January 15, 2006

Beat movement honored at new San Francisco museum

By Philipp Gollner

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Beat Museum, a tribute to the
literary generation that helped inspire the 1960s
counterculture, has opened in the San Francisco neighborhood
where the movement took off 50 years ago.

At just 1,000 square feet, the museum brings together aging
manuscripts, letters, artwork, posters and first editions in
the North Beach neighborhood where writers such as Jack Kerouac
and Allen Ginsberg lived, socialized and gave poetry readings.

A rare second edition of Ginsberg's poem "Howl," which
ignited the Beat movement when the author gave a public reading
of it at the Six Gallery in the city's Cow Hollow district in
1955, is on display in a glass case.

"This is Beat central," said museum founder Jerry Cimino, a
former IBM computer salesman who promotes the Beat mystique on
his Web site, www.kerouac.com, and spent a year traveling the
United States in his "Beatmobile," a 1987 Airstream trailer
filled with Beat memorabilia. "North Beach is where it

The museum was formerly housed in Monterey, California. It
opened on Friday with a tribute to Carolyn Cassady, the
82-year-old widow of Neal Cassady, whose travels with Kerouac
inspired "On the Road," Kerouac's classic Beat novel published
in 1957. Kerouac died in 1969.


Visitors crowded into the Grant Avenue museum on Saturday,
discovering, or rediscovering, the groundbreaking free-form
style that challenged literary conventions, helped spur the
1960s counterculture movement and influenced artists, musicians
and such groups as the hippies.

"This was a generation that cared about something," said
Jessica Variz, 24, who traveled 400 miles from Los Angeles to
see the museum. "They were my age, traveling across the
country, writing on napkins. Nobody does that anymore."

John Donovan and his wife, Mary Jo, stumbled across the
museum after lunching at a nearby restaurant. "Kerouac and the
others really changed my life, my direction," said John
Donovan, 62, of San Mateo, California, as his wife headed for
the cash register to buy a copy of Kerouac's "The Scripture of
the Golden Eternity."

"He's talking to me here," Mary Jo Donovan, 59, said of a
passage in the text that reads: "Nothing was ever born. Nothing
will ever die."

Cimino, 51, said he caught the Beat bug in 1968 as an
eighth-grader at a suburban Baltimore Roman Catholic school
when an English teacher gave a reading of an untitled Lawrence
Ferlinghetti poem that used a loose, conversational and
irreverent tone to tell the story of Jesus Christ.

"For somebody to talk about Christ in that fashion, it just
knocked me out, it just blew me away," Cimino said.

The museum's opening weekend also featured a display of a
36-foot (11-meter) portion of Kerouac's 120-foot (37-meter)-
long scrolled manuscript for "On the Road" at the San Francisco
Public Library.