One man's first-hand account of the historical 1968 DNC riots,
including a rumored encounter with Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
By Matt Brady
August 27, 2008
Editor's Note: A weird craigslist posting a few weeks ago purporting
to offer for sale the 1968 ticket stub used by late gonzo journalist
Hunter S. Thompson to cover the Democratic National Convention in
Chicago led Fort Collins Now to a Denver suburb and a long, rambling
interview with the seller. He claims to have been on the front lines
of the protest zone when police and rioters ran amok. Out of fear
that he remains a target of the government for a checkered
historyinvolving long-standing political activism and drug
chargesthe man insisted on using the pseudonym "Mad Jack."
Although Mad Jack said that he had been involved civil rights
protests long before the Democrats held their convention in Chicago
in 1968, his involvement in that infamous chapter of American history
was little more than a drug-induced blunder, the unexpected result of
a trip to score acid from an old college buddy.
"This was probably late afternoon on Friday, Aug. 23, 1968," he said.
"I went down there to pick up eight hits of purple haze acid."
Mad Jack took one hit and stashed the rest in his jacket pocket
before heading down to Rush Street to check out the pre-convention
The sounds of singing and dancing punctuated by drums banging in the
distance floated through the air. Hippie shops and underground movie
theaters lined the street.
Jack's wife Judy Dunlop, who at the time had yet to meet her future
husband, grew up in Chicago and recalled that the opening festivities
were a joyous affair.
"I went down with a friend on Friday night," she said. "At that point
it was just so warm and friendly and the yippies were coming in and
they had positive messages and of course everyone wanted Eugene
McCarthy to be the candidate. People were excited about it."
The feel-good atmosphere was quickly snuffed when throngs of hardened
protesters mixed with unfortunate bystanders and tangled with police.
There was tear gas and blows from baton-wielding policeman. Mad Jack
recalled seeing the crowds explode into pandemonium as he strolled
along Rush Street, just after the initial hit of purple haze began to
"I was walking and I heard all this noise going on. I was standing up
on this concrete step that had some columns and down below was a pond
about 200, maybe 300, yards away," he said. "There were 120,000
people down there. All of a sudden the cops pulled two police cars
up, got out and left the doors wide open and next thing I know
they're both on fire. That's when the tear gas, the beatings and the
clubbing started. All of a sudden those people were running right at me."
The sight of thousands of frenzied protesters and cops running like
bulls through a spreading cloud of tear gas sent Mad Jack into a
panic. Not wanting to be caught with drugs by berserk cops or risk
losing them should he be trampled by the hysterical crowd, he
snatched the other seven hits of acid from his pocket and swallowed
the lot before bolting in the opposite direction of the mayhem …
But to no avail … the peaceful setting had degenerated on all sides
and there was nowhere to run.
"All hell broke loose. I'm tripping out of my mind," he recalled.
"People are running everywhere. You'd try to run away from it and a
bus would pull up at one block and a cop car at the other and they'd
sort of try and squeeze us in the middle.
"I remember when one of the cops fired one of those old Thompsons and
I could see it hitting the wall behind me. I spent a lot of time
hiding behind a garden shack ..."
In many ways, the showdown between cops and protesters had been
inevitable. Mayor Richard M. Daley had promised a
no-tolerance-attitude toward anyone looking to stir up trouble, and
protesters had promised they wouldn't give any ground either. Both
parties had honored their word in a horrific clash of will and blood
on the streets.
"Mayor Daley wanted to put it down. He was acting like Hitler," Mad Jack said.
What began as a burst of mayhem devolved into a humanitarian crisis
over the weekend, as efforts by police to squash protesters into
submission only ramped up the fervor.
Between Friday and Saturday, Mad Jack fell in as a recruit for a
small army of hippie medics, led by what he said was an ex-lieutenant
fresh from Vietnam out of Lincoln Park. The ragtag medics appointed
themselves in charge of protecting and treating wounded civilians.
"I became a hippie medic sometime in the middle of the night or early
morning. We were located in this fenced-in area of the park," he
said. "I was putting together a kit for myself."
He headed down to Rush Street wearing a World War I pith helmet that
someone had handed him and compiled an emergency kit from what
supplies he could find from stores. He fashioned a scarf and dampened
it with distilled water to keep out the gas.
"I was gassed over 40 times over the period of that week," he said.
Mad Jack recalled the weekend treating people as something of a fog,
literally and figuratively; a persistent haze of gas hung in the air,
and then there was still the dangerous amount of purple haze he had
ingested in one fell swoop, leaving him "high until Monday morning."
"We just did what we could. We called for an ambulance if things were
too bad and made our recommendations and sent them down to our
temporary layout there in the corner (of the park)," he said. "Rumor
was spreading that the Black Panthers were going to attack us but it
On Sunday night, Mad Jack said he was able to break free of the riot
scene and retreat back home about an hour outside of Chicago.
"We lived right off the lake, on the bay. I took a shower, gobbled
down some food and cleaned upI was a messand finally calmed down
enough so I could drive. I picked up some extra stuff and changed my
clothes and went back to it," he said. "I wasn't gone a matter of
hours. At that time it was only about an hour drive. I knew all the
back roads and that Pontiac really went, so I had no trouble and knew
right where to park."
It had been as though he'd never left. Tensions had failed to break.
The situation was getting desperate. And unlike Friday evening, this
time Mad Jack knew he was walking into the belly of the beast. The
ex-lieutenant from Vietnam said Jack was needed down in Grant Park.
He embarked Monday afternoon through the streets with a girl that he
had met in the fray. For better or worse, they stuck together.
"This chick that was sort of hanging with me hung with me through the
whole thingit's not like we were doing anything, we were really too
busy," he said. "Every little store we went by, grocery stores and
drug stores, people were giving us oranges and apples and bread. They
were all behind us. My pith helmet was chock full. They were all
giving iodine, bandages, gauze, distilled water, you name it. The
people were really behind us."
Walking into Grant Park was like walking into a war zone, he said.
Wave after wave of riots bombarded the area. He painted red stripes
on his pith helmet and jacket in hopes that police might recognize
him as a medic and spare him the billy club.
"I still got my fair share of bonks. But I was able to keep myself
from being arrested or surrounded and sealed out and beaten like so
many people," he said.
While avoiding blows, Mad Jack said he spent his time "dragging
people away from all the action" to treat them. He said he had to
take many people down with flying tackles while they were running
scared and bleeding, after which he'd take them to a tree or safe
area to dress wounds.
"It was just one gassing after another."
It stayed that way throughout the week, with one vignette blending
into another. One encounter, however, stood out clearly in Mad Jack's mind.
At the height of Tuesday's madness, when it seemed things couldn't
get worse or stranger, Mad Jack said that he came face to face with a
rambling Hunter S. Thompson. At the time, Thompson was still years
away from writing his epochal book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,
but was in Chicago for the convention to conduct research. He later
wrote that the events there had a profound effect on his political
views and he later made his journalistic career out of exposing the
underbelly of American politics.
"I was dressing a wound after a gassing and a beating and I was
bandaging somebody and helping a few other people," Mad Jack said.
"He (Thompson) came up to me, dressed in this outlandish outfit. I
don't think he had a pith helmet on, I think he had on one of those
soft golfer hats and a fishing vest and shorts, tan shorts and, of
course, a cigarette holder in his mouth and long white socks that
came up almost all the way to his knees, and black shoes.
"He was talking very rapidly and almost incoherently. This guy
definitely stood out of the crowd. He was just chattering at me
saying all kinds of weird things like Hunter Thompson does, calling
them 'bastards' and 'f***heads' and 'gross pigs with their buttons
breaking off their uniforms from too much fat.' He was just going off
at the mouth."
Mad Jack didn't know at the time who Thompson was, but said he has no
doubts that it was the man. In the middle of his rant, Thompson
thrust a magnetic press pass into Mad Jack's hands.
"Here, take this, the real convention is out here," he remembered
Thompson telling him. "Go in and get a shower and get something to
eat and clean up and take a breath." Then Thompson was gone.
He didn't take Thompson up on his suggestion. He wasn't about to
leave his work, he didn't know where the building was, he couldn't
get around the police to make it and lastly, had no idea who the
weirdo was who gave him the pass in the first place. There was too
much happening for him to think about it.
The days passed in a mad, violent blur.
"Then Thursday rolled around and that was the last day for me."
Thursday was shaping up to be something of a party for the hippies;
Mad Jack said that Stokely Carmichael, chairman of the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and prime minister of the
Black Panther Party, was planning a barbecue at his house on the
south side of Chicago.
"He invited 120,000 of his friends," Mad Jack said.
He said that Abbie Hoffman and other protest organizers worked out a
route with the city to Carmichael's house. He recalled jumping into a
white van to drive down Thursday evening. The van never made it to
Carmichael's house and the barbecue never happened.
"We got down the street and lo and behold, there is the National
Guard with jeeps with barbed wire on the front," he said. "It was the
National Guard and the Chicago police and they let people down this
basically closed-in street. I mean there was no way out. They picked
this particular place for the ambush.
"That's where I was Thursday at six, at the ambush spot. Right there."
He said that news crews swarmed the area and that he stopped just
short of going into the enclosed area, afraid of what might lie in
wait. Like a bad dream, the riot machine wound back into full speed.
"This 80-year-old black woman, who was a maid for somebody,
obviously, who lived there, had been gassed and thumped so hard that
her skull was cracked," he said. "I was wrapping her head up as best
as I could."
Things were getting worse and there was no controlling it. Mad Jack
felt too in over his head to stay around.
"One of the last things I remember was the girl that had been with me
all that week was on the other side of the street helping somebody
right next to this alleyan older person," he said. "And I looked
over in time to see this gas bomb hit her square in the face and
explode. And even the CBS people freaked out at that point and left
me to my own devices. So I ran down an alley and just got the hell
out of there and somehow got away from this area and back to Rush St.
where I had my car parked and left."
It was only years later that he surmised who the strange figure was
who offered him his press pass into the convention hall. Since then,
he has devoured everything Thompson ever wrote and watched any film
based on or about the renowned journalist. In his opinion, comedian
Bill Murray did a better impersonation of Thompson in Where The
Buffalo Roam compared to Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las
Vegas. He said he has journals full of his own writing inspired by
In February 1991, Mad Jack had a chance to meet his hero under less
jangled circumstances, at Thompson's old haunt, the Woody Creek
Tavern on the outskirts of Aspen. He asked him whether he remembered
the day. Thompson said he remembered at least being there, and
offered to sign the press pass, but Mad Jack had left it at home.
Nevertheless, he didn't walk away empty-handed; he had a copy of
Thompson's book Songs of the Doomed and Thompson signed that instead,
although it's suspiciously made out to "Skip," which is not Mad
Jack's real name.
Both items are for sale to the highest bidder on Denver's craigslist.
Are they real? Did Mad Jack come about them as he claims?
There's no way to know for sure. But it might be worth the price in
any event, if only for the tales that they come with.