How the Deal Really Went Down: Behind the scenes with San Francisco Digger (and counterculture Zelig) HARVEY KORNSPAN

Emmett Grogan, Harvey Kornspan and Richard Brautigan at an Artists Liberation Front meeting, 1967. Photo by Lisa Law, courtesy Harvey Kornspan.

I first interviewed Harvey Kornspan in August, 2010, after I had traveled hundreds of miles to interview many other Diggers in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento and further up the coast, deep in northern California’s Emerald Triangle. This was a bit strange, given that Harvey lives in Silver Lake, less than two miles from the Atwater Village bungalow I was rented until 2008. For years I had been researching the Diggers, and there Harvey was all along, just a hop away.

But Harvey was not just a Digger, and he wasn’t just a local. Because unlike every other Digger I’ve ever met or contacted, before or since, Harvey had kept the figurative and literal receipts of the era. So not only did he have his wonderful memories — more of less: it was the ’60s, let’s be reasonable — but he also had unpublished letters, manuscripts, broadside drafts and business documents, as well as a sizable collection of flyers, newspapers, and other ephemera, which he was happy to share. (Some of them are shown here. Harvey is a mensch.)

For the uninitiated: in 2022, yes, the Diggers are little-known. But in 1966-8, such was the Diggers’ presence and notoriety that seemingly every reporter filing a story on the Haight included the Diggers in their account. “A band of hippie do-gooders,” said Time magazine. “A true peace corps,” wrote local daily newspaper columnist (and future Rolling Stone editor) Ralph J. Gleason. The Beatles’ press officer Derek Taylor would later write, “[The Diggers] were in my opinion the core of the whole underground counterculture because they were our conscience.”

So, as the counter-culture came into being, the Diggers were there, the Diggers were important, the Diggers were well-known, but crucially, though they acted in public, the Diggers were anonymous. Nobody knew who they were, where they came from, or how they did what they did. In short, they had a mystique: a group of LSD-fueled street anarchists with a philosophy/practice of “everything is free / do you own thing.”

I recently came across a March 1967 article from the Foghorn, a student newspaper published by the University of San Francisco, a private Jesuit school, that summed up the Diggers vibe succinctly:

The sign on the door said, “You are a digger.” About 50 people had accepted the invitation and moved into the house high in the hills over the Haight-Ashbury.

A cauldron of stew was cooking in the kitchen. The stew, eventually, would be trucked down to the Panhandle, free for anyone with a bowl and a spoon. No one know for sure who brings the food that goes into the stew. Some is donated, some bought, some stolen. The stew would be good today; someone had brought two chickens.

It’s all the work of the Diggers, a mysterious, amorphous group in the Haight-Ashbury dedicated to given things away free and “doing their thing.” They have been evicted from more than half a dozen flats, apartments, and store fronts in the six months of their existence in San Francisco.

One place of refuge is the All Saints Episcopal Church on Waller, where Father Leon Harris has let the Diggers use his church kitchen to prepare the food for the Panhandle for three weeks now.

“The Diggers are industrious, cheerful and benevolent,” he said. “They also give away free clothing and find lodging for homeless people. It seems to me they put a lot of professing Christians to shame by their goodness.”

What follows is a consolidation of various conversations with Harvey, which, to some degree, builds on my previously posted Diggers oral histories, and, as it includes the inside story of why the Altamont disaster happened, offers something of a conclusion. So, many incidents and personages are spoken of without context, or only in passing. My advice to the casual-but-curious reader is to simply let any unfamiliar/unexplained bits pass. Keep reading, you might get something out of the next part.

This is the tenth interview in my series of Diggers’ oral histories; the others are accessible here. For more detailed information on the Diggers, consult Eric Noble’s vast archive at  

I have incurred not insignificant expenses in my Diggers research through the years. If you would like to support my work, please make a donation in my PayPal TipJar. All contributions, regardless of size, are greatly appreciated. Thank you!

— Jay Babcock (, July 27, 2022

Jay Babcock: Where’d your grow up?

Harvey Kornspan: I was born in Youngstown, Ohio. My dad sold used cars, had a very successful business. Not rich, middle class. Jewish, both sides. My mom was a homemaker. I have a sister who’s four years older and a brother with Down Syndrome.

Continue reading “How the Deal Really Went Down: Behind the scenes with San Francisco Digger (and counterculture Zelig) HARVEY KORNSPAN”

“Diggers Just Don’t Dig Money” (UPI, March 20, 1967)

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Diggers Just Don’t Dig Money

Desert Sun, Volume 40, Number 195, 20 March 1967

SAN FRANCISCO (UPI)-A man touches a match to a $10 bill and watches it burn with no regrets.

“We don’t always burn money,” he says. “Sometimes we eat it.”

He is a Digger, a special breed of the Hip crowd dedicated to the proposition that money is an unnecessary evil.

The Diggers also frown on working at conventional jobs, which they consider to be a bore and dehumanizing. Their home is that area of San Francisco known as Haight-Ashbury and populated by thousands of Hippies whose tastes run to weird dress, LSD and marijuana.

“Not wanting money—wanting to be poor—and giving everything away blows everybody’s mind,” explains a Digger.

The giving takes the form of free hot meals served daily to all comers in Golden Gate Park, edging on the city’s fast-changing Haight-Ashbury district, which seems to have become the Hippies’ national capital.

If you don’t have a place to stay, the Diggers will take you to mattresses scattered on floors of their low-rent flats in the district’s Victorian homes.

The Diggers, who materialized after the San Francisco race riots, are predicting the Haight-Ashbury will be overwhelmed this summer by up to 50,000 jobless sympathizers.

Their expectation stems from the district’s growing fame, enough to attract sight-seeing buses and cause hopeless traffic jams.

And so the Diggers are spreading the message that the newcomers will need to be cared for—by the Hippies.

The task is not easy for such a loosely organized group as the Diggers, named after 17th century English farmers who tilled wastelands and gave away their surplus.

Actually, the present-day Diggers accept some money gifts, but only in small amounts and to meet an immediate need. Then, they say, it always comes.

Food and clothing is obtained by begging, which the Diggers hold to be an ancient and honorable endeavor.

Their fruit and vegetables are leftovers gathered in the produce market. Bread and meat is panhandled from various stores.

Use of an 80-acre farm has been acquired in the Sierra Nevada, and some “victory gardens” are being cultivated in the city.

From these sources, supplies come for several hundred free meals a day. At San Francisco’s recent “Human “Be-In,” a Hippie happening which attracted 15,000, Diggers passed out 5,000 free sandwiches.

The Diggers live in crowded communal flats crowded with unequal numbers of boys and girls, mainly aged under 25. All things are shared, including sexual favors. Their dress is as bizarre as other Hippies’—girl-length hair and beards on men, earrings and boots on women, and odd garments of the 19th century. The attire declares the wearer’s rejection of the whole “straight” world.

“Our principal goal is to show people how to live together,” says a one-time Hell’s Angel and reformed robber. “The atmosphere of peace is the first thing that hits people when they come to the Haight-Ashbury. It’s a psychedelic trip.”

The speaker thinks his experimenting with LSD has done him more good “than 10 psychiatrists.”

To all this, San Francisco’s established community has mixed reactions, mostly unfriendly. Some church leaders are envious of the Diggers’ good works, and ladies in Texas have mailed them marmalade.

But most police regard the Diggers as just another aspect of the exasperating Hippie problem. They are frustrated by their inability to do much to stop the near-universal use by Hippies of LSD and marijuana.

“The hippies are pushing the colored people of the district,’ says police Lt. John Dolan. “The colored people have no hostility, but they figure the Hippies are trash.”

To discourage a summer population explosion, Dolan’s men are systematically arresting youths who sleep under the stars in the 1,017-acre Golden Gate Park.

When police complain about crowds plugging sidewalk traffic, Diggers quietly offer suggestions as, “Your officers could utter simple mantra (Buddhist) prayers, which we will teach you and which we will respect.”

Or, “Let’s close down Haight Street on Sundays to cars. We’ll run a shuttle bus—free.”

And then, there’s the proposal to change the name of Haight, pronounced “hate,” to Love Street.

Another kind of reaction to Hippies comes from “the drinking editor” of Sunday Ramparts newspaper here. Addicts of his favorite poison, he thinks, should be shamed into action similar to the Diggers’.

So he proposed that his fellow tipplers offer free booze in the Haight-Ashbury to Hippies—who steadfastly shun alcohol, their parents’ favorite relaxer.

And all is not totally relaxed between Diggers and some other Hippies. Some Diggers, for example, have criticized the volunteer Hippie Job Agency and 25 or so youths who operate Hippie stores.

The merchants, it is argued, should contribute their profits— garnered from conventional shoppers—to help feed and house the expected summer influx. The store operators reply they aren’t making that much.

But the Diggers, who probably number 400, don’t speak as a group. Their meetings invite everybody “who thinks like a Digger.”

They also have no formal leadership. Each Digger becomes a leader when he gets others to undertake some project, such as sweeping Haight Street or setting up a shelter for run-away teeny hoppers.

The two most influential Diggers, Emmett Grogan and Arthur Lisch, both artists, keep tight-mouthed about themselves and their part . Most Diggers, preferring anonymity, use only nicknames.

Their operations are but one of the Hippies’ organized activities. Others include the Artists Liberation Front which provides free public entertainment, the Avalon and Fillmore Ballrooms where rock bands and whirling light patterns draw thousands, an effort to set up a Happening House where college professors may conduct discussion groups, and the Sexual Freedom League which holds classes—and demonstrations—in the arts of seduction and sexual intercourse.

Yet San Francisco’s “love generation” is best typified by the Diggers. And it is the Diggers who are sending missionaries to other cities, notably Los Angeles and New York.

The missionaries are capitalizing on the message preceding them in the Hippies’ irreverent buttons, mod clothing, unique poster art, hair styles and music.

“The Beatles are saying it all,” says a Digger. “We’ve got all the weapons on our side.”

What they are saying is that present institutions— helpless in halting war or solving any major problem—are ridiculous.

In such a crazy world, political protest is seen as absurd, and Diggers deadpan that their hero is George Metesky, the Mad Bomber of New York, who carried “protest to an absurdity.”

Better than to hold demonstrations, Diggers say, is “to live your protest” by devising new standards of individual conduct and new kinds of social organizations—for the entire world.