Monday, July 21, 2014

Today in motorcycle history, July 21, 1947

Today in motorcycle history: Today in motorcycle history, July 21, 1947

Today in motorcycle history, July 21, 1947




  Life Magazine publishes the photo that starts the biker myth.

  Many more motorcyclists than expected flood the small town of Hollister, California, on the Fourth of July weekend of 1947 to watch the annual AMA Gypsy Tour rally as well as to socialize and drink. A few of the bikers got out of control and caused a ruckus in town, although when all was said and done the only real damage was reportedly to 7 motorcycles and 3 of the bikers (2 broken legs and a fractured skull).  Nearly four-thousand people attended the Rally and 47 people were arrested, most with misdemeanors such as public intoxication, reckless driving, and disturbing the peace. If my math is correct that is 1.175 percent. Riot?

  The small incident, known afterwards as the 'Hollister riot', was sensationalized by the press when two articles were published in the San Francisco Chronicle titled "Havoc in Hollister" and "Hollister's Bad Time" They reported bikers "taking over the town" and "pandemonium" in Hollister. The strongest dramatization of the event was a staged photo of a drunken man sitting on a motorcycle surrounded by beer bottles. It was published in the July 21, 1947 issue of Life magazine and it brought national attention and negative opinion to the event and bikers in general. The media and their depiction of the "riot" in Hollister helped to give rise to the outlaw biker image.

   Life Magazine was known for relying heavily on graphic images and sparse explanatory text, kind of like FOX news. The article included a nearly full-page photo but, just a 115-word insert of text at the bottom of the page and the headline, "Cyclist's Holiday: He and Friends Terrorize Town." Gus Deserpa is the man that can be seen in the background of the photograph (see top pic), he was interviewed after the Hollister riot, "I saw two guys scraping all these bottles together that had been lying in the street. Then they positioned a motorcycle in the middle of the pile. After a while this drunk guy comes staggering out of the bar, and they got him to sit on the motorcycle, and started to take his picture." The lucky man was later identified as Eddie Davenport, a member of the Tulare Riders Motorcycle Club.

  The AMA released a statement saying that they had no involvement with the Hollister riot, and, "the trouble was caused by the one percent deviant that tarnishes the public image of both motorcycles and motorcyclists" and that the other ninety-nine percent of motorcyclists are good, decent, law-abiding citizens. The AMA's statement led to the term 'One-Percenter' being proudly used to describe "outlaw" motorcycle clubs.