“Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love” by David Talbot— Liberating San Francisco

season of the witch

Talbot, David. “Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love”, Free Press; Reprint edition, 2013.

Liberating San Francisco

Amos Lassen

Between the years of 1967 until 1982, San Francisco was liberated but it came at quite a price. Some called the city a “human carnival” with hippies, drag queens and activists representing the new and the establishment of the Old Catholic guard on the other side. Familiar names are Janis Joplin, Patty Hearst, Jim Jones, Harvey Milk, and Bill Walsh. David Talbot, the man who began Salon Magazine gives us quite a look of what went on in the City of Love during that turbulent time but he also is a believer that the values of San Francisco changed the world. He looks at the transformation of the city in both its violence and its glory.

There was crime alongside of football shutdowns and a lot went on behind the scenes that locals probably do not know about. He does maintain that it was Dianne Feinstein who resurrected the city.

The book begins in 1932 with the story of district attorney Frank Egan who ordered a hit on a local woman and we see the corruption in the legal and justice system and the power of what is known in the South as the old boys’ club. Vince Hallinam who was Egan’s defense attorney, his wife, Vivian and their six sons actually are seen throughout the book and act as connecting links throughout the narrative.

We skip ahead fairly quickly into the 1960s, with mentions of Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and the early flower children and the summer of love, including early narratives of musicians like Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, and the free-flowing drugs at the time.  We are reminded of Patty Hearst and the SLA, drug addicts, the Zebra killers, and mention of Anton LeVey, Susan Atkins and Charles Manson.  Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple are discussed at length especially how completely Jones fooled most of political San Francisco.

Politicians are described, including Joe Alioto, Art Agnos, and George Moscone. As the gay population grows in San Francisco, the well-loved Harvey Milk comes forward. Dan White’s assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone is detailed, as is Dianne Feinstein’s rise as a managerial mayor who is able to hold the splintered city together. The San Francisco 49ers are legendary and time is spent on their suddenly becoming serious contenders under Walsh and Montana.

The final part of the book describes the sudden terror of the AIDS epidemic (when no one knew what was happening), and the heroism and charity which arose during those times.

The book is informative, well written, informative, and entertaining. But it is a strange exercise to read, written by someone with a great deal of knowledge but not a native of the city. The story is told with great ease, but flawed because of bias and missing parts of history.  What was missing was that in the 60s, the city was dangerous and their seemed to be crime everywhere.