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They Were Lost
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2020-05-06

            They were lost.

            A caravan of 38 school busses and other assorted vehicles, converted into campers and carrying 150 travelers, had lost its way on a trip from Rhode Island to Georgia.

The south parking lot of the one-year-old Upper Perkiomen High School became the overnight home for the caravan of travelers.  The visitors were welcomed to the area on Saturday morning by more than 100 local residents.

            The group of wanderers began their cross-country journey in California.  They ranged in age from infants to middle-aged.  They wore flowers in their long hair, beads around their necks, and bell-bottomed pants.  The message on their vehicles was one of

The leader of the caravan, Stephen Gaskins,

and those who traveled with him, started the

commune known as "The Farm" in Tennessee.

Gaskins was a Marine veteran of the Korean

Conflict who wrote several books, including

"The Caravan" which is a compilation of the

transcripts from the meetings of his group's

historic 8,000 mile journey in 1970. 

love and peace.

            They came into town on a Friday night, one week before Christmas Day, 1970.  It was late, and they had nowhere to spend the night.

            Looking for a place to park overnight, they were approached by Red Hill Police Chief Henry Erb.  What happened next was a happening and how the people were treated by the calm and the curious in a Pennsylfawnish-Dietsche community was a learning experience for all.

            Erb knew that finding overnight parking on narrow borough streets or local back roads would not work so he contacted Upper Perkiomen School Superintendent Dr. Donald Thompson.

            He asked for permission to use the south parking lot of the slightly over one-year-old high school to corral the caravan so they had a safe place to stay.  Forcing them to find another place just wouldn't work at night, so "Doc" Thompson agreed with Erb that the south parking lot of the high school would be a safe overnight haven for them.

            On Saturday morning the group's leader, Stephen Gaskins, was able to contact someone from their original weekend destination.  A person to guide them to the location was dispatched to lead the caravan there, but he would not arrive till mid-afternoon.

            By now bathrooms became a concern.  Thompson realized that forcing the people to scatter to local businesses would become a problem so he ordered the

Dr. Donald Thompson

bathrooms in the corridor by the auditorium opened under school supervision.  Bathroom facilities at the northern end of the building were being used by recreational basketball and swimming facilities, so they were off-limits.

            Word spread quickly throughout the community and by mid-morning, more than a hundred people from the area descended on the out-of-town visitors.  The "locals" were curious.  They didn't come to protest or throw the visitors out.  They came to visit, mingle and learn. 

            Throughout the encampment, people were meeting and greeting.  Sit-downs were happening everywhere.  This writer was there and experienced the good-will happening.  It was a time when a handshake and pat on the back meant something.  Learning was important – distancing wasn't.  Fear didn't overcome the desire for knowledge of our guests.

            They looked like a group of "hippies" (they didn't like being referred to as that) but nobody cared.  They were visitors and we were glad to meet ya!

            As it turns out, they were a religious band, dedicated to combatting the trend of youth towards atheism and disrespect for law.  They didn't use tobacco, whiskey or drugs.

            Their nation-wide tour of colleges and communities, where riots and trouble occurred, began on October 12.  It was scheduled to end at Emory University in Georgia.

            Gaskins emphasized that the group had a feeling of being better able to communicate with troubled youth than older clergy and government authorities.

            The group toured Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio and Rhode Island.  Its last stop was in Philadelphia before they lost the way.

            It was reported that Upper Perkiomen school officials, concerned for school property, were amazed at the consequences as the rest stop drew to a close.

            The visitors asked for mops and other cleaning materials and when the departing time came at 3 p.m. on Saturday, the restrooms and corridors sparkled.  Not an item of debris was found in the parking lot and none of the vehicles left the parking lot and marred the lawns.

            School workers disinfected the area, a usual procedure after any public use, and their feeling was that this was an unusual type of visitor.

            A bit of humor came early on from the concerns of Thompson and building maintenance supervisor Harold Romeike when they were asked to open the janitor's closet.  A stack of 38 rolls of toilet paper was stored in the closet.

            Both men assumed personal responsibility to replace any missing rolls of toilet paper after the visitors left.  Once the guests departed and all 38 rolls were still remaining, they felt it was a concrete fact as to the type of visitors who had been permitted to use the facilities.

            The guide arrived to take the group to the intended destination in Carversville, northeast of Doylestown in Bucks County.

            At 2:55 p.m. Gaskins gave the signal and the caravan moved west on 11th Street then south on Main St.

            On Sunday and Monday. East Greenville Police Chief Dan Weidner drove the route to Carversville looking to guide any stragglers or lost vehicles to their Bucks County destination.

            A call to the New Hope police at noon on Monday confirmed that the group had successfully set up camp.

            The report of the December visitors and their Upper Perkiomen welcome was reported in the Christmas Eve edition of the Town and Country.


 

 

 

 

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