Free

It’s true—nothing IS free—you don’t have to pay a thing for nothing! Or maybe the wall is being given away.

Just joking…

This picture was shot last January at the McGuffey Arts Center in Charlottesville, VA. Usually there’s stuff laying there under this sign (which is on the wall to your left as you enter the building from the south entrance). Junk is what’s lying there–things the artists in the building want to get rid of but of course don’t want to send to a land-fill—things like busted pallets, buckets, small (broken) furniture, drapes. I never saw anything lying there I wanted. I suspect most of it does wind up in the land fill.

It reminds me very much of a similar sign which was nailed to a huge Pine tree in front of the home of Evans Lyon (not his real name) who lived at the lower end of Big Thompson Canyon in Larimer County, Colorado many years ago. I never could decide if he was trying to give away the tree or something else.

I never spoke to Evans—I did see him once getting his mail from his mail box by the highway—Rte 34–which ran down through the canyon from the Rocky Mountain town of Estes Park and on to the plains outside of Loveland. I heard from various sources Evans moved into a cabin just above the river sometime in the summer of 1969—sometimes remembered as the “Woodstock Summer.”

Even before tending to any maintenance (which the cabin was sorely in need of) he began putting up a bunch of large, crudely hand-painted signs in clear view of the highway declaring his residence to be, “The Chapel of Jesus.” One sign stated “24 hour prayer vigil,” another asked “Where will you spend eternity?” Other signs nailed to trees and fence posts said things like, “Help me defeat Satan—donations accepted,” and “Baby-murdering doctors and politicians and IRS people will burn in hell” (that one required 2 sheets of plywood.) I also seem to remember one that said something about supporting the troops. That was during the Vietnam war but Evans’ sentiments were a bit unclear as a sign directly next to it declared,“Remember the Alamo.”

The sign that seemed most ironic was the one that said, “Suffer the little children to come onto me,” in view of the fact Evans was several times charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor (Source, Estes Park Intelligencer).

A local told me Evans seemed always to be after attention. On a few occasions he tethered large (8 feet or so in diameter) advertising balloons over his place with spotlights shining on them after dark. Signs on the sides of the balloons stated, “The Rapture is coming.” On another occasion he stood out by the highway dressed and made-up to look like Jesus holding a cardboard sign up to passing cars in the morning declaring “The kingdom of God is at hand,” and in the afternoon held out a sign that said “John 3:16.”

The last time I drove by Evan’s home, probably in the fall of 1971, he had painted his home with red and white horizontal stripes and painted blue stars in a line around the house just under the eaves.

On July 31, 1976, the Big Thompson Canyon was the site of a flash flood that swept down the steep and narrow canyon, claiming the lives of 143 people, 5 of whom were never found. This flood was triggered by a nearly stationary thunderstorm near the upper section of the canyon that dumped 12 inches of rain in less than 4 hours. Around 9 PM a wall of water more than 20 ft high raced down the canyon at about 14 mph, destroying 400 cars, 418 houses and 52 businesses and washing out most of U.S. Route 34.

A few months after the flood I got a note from a friend who moved to Estes Park a few years after I left. Among some other bits of news he said Evans and his house were eradicated–there wasn’t even a trace of the cabin foundation left. The only thing left to mark the place where his house had been was the big pine tree—uprooted and over-turned—but the sign “Free” was still nailed to it.

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2 Responses to “Free”

  1. Larry Blackwood Says:

    Maybe it’s just my drug-ravaged brain messing me up, but I believe 1967, not 1969 was the summer of love. Peace, man.

  2. orion Says:

    You’re right–I think. I looked up the term in Wikipedia and the article opens with this: The Summer of Love was a social phenomenon that occurred during summer of 1967 and closed with Woodstock summer of 1969, when as many as 100,000 people converged on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, creating a cultural and political rebellion.

    How can a summer last 2 years?

    Anyway–I’ll delete the phrase and insert “Woodstock Summer” I guess I was thinking the Woodstock Summer and Summer of love were synonymous.

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