A party for the people

  • Logo of the Bastille Family


Late on the afternoon of July 14, about three dozen people gathered at a Salt Lake City park to celebrate the 30th anniversary of an unusual family reunion.

Dubbed the Bastille Family Reunion, this party got its start after the People's Park incident in Berkeley, Calif., in 1969, when cities around the country banned large gatherings in their public parks. In Salt Lake City, one young man found a way around that city's ordinance. Richard Hart noticed that the city granted permits to families for reunions - and that non-Mormon families even had alcohol and music at their parties.

So in 1970, Hart applied for and received a permit for the Bastille Family Reunion, named in honor of the French mob that stormed the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789. About 400 or 500 people showed up for the celebration of counterculture values where alcohol and live music flowed and the Anarchists played the Terrorists in a softball game.

The anti-war movement in Utah was so small that it was practically a family, says Hart. "Most of us got arrested together," he says. Since then, the Bastille Family Reunion has become the stuff of urban legend. One year, the cops showed up ready to shut down the party. They eventually left frustrated, however, when everyone claimed the last name of Bastille.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the presence of a few gray beards, this year's party had the same spunk. Alcohol was banned, but a "special Bastille punch" was served. A band that sounded like the Grateful Dead played while people from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Nashville danced and caught up on old times. And a volleyball game between AA and AARP was planned (players could choose their teams).

Hart was perhaps the most mild-mannered and bookish-looking person at this year's event - in spite of the upside-down U.S. flag stuck to his shirt and the gas mask he donned at one point. He currently lives in Seattle where he works as a legal consultant to Native American tribes; he refers to himself as a "blue-collar scholar."

As for the partygoers, they have maintained their counterculture openness and friendliness. One woman, who referred to herself as Kathy Bastille, was surprised to find a High Country Newser at the party and quipped, "If you give us a good review, I'll get you stoned."

The author is a former HCN intern who now reports for the Park Record in Park City, Utah.

Copyright © 2000 HCN and Tim Westby

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