Barbara’s 1968


Originally posted in 2017.


I bought Barbara’s Bookstore from Barbara Siegel Markowitz – exactly fifty years ago. Or maybe it was 1967.My law partner, David Baylor, asked me to be his campaign manager that year. He was running as the anointed Democrat against incumbent RepublicanDonald Rumsfeld – yes, Rumsfeld – in the Illinois 13th congressional district. I did it and succeeded in maneuvering Dave to a 73% to 27% loss.

Don Barliant, president and co-owner of Barbara’s Bookstores

1968 was the year that Robert Kennedy was assassinated; the year of riots in Chicago, DC, Baltimore, Wilmington, Kansas City, Detroit and some 31 other American cities following the April 4th assassination of Martin Luther King. I saw parts of Chicago’s west side burning to the ground. Oh yes, Andy Warhol was shot in 1968 – but he survived. And it was the year many believe we lost the war in Vietnam in the aftermath of the Tet offensive and the massacre at Hue. It was the year that Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Romney, Nelson Rockefeller, Harold Stassen, Robert Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace ran for president. All of them were encouraged by the withdrawal of Lyndon Johnson on March 31st as a candidate for reelection. LBJ’s dramatic announcement came at the end of a televised talk to the nation about Vietnam.

On August 28th, during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, city police attacked anti-war protesters in Grant Park across from the Conrad Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Amongst those who were hurt, was a billy-clubbed young woman named Janet Bailey.  Janet, my partner and wife, has been an owner of Barbara’s for more than 40 years. Taken to a temporary emergency treatment site, she lay in a cot next to Rennie Davis, one of the Chicago Eight anti-war activists who would soon be tried for conspiracy and inciting riots. 

Abbie Hoffmanwas another of the Chicago Eight. He kept his personal belongings in a cardboard box at Barbara’s on Wells Street. Bobby Seale, founder along with Huey P. Newton, of the Black Panthers was one of the infamous group. The others were Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden (once married to Jane Fonda), John Froines and Lee Weiner. They were joined during their convention war protests by Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and French poet Jean Genet.

On the same day as the Battle of Michigan Avenue, Senator Abraham Ribicoffof Massachusetts placed the name of George McGovern in nomination. During his convention speech, Senator Ribicoff said that, “With George McGovern as President of the United States we wouldn’t have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago.” Mayor Daley exploded in anger, shook his fists at Ribicoff and yelled “f*** you.”

In November 1968, the very day my law partner lost to Don Rumsfeld, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew defeated Hubert Humphrey and Edwin Muskie by 1% of the vote. That year, George Wallace and his V-P running mate Curtis LeMay carried five southern States. General LeMay had been the hawkish commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) from 1948 to 1957, overseeing the deployment of a large part of our a-bomb arsenal. In the end, Illinois and California were critical to Nixon’s victory. 

We also waited for an hour or so in the reception room of Senator Abraham Ribicoff’s office. We were there to get a picture with him as a not very subtle appeal to the Jewish voters of Skokie, IL. Dana was the senator’s receptionist – remember, it was 1968 – blond and wearing a micro-mini skirt. Dana moved into Dave’s apartment in Chicago six weeks later and immediately became my first Barbara’s Bookstore manager – after the original Barbara.

I hope to write more about Barbara’s in the coming weeks. For those of you still around, I am interested in your recollections of Barbara’s and Chicago in the ’60s and ’70s.

Don Barliant is the president and co-owner of Barbara's Bookstores.