Saturday, 2 July 2016

Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre

I’m about 6 weeks late but here it is: blog post number 2. As promised, this time I will be discussing an event which piqued my interest because of the sad lack of information about it on the internet: the Bear Mountain picnic massacre.

If you look up the phrase “bear mountain picnic massacre” in google it is highly unlikely you will get any real results for this event, unless maybe you trawl through pages and pages of search results. But let’s be real, no one has time for that. (Side note – a Yahoo answers page comes up when you search this where the “best answer” has given some information about a battle which is supposedly this event. They are incorrect, that is not what happened at all.)   
The lack of search results for this event is accredited to the legend himself, Bob Dylan. In 1961 he wrote a song titled “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues”. Give the song a listen HERE if you wish. The ‘talking’ and ‘blues’ part of this song title refers to the style of this song, talking blues, which is a form of folk and country music. Dylan wrote this song in honour of his idol Woody Guthrie. Clearly however, the ‘Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre’ part of the title refers to the event in question. While the song is entertaining, it is not factually accurate in the slightest. He actually wrote it after being handed an article about the event, and was amused enough by it he wrote the song overnight and presented it to his friend Noel Stookey (if you don’t recognise the name he sung puff the magic dragon lmao). The song includes apparent happenings such as 6000 people arriving to the picnic, a sinking boat, and his character in the song “busting” his head and “cracking” his stomach. While not at all accurate to the story, it is a humorous spin on the event, and paints the feeling of chaos at the scene greatly.

So what actually happened? A picnic was organised for father’s day in Harlem, New York on Sunday the 18
th of June, 1961. In order to attend the event, partakers had to buy tickets, as there was a boat ride which could take only 3000 people from the 134th Street up the Hudson River to Bear Mountain.  However, things went sour when instead of the designated 3000 people arriving for the boat ride, 4000 people were awaiting the boat at 9am on Sunday to take them to Bear Mountain. This was due to the work of three teenagers; Joseph Osbourne (19), Arnold Cherry (19), and Philip Clayton (18), who had produced and sold 1000 counterfeit tickets for the event.

Tensions rose on the pier as the boat, the Hudson Belle, was delayed from arriving. Word spread that 1000 false tickets had been sold for just $3 to some picnic goers. When the Hudson Belle arrived an hour late, 40 policemen were on hand to diffuse the already chaotic scene. They however, were useless when the gangplanks were dropped. The frantic crowds surged forwards, everybody desperate to secure their rightful place on the boat ride. 60 people were trampled or fainted. 9 were carried off to hospital, and 50 were treated at the pier. Around 2500 people managed to fight their way on board before Captain George Barry cancelled the trip and ordered everybody off in the face of the overwhelming chaos. Beer cans, bottles and insults were hurled at the captain and his crew as the angry crowds left.

The three teenagers responsible for the counterfeit tickets and the ensuing pandemonium were arrested later that day.

And so you have been blessed with the true story of the Bear Mountain Massacre. Originally, when I was assigned to research this event in history I was given only the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s song Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues. After literally hours of research and an insane trip through a Bob Dylan fan page, did I find out the name of the boat. I then looked up “Hudson Belle father’s day” and BOOM three news articles. If you want to see these articles, which are also the references I used to write this post (and do my history homework) you can find them here, here, and here.

Thank you for reading this. See you next week with my next post (or whenever I feel like posting, more accurately)



  1. Hi SH,
    i heard the Dylan's song for the first time in, my life yesterday and found the event intriguing. So did what you did and googled it but couldn't find anything, except references to the song.
    But then i found this blogpost! So you did part of the job for me now!:) Thanks a lot. I'm gonna look at the three articles!:)

  2. Outstanding write up. I have known the song for a long, long time (being a Dylan fan). I have read about the incident years ago but wanted to read about it again. Great job!