of the people that Hunter was close to and who brought him into their circle were very, very wealthy people, and Hunter didn’t have a sou. Here he was with a single mom–who had to work?

We were traveling in the circle of people who virtually ran the city, and we lived very luxurious teenage lives. There were debutante parties every other night in the summer, and huge banquets and teas and brunches. If you couldn’t figure out a way to steal a case of beer from somewhere, you’d just go over to one of the girls’ houses—they all had unbelievable bars, and the parents were very liberal.

But Hunter had friends in both high and low society. He took me to places in Louisville that I never would have known existed. We hung out in black nightclubs when it was still very segregated, got drunk, and did pretty much everything bad together. You’d see Hunter sometimes with four or five guys you’d never see in the social circles that he spent most of his time in—they were basically juvenile delinquents, and you knew they were going to end up as convicts for the rest of their lives. But they were doing something different and something interesting, so we would go along with them. They never seemed to get in trouble, and I didn’t worry about it because in Louisville, if you have connections you’re untouchable. I mean, I never bothered with taking a driving test to get my license. I just went down and told them my name, and they gave me my license.

We all had fake IDs and fake licenses. They just seemed to appear when you needed them, and we were drinking from fourteen on. But you really didn’t even need them, because there was so much free alcohol everywhere. Every party at the country clubs, at the hotel ballrooms—it was all open to us. Not to 90 percent of the rest of the city, but it was totally open to us.

PAUL SEMONIN
We did some street theater things. We didn’t think of them as street theater at the time, of course. We just thought of them as hijinks—like the fake kidnapping in front of the Bard Theater over on Bardstown Road, on the edge of the Highlands. Basically, we just got the idea of kidnapping a pal of ours from the ticket line and creating a scene. The guy—the kidnapee—was in on the joke. But we just grabbed him out of the line and stuffed him into a car and then drove off. He was screaming and resisting, of course. But we didn’t anticipate that a local judge would be sitting in a restaurant across the street. He saw what happened and came running out of the restaurant after us as we were pulling away. We didn’t know he was a judge until we read it in the Courier-Journal the next morning: “SUSPECTED KIDNAPPING AT BARD THEATER.” But nobody got our license plate number, and nothing ever came of it.

I later became a performance artist, and I constructed these sorts of confrontations in more of a professional way, but Hunter carried it on as part of his persona. It had nothing to do with gonzo or with journalism or even writing back then. It was more a finger in your eye to the establishment, or to society—but with a certain humor and a certain kind of bravado. I mean, this was ‘53, ‘54. We felt constricted or repressed in some way, and we were trying to explode out of that.

PORTER BIBB
He obviously intuited that he was different from the rest of us very early on. He had it in his head that he was going to do something else, but I don’t think he knew yet what it was. Among other things, he saved every single thing that he wrote. This was way before Xeroxing, so he had to use carbon paper, which was real messy and time consuming.

NEVILLE BLAKEMORE
Hunter wrote a third-prize essay for the Athenaeum Spectator called “Open Letter to the Youth of Our Nation,” which began: “Young people of America, awake from your slumber of indolence and harken to the call of the future! Do you realize that you are rapidly becoming a doomed generation? . . . O ignorant youth, the world is not a joyous place. The time has come for you to dispense with the frivolous pleasures of childhood and get down to honest toil until you are sixty-five. Then and only then can you relax and collect your Social Security and live happily until the time of your death.” He signed it, “Fearfully and disgustedly yours, John J. Righteous - Hypocrite.” There was another essay, “Security”: “Is security a utopian goal or is it another word for rut? . . . Where would the world be if all men sought security and had not taken risks or gambled with their lives on the chance that, if they won, life would be different and richer?” He ends by writing, “We shall let the reader answer this question for himself: Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived, or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?”

There was another feature of the Spectator called “The Line-Up,” which was just a jokey questionnaire laid out in columns. Here’s what they had to say about Hunter in ‘53:

Alias: Marlon Brando
Usually Found: Innocent
Favorite Saying: “Why was I fined?”
Reminds Us Of: Dennis the Menace
Ambition: Be serious
Future Occupation: Undertaker

And in ‘54, his junior year:

Reminds Us Of: Al Capone
Usually Found: Cutting classes
Favorite saying: “Norvin did it.” (That was Norvin Green, who was the guy Hunter used to get to do stuff, like “Norvin, I bet you can’t steal her purse.” “Norvin, I bet you can’t throw a fit.”
Ambition: Peace officer

PORTER BIBB
There were two basic industries in the ’50s in Louisville: tobacco and bourbon. And we knew the people who ran the Brown-Forman distillery. They were part of our circle—Lee Brown, Martin Brown. Martin is now the president of Jack Daniel’s, but he grew up with Hunter and me, and we’d hang out in their houses. If you needed a case of Jack Daniel’s or Early Times, it was always there, because somebody’s father worked at the distillery and got it.

NEVILLE BLAKEMORE
As Hunter got older, the stuff he did seemed to get more and more serious. You might say it switched from pranks to vandalism. There was a group that called themselves the Wreckers—I’ve always suspected Hunter was one of them, but it was never proven—that was behind two serious vandalism incidents in the east end of town. One of them was at Louisville Collegiate School, where they got in and tore the place up as much as they could. And then they vandalized the Highland Presbyterian church—they broke in and cut off the left sleeves of all the choir robes, among other things, and they left a note: “We’re the Wreckers, and we’re here to cause trouble.” Hunter was suspected, and this detective on the Louisville police force, Dodson, was assigned to the case. Someone even put a fake ad in the Athenaeum Spectator that read, “Dodson Is Watching.”

PORTER BIBB
People gave him, when he was growing up, a huge amount of latitude. I mean, he was a real bad boy. I was a real bad boy. Ralston Steenrod, who went to Princeton, was a real bad boy. We had guns in our cars. We shot houses, mailboxes, garbage cans. We shoplifted. I got arrested once. I had something like fourteen car trays in my trunk from the drive-in place that we all used to go for hamburgers. I don’t know why I kept them, but they said, “This is grand larceny. What are you stealing that stuff for?”

We broke into liquor stores. We’d jimmy a lock or break a window. I never paid a hotel bill when I was with Hunter, and it wasn’t his initiative as much as mine. We’d just go out the window or the fire escape. That was just normal.

PAUL SEMONIN
Hunter was a black sheep with the Athenaeum by 1955, his senior year. The Athenaeum was split between his partisans and the people who thought he was a disgrace, and they managed to vote him out.

GERALD TYRRELL
There was a period when I was probably his best friend. And then that stopped. He got in trouble, and my father put him off-limits.

NEVILLE BLAKEMORE
Ralston Steenrod, who was in the Athenaeum with Hunter and me, was driving, and Hunter and another friend Hunter knew from Castlewood were in the car. As they were driving through Cherokee Park, the guy said, “Stop. I want to bum a cigarette from that car.” People used to go park and neck at this spot. And he got out and apparently went back and mugged them.

I don’t know if he beat the guy up, and I don’t know what he said or did, but he came back with the guy’s billfold. I don’t think Hunter and Steenrod had any idea what the guy was going to do. I don’t even know if they knew what he had done when he got back in the car, because if they had, they could have tried to undo it. But the guy who was mugged got their license number and traced the car, and within a very short time they were all three arrested. The police may have come down to Male to take Hunter away in handcuffs. That happened at least one time, though that might have been the gas station robbery.

There were three events in the spring of his senior year. This was the last. Just before this he had been blamed for a nighttime gas station robbery, and before that he and some friends got arrested for buying booze underage at Abe’s Liquor Store on Frankfort Avenue by the tracks.

So Hunter had a record, and he was already on probation for the other two things. He was given an alternative. There was a Judge Logan whose son, George, was in the Athenaeum with us, and Judge Logan went to Hunter’s judge and said, “I know you’ve got to do something, because you’ve already given him an ultimatum of—One more time and you’re going to jail.’ But please give him the ultimatum of jail or the military.” And Hunter took the air force. He didn’t graduate with his class.

PORTER BIBB
Nobody expected that Hunter would have this sort of problem. I mean, I got caught by the cops many times for doing horrible things, but I’d just tell them who I was, and they’d say, “Well, you better shape up. You keep doing this and you’re gonna get in trouble, and I’m going to tell your dad.” But nothing ever happened. Our best friend was the son of the mayor. The two other guys arrested with Hunter—well, one’s father was the ex-DA of the city, and the other one’s father was a very prominent lawyer. If I wanted to put a red light and a siren on my car, I would just tell the mayor’s son, “Charlie, I want one of those things.” It was that kind of a world, and Hunter was a part of that—until that moment right at graduation when the other two guys got sprung by their fathers, and Hunter’s father wasn’t there. Nobody sprung Hunter. He was hung out to dry.

We all dismissed that, but it stayed with Hunter for a long time.

DOUG BRINKLEY
Hunter wrote his mother these very philosophical letters from behind bars. They exude the desperation of a young man in jail looking for his freedom as well as contemplating how the rich get away with dastardly things and the poor don’t—that the buddies that he was with in the Cherokee Park event were waltzing because they knew the judge, and that he was the poor kid on the other side of the railroad tracks with no dad. The game was fixed.

She was an extraordinarily loving, giving mom. They were very, very close. Hunter was running amok, and she didn’t know what to do. She kept two of her sons fairly grounded. Hunter was the loose cannon. There was always a maternal disappointment that she perhaps had failed.

PORTER BIBB
He was such an outgoing, self-initiating guy that as one of his close friends, I never even thought to help. I didn’t even go see him. He was there for a couple of days in a sort of temporary holding cell. It wasn’t even a real jail. He’s made up a lot of stuff about how terrifying it was and that he was worried about being attacked and everything. I think they called it Louisville Children’s Detention Center. Then he had a choice given to him—go to juvenile prison or go into the military—and off he went.

He hadn’t even applied to college, and it was unique that he didn’t. Everybody went to college in the circle he was in, most of them to Ivy League schools. Hunter would probably have been in the top 25 students out of about 250. He didn’t come to class a lot, but we all skipped around.

I remember asking him even before all this happened, “What the fuck are you going to do?” I mean, he could have gone to the University of Louisville or the University of Kentucky almost for free. And he said, “I don’t know. Something. I’ll figure something out.”

LOU ANN ILER
Hunter was sent to jail for ninety days right before graduation, and at that point I really lost touch with him. As I was getting ready to go down to the jail to see him, my mother actually forbade me to do so. Then his probation officer got him released early with the understanding that he would go into the service. So Hunter got out of jail and literally went to the bus station, got on the bus, and went into the air force.

Copyright © 2007 by Wenner Media, LLC
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2 responses

  1. kay Griggs says:

    My husband knew Steenrod and Hill Brown ( a close friend of Steenrods and Thompsons) and had been involved in the same kind of “criminal” activity when in “high school”. This kind of behavior (robbing people,using guns, having sex while totally drunk with teachers who were homosexuals at Princeton and had “highlevel friends” in the “intelligence” community was the norm in Princeton from 1955-59. So much of this is coming out. See “www.Kay Griggs”

  2. kay Griggs says:

    My husband knew Steenrod and Hill Brown ( a close friend of Steenrods and Thompsons) and had been involved in the same kind of “criminal” activity when in “high school”. This kind of behavior (robbing people,using guns, having sex while totally drunk with teachers who were homosexuals at Princeton and had “highlevel friends” in the “intelligence” community) was the norm in Princeton from 1955-59. So much of this is coming out. See “www.Kay Griggs”

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