On August 15, 1969, the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, often described as a landmark counterculture event, opened on Max Yasgur's farm near Bethel, N.Y., drawing an estimated 400,000 people for three days of music. File Photo by Mark Goff/Wikipedia
WHITE LAKE -- Tens of thousands of young music fans today began abandoning the muddy chaos of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
Advertised as three days of "peace and music," the fair in this Catskill community has turned into a massive traffic jam in a giant mud puddle that has resulted in the death of one youth and the hospitalization of scores of others, many of them suffering adverse drug reactions.
"There's no reason to stay," said one bitter young man as he picked his way through stalled traffic on one highway that was used as a feeder road for the fair.
Early today, promoters of the rock and folks music extravaganza which had drawn an estimated 300,000 youths from throughout the United States issued an emergency appeal for volunteer doctors and medical supplies to cope with the large number of sick.
Additional sheriff's deputies were brought from neighboring Dutchess and Rockland counties to aid state police and Sullivan Count deputies who have had to cope with food and water shortages as well as mud and rain, health problems and traffic conditions.
Late this morning, an unidentified youth sleeping in a sleeping bag in a muddy field was killed by a tractor which ran over him. The sleeping bag was said to be so discolored by the mud the tractor driver was unable to distinguish the youth from the surrounding marsh.
Even with the chaos and the continuing heavy rain, a crowd of at least 200,000 was gathering at noon for the first act of today's scheduled 12-hour pop concert. The opening was put off an hour, however, and there was some question whether it would start at all.
Earlier, Dr. Donald Goldecker, medical officer of the fair, said a 40-seat Mohawk Airlines plane had been chartered to bring volunteer doctors and emergency medical supplies from New York City to the fair, which is being held on a 600-acre dairy farm.
Goldecker asked for doctors who were familiar with the drug scene since so many of the sick were suffering from ill effects of drug use. He also specifically called for medical supplies used to relieve these effects, such as heavy tranquilizers and antispasmodics.
But Goldecker also said general antibiotics were needed as well as tetanus vaccine and antihistamines for asthma sufferers. He said fair promoters were considering calling on Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller for help, possibly by declaring the entire region of Sullivan County where the air was being held a disaster area.
Rockefeller's office in Albany said it had received a few complaints from citizens but no formal requests for aid.
Goldecker said medical volunteers and supplies would have to be flown into the festival by helicopter, since all roads leading to the site have been jammed with stalled traffic for 24 hours.
Adding to the problem was a steady rain and Goldecker said he feared the thousands of young people would soon start contracting colds, viruses and pneumonia perhaps in epidemic proportions.
One observer said there were "sick people all over the place." On Friday night, an unidentified youth who appeared to be "high" on drugs, climbed to the top of an 80-foot lighting scaffold and either fell or jumped, breaking his back. He was taken to a hospital by helicopter, as were other seriously ill persons.
Hospitals throughout the area were reported to have been filled to capacity since Friday night.
Few of the thousands had shelter, most sleeping on the grounds of the farm in the open. There also were shortages of food and water.
Eight first aid sites were set up and special quarters were created to handle the seriously ill, a festival spokesman said.
The Sullivan County Red Cross and Civil Defense organizations rushed drugs and other medical supplies to the area. Several hundred persons were reportedly treated since the festival gathering started Thursday. The performances began Friday.
State police said the situation was "chaotic" but fairly peaceful.
Local farmers complained to police that corn and vegetable fields have been stripped of their produce as the fans sought to make do in the wake of a shortening food supply.
The enormous crowd was much larger than expected and Friday night the promoters joined with local police officials in a plea to those who might have still been planning to drive to the fair to remain at home.
The crowd was drawn to the festival by some of the biggest names in rock and folk music. The performers have had nearly as many problems as the spectators. They had to be brought in by helicopter and the first day's performance, which was to have continued until 4 a.m. today, was stopped soon after midnight.
The traffic jame spread in all directions from White Lake, part of the Town of Bethel. Cars were backed up bumper to bumper, many of them stalled, for 15 miles outside the festival grounds. A journey of a few miles from any of the feeder roads to the grounds required four to five hours and New York City, 100 miles away, was an eight-hour trip.
Just before dawn, a state trooper stationed on the grounds shook his head wearily and said:
"We couldn't get an ambulance or a tow truck in or out of here if we had to."
John Morris, director of operations for the festival, said by way of explaining the crowd that "something happened, something snapped. Every kid in the world is here."
Many did not pay the $7 for one day of concerts or $18 for the whole weekend because the mass of people went right through the fences. The fair promoters promised they would end "the free right" today, but by mid-morning they apparently had given up that idea.
They said they had stopped even trying to ask for tickets, but would continue the music as a kind of therapy to keep the huge crowd as calm as possible.
The festival has created a special problem for the Yasgur farm.
The problem: What do you do with the 450 cattle which normally reside on the rolling farm pastures?
"Well, we try to fence off an area, just for the three days, but the people who are going to stay here and camp tore up the fence," said George Peavey, an employee of the Yasgur operation.
"So, we just let the cows out with the campers and they seem to be getting along together fine."
Has there been any trouble?
"We haven't had a bit of trouble with these kids.
"Only one I found were two New York City policemen who were up here a couple of days ago thinking they were going to work on the security police force.
"Found them both sleeping in the barn, and I had to run them out," Peavey said.