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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 506: Burning Man

Did you known that a huge cultural event got its start right here on the West side at Baker Beach? Nicole and Arnold investigate the origins of Burning Man.
by Nicole Meldahl - Jun 17, 2023

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 506: Burning Man Outside Lands Podcast Episode 506: Burning Man

(above) Baker Beach, Jun 1959

Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands from Baker Beach (aka Baker's Beach).

Podcast Transcription

WNP506 - Burning Man

Nicole: [00:00:00] It’s Outside Lands San Francisco, podcast of Western Neighborhoods Project, your weekly dose of friendly neighborhood history.

And hello again, Outside Landers. I'm your host Nicole Meldahl.

Arnold: And I am your co-host, Arnold Woods.

Nicole: Arnold, can you feel it? The summer solstice is just about upon us.

Arnold: I feel it.

Nicole: I feel it cause it is overcast and cloudy, and kind of rainy, but also weirdly warm.

Arnold: Just your typical San Francisco summer.

Nicole: I don't know what to wear when I walk outside. Layers. Always layers. That's the name of the game for San Francisco.

Arnold: Absolutely.

Nicole: And those two who don't know what we're talking about, it's the longest day of the year and has long been a day of celebration. Going [00:01:00] way back for pagans, the summer solstice was the most powerful day of the year, and they celebrated the Sun God. And as the source of warmth and light, ceremonies typically included fire and varying rituals. Pagans called the ceremony Litha, and for them the festivities celebrated life, fertility, and the cycle of the seasons. And now I'm just thinking of Outlander and those rocks that take people back in time as well. But, but that's a personal problem. I don't think that's actually what these festivals or these, you know, festivities looks like.

Arnold: And if one of these festivities did look like that, I'm all in for it.

Nicole: Yeah, here for Outlander in case anyone from Starz is listening.

Arnold: Anyways, today one of the largest annual Litha-like celebrations involves a very San Francisco Bay Area twist on bonfires and had its beginning as a happening right here on the west side of San Francisco. [00:02:00] Now, we often talk about things on this podcast that happened, oh, a 100 years ago, 150 years ago. But today, We're looking at some more recent history, something that is actually less than 40 years old.

Nicole: Yes, within my lifetime. Most of you have probably figured it out already, but we're talking about Burning Man of course. So won't you join us as we walk along the dusty path of Burning Man when it was here on the West side.

Arnold: Of course today, Burning Man is a huge celebration out in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, which is about a 100 miles north of Reno. In recent years, something like 75 to 80,000 people go out for, to attend it. There's a big, huge city that's erected in the desert to accommodate all these rich revelers. However, the party got its start in a much more humble fashion right here at our own Baker Beach.

Nicole: Yeah, it [00:03:00] certainly cost a lot less during, in the beginning. So, back in 1986, Larry Harvey woke up on Saturday, June 22nd with a, and I quote, “supremely romantic” idea he'd been kicking around for several years now. Tired of not making his idea happen, he was ready to bring this romantic vision to life for summer solstice 1986. So, Harvey called his friend Jerry James and said, and I quote, “let's burn a man, Jerry.” End quote, James asked him to repeat what he had said, but then was totally on board with the plan. Which is the Energy Western Neighborhoods Project likes.

Arnold: So Harvey and James, they drive out to Noe Valley to pick up some scrap lumber from the basement of Harvey's ex-girlfriend and…

Nicole: Totally normal.

Arnold: This was early in the morning. They had very little light and a few tools, but together, in a few [00:04:00] hours, they built an eight-foot man out of wood. Now we've seen photos of the finished creation from this first year, and it looks sort of like a man with a triangular horse shaped head. Its hands are resting on its large hips and has something that looks maybe like a crown on its head.

Nicole: What they had created was an effigy to man. Now they just needed a place to burn it and some help getting it there. They decided on Baker Beach just west of the heart of the Presidio, which was still a working Army post then. Although Baker Beach itself had been transferred to the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the early 1970s. And I confirmed this with John Martini, so we know that that history is solid. They called friends and family and ultimately their girlfriends, their kids, a roommate named Dan Miller, and three others to haul this effigy out west and [00:05:00] installed it at the north end of Baker Beach.

Arnold: Now, we don't have the details of how they actually moved their wooden Frankenstein. We're guessing it was in the back of the truck and when we hear about the following year, that maybe confirms it, but please, please, please let us know if you saw this motley crew dragging San Francisco's first Burning Man into an active military post, because inquiring minds must know the specifics. We can only imagine what people along the route must have thought about seeing this large scrap lumber man being carted around on city streets.

Nicole: You know I was present for when we transported a Nike missile in an open flatbed truck across the Golden Gate Bridge. Inactive Nike Missile. I was part of the museum program at the GGNRA. And I figure it's probably something to, to that effect where people were just like, uhhhh? What? A lot, a lot fewer iPhones were present to capture the [00:06:00] experience in 1986.

Arnold: Got that right.

Nicole: In any event, they got it to Baker Beach. So, what did they do with it then? Well, first things first, they relaxed and had a picnic, deciding to fire up the effigy at dusk. To do so they soaked the entire thing in gasoline. Naturally. And as Harvey would say later, they, and I quote, “didn't know any better at that time.” End quote. Which is very foreboding, right? Yeah, that means that when someone set it aflame, it was described as being as bright as a second sun.

Arnold: Yeah, and imagine this, you're out for a nice sunset walk at Baker Beach and you see these 10 random people standing around a eight-foot, extremely bright bonfire in the shape of a man. You are, what are you gonna do?

Nicole: Yeah.

Arnold: 100% going over there to see what's going on. [00:07:00] And that's what the people did at the beach, at Baker Beach that year. It tripled the size of their group to. 30-ish people out there. So now they have an audience. But you know, Harvey and James hadn't really thought about this further other than to, to quote Harvey back at the beginning, let's set a man on fire. So that was all they had set out to do and they had now done this. So, you know, where it goes from there is, was beyond what they, their expectations.

Nicole: Yeah. Which may have been what it was like when man discovered fire, right? But lucky for them, Arnold, one of the strangers who joined their group was a hippie wearing pants on his head and carrying a guitar. Peak San Francisco, y'all. He spontaneously started to play a fire song and soon the entire group joined in adlibbing and, and adding to the festivities. Then a woman ran up to the Burning Man and joined hands with it. Which to me [00:08:00] says that she was probably on some drugs, but we don't have the history to confirm that. And this is very, very dangerous. Don't run up to something burning and try to grab it, okay? We don't recommend doing that. Not podcast approved. But fortunately, the wind was pushing the flames in the other direction at the time, so Burning Man did not burn her. And apparently there's a picture of this very moment floating out there in the wind. So, if you are in possession of this historic image, ooh, and if you were this very courageous lady who decided to do this, please send us a photo, get in contact with us, cause I wanna hear so much more about this moment in Burning Man history.

Arnold: So, Harvey would later note that the participation of these strangers on the beach was crucial to them realizing the importance of what had just happened. He said, quote, “those acts of impulsive merger and collective union were what made it so special. I'm very much of the conviction that we would [00:09:00] never have done it again if those circumstances had not happened and helped us to be so moved by what we had done.” End quote.

Nicole: Harvey and James could not recall when they decided to do it again. Oh wait, Arnold, what's that in the background? Do I hear Steely Dan?

Arnold: [singing] You go back, Jack, do it again.

Nicole: We would play that for you, but, but we would probably be sued by Steely Dan.

Arnold: And we can't afford the rights.

Nicole: No, we cannot. Also, as an aside, please know that Spotify, when I looked this up and it initially sent me straight into Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac after cueing it up and yeah, just do it again.  It all feels very right for this podcast episode, so we should just stop and say This podcast episode is brought to you, but not officially recognized by Steely Dan. Anyway.

Arnold: And people are gonna regret us [00:10:00] saying that.

Nicole: Yeah, we might sing more. Y'all might wanna turn this podcast off now. I'm not quite sure. Anyway, although not as spontaneous as the first happening, they burned another man on Baker Beach in 1987. And this time they gave themselves a couple weekends and a few more hands to work on the new effigy.

Arnold: Prior to the burning, they sent out a beach burn flyer that had a picture from 1986 and invited people to join them on Saturday, June 20th at the, quote, “naked” North end of the Baker Beach.

Nicole: And Arnold, why is it called the naked end?

Arnold: You might find some people sans clothes out there.

Nicole: You've been warned San Francisco, if you didn't already know. Okay, please continue.

Arnold: The flyer announced that there would be a potluck at 4:00 PM, weather permitting, [00:11:00] and a fire at sundown. It also featured either a mistaken or a modified quote from a poem by Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. It read quote, “the force that threw the green fuse drives the flower, drives my red blood that blasts through the root, roots of the trees, is my destroyer. End quote. Now, why we say it might be modified, in the original poem drives my red blood, that's actually in the second stanza of the poem, and this is basically a quote of the first stanza. In the first stanza, it instead reads, drives my green age, instead of drives my red blood.

Nicole: It's a creative repurposing, like how we've absorbed Steely Dan into this episode. Just it's absolutely the same. So, okay, this time their man was 15-feet tall, and the history specifically says that James transported the effigy to Baker Beach in his truck. This is why we [00:12:00] need to know about 1986. I assume it's a truck situation again, but we don't know the history is, is moot, or is mute on the subject. We need to know. And Harvey was talking about it. He was saying that it was like a Bohemian gathering because they did not depend on outsiders for resources or funding, but instead on their, and I quote, “own communal efforts undertaken together.” End quote. James would say that the first one was kind of like a family picnic, and the 1987 burn was like a much larger family picnic. I'm not sure we can still classify Burning Man as a family picnic. But in ‘87, approximately 80 people came out for it and they all party on the beach into the late afternoon. And as promised, the effigy was lit up at sundown.

Arnold: There is no turning back at this point, and Harvey and James committed early to the project for 1988 and tried to attract a much larger audience than just their [00:13:00] usual social group. They made flyers, posters, t-shirts to promote the event and significantly one of the posters for the 1988 event use the words, Burning Man, for the first time. They spent much of the spring that year, building the man on weekends. And this time their effigy, the effigy was built in component parts, that they could transport to the beach and then assemble it on the beach. This one would stand about 30 feet high and had to rounder head with horns.

Nicole: And the 1988 gathering was held on Saturday, June 18th. They presoaked the man in kerosene, stuffed his insides with newspaper, and wrapped him with a burlap skin, also soaked in kerosene. And, oh boy, what a metaphor for human existence, my friends. You've heard the phrase like, everything is a dumpster fire. This feels like how I feel [00:14:00] about humankind sometimes. Anyways, as you would expect if you're familiar with summer in the Western neighborhoods, we mentioned this earlier, the weather was foggy, windy, and cold. This caused some of the newspaper and burlap to kind of fly away along with some ashes causing the fire to cool, which means the man was charred, but still standing. Also, quite the metaphor for human existence. And again, we're gonna ask you to queue up Steely Dan’s Any Major Dude will tell you. Arnold?

Arnold: Yes.

Nicole: You gonna sing this one into the next paragraph for us.

Arnold: I'll, I'll avoid that this time.

Nicole: You're welcome listeners.

Arnold: Predictably, firing up a 30-foot unpermitted structure on a national recreation area beach attracted the attention of the National Park Service.

Nicole: Yep.

Arnold: Arriving on the scene as the fire was nearly out, they [00:15:00] spoke with Harvey and James, who were somehow allowed to cut what remained of the man apart and then relight it to finish the burning. James said quote, “it was an extraordinary thing for the cops. They sure didn't come across that every day. They probably feared we would start slaughtering goats there on Baker Beach.” End quote. So, shout out to Park Police for almost always being more chill than the regular police.

Nicole: Every time I think about Park Police, I remember that John Martini was once a deputized park policeman, and I have a hard time linking up that lovely man with like some sort of law enforcement authority. I mean, I, I wouldn't put it past him to move people along, but like, anyways, I just, Park Police are good people. So, despite this foggy, cold, windy weather, 1988’s Burning Man had attracted 200 people, and [00:16:00] it was a big year for the happening. Despite Burning Man capturing the unfavorable attention of local authorities, it also stoked the imagination of a man named Michael Mikel, who was a member of the Cacophony Society, the group that would orbit this event straight up into outer space.

Arnold: Let's tell you a little bit about the Cacophony Society first. They were started in 1986 by former members of San Francisco's famed Suicide Club. A central tenant of the group was to enable out of the box thinkers, to reach like-minded people. “You may already be a member,” was actually their motto.

Nicole: Love it.

Arnold: They held events like a picnic on the Golden Gate Bridge, the Chinese New Year's treasure hunt, and the first SantaCon pub crawl. And essentially what they were doing is what we call today, Guerilla Theater. If you wanna learn more about this scene, listen to podcast 424 about Gary Warne that we did with [00:17:00] special guest John Law.

Nicole: Yeah, and one of the group's main events every year was what they called the Zone Trip. The goal was to take people into an alien environment, free of preconceptions, that would allow them to sort of open up to any interpretation of their environment. So, for instance, the first year they put together a group of people and took them to Los Angeles to do things like climb the Hollywood sign and sneak into buildings made famous by movies, which sounds completely awesome.

Arnold: I'm wondering if Die Hard was out by then and they snuck into the building that was the model for the Nakatomi building.

Nicole: Oh, you mean one of the best Christmas movies ever filmed?

Arnold: Oh, absolutely. But I don't know that it was already out in ‘86 yet. I forget what year it came out, so…

Nicole: I don’t know, I was five.

Arnold: After seeing Burning Man in 1988, Mikel convinced the Cacophony Society to promote the 1989 happening. [00:18:00] So in their June 1989 Rough Draft newsletter, they put out a call to action for Burning Man to happen Saturday, June 24th. They advertised that they would erect and burn a four-story tall wooden man near the time of the summer solstice. They also said this figure would be quote, “elaborately crafted and equipped with movable arms and fireworks.” End quote.

Nicole: Hell yeah, it was. What an escalation. So meanwhile, Harvey and James were building the components for a 40-foot-tall wooden man with a triangle shaped head, but no horns or crown on at this time. On June 24th, they built him out, lying flat on Baker Beach, and then tried to stand it up into position. But there were some problems. So, part of his legs and pelvis broke in the process, and as, as a result, he was only partially raised. Also, please dear listeners know that the reading about like building a man and [00:19:00] like setting him on fire, there's lots and lots of this phrase, fully erect or partially erect, that you come across. Which we have opted to cleverly modify for most of this podcast, but I want you to know I, it was some hard work to do that. Anyways, over 300 people were on hand to see this man burn in 1989.

Arnold: And one of those 300 people was David Warren, who was a founder of both the Suicide Club and the Cacophony Society, and he got the honor of lighting him up. Now, you may recognize his name because I think we've mentioned him on a podcast before. I don't remember which one.

Nicole: Can't remember either.

Arnold: But before the current operators took over Warren had restored and ran our beloved Camera Obscura at the Cliff House. He'd worked for a number of years as a circus carny doing magic tricks and fire eating [00:20:00] and carnival barking. And wouldn't you know it, one of his signature acts was to spit fire. So doing what he did best, Burning Man ‘89 went up in a flames courtesy of a 15-foot stream of fire hurled onto it by David Warren.

Nicole: Which every time I read about David Warren doing this, I remember that Woody is trained to swallow fire. And I'm still upset I have not personally witnessed this. I've seen him juggle a million times. I don't need to see that anymore. I wanna see him swallow fire. Anyway.

Arnold: He probably thinks better of doing that these days.

Nicole: He did make reference to the fact that like, you have to like, that you can't just do that. You can just juggle, but you have to work, you have to like relearn and stuff, which is, makes complete sense. But stubbornly, I still want this anyways. So, okay. Like the [00:21:00] year before, Park Police show up. Unlike the year before, they attempted to stop what was going on finally. Which is probably the right call Park Police. TV stations had come to film the event and noted that Park Police were pretty ineffectual in shutting things down. Again, shout out to these fellas generally being more chill than regular police. That said they would be better prepared for this situation the next time around.

Arnold: So, as summer solstice was approaching in 1990, Harvey and James were hard at work on another 40-foot man for the burn. This one had a diamond shape head with two eyes that were actually 12-vote, 12-volt auto headlights. However, the National Park Service was also hard work preparing for the burn. At the time, there were wildfires happening in Los Angeles. Things were dry. So, the GGNRA issued an edict that the effigy could [00:22:00] not be burned, because of fears that the nearby hillside was a potential fire hazard. Very clever NPS. Very clever.

Nicole: We see what you doing there NPS. In an incredible show of force, Park Police stationed one lone officer at Baker Beach to prevent the burn. Negotiations ensued and a compromise was found. Burning Man organizers were allowed to install their effigy on Baker Beach if they agreed not to burn it. So that's how it went forward. Naturally, this was a huge bummer to the 350 people who came to the beach to see a huge man set on fire. What had previously been a happy celebration became a, and I quote, “mere roadside attraction,” and the crowd became an unruly mob. Some of them chanted, “burn it anyway,” but luckily for everyone, that did not happen.

Arnold: So, after a very subdued and disappointing happening, [00:23:00] the man was dismantled. He was taken to a parking lot and carted away in the back of a truck. Is there a Steely Dan moment that correlates with this, Nicole?

Nicole: Actually, yes, there is Arnold, although written a decade before and being about the Grateful Dead’s acid maker, Owlsley, a song with lyrics like, do you wanna take it from here? Cause you're more familiar with this song than I am.

Arnold: Well, some of these lyrics include working by candlelight, in the San Francisco night, the stuff was laced with kerosene, all the day-glow freaks who used to paint the face, and clean this mess up else will all end up in jail. Which is how 1990 actually ended here on Baker Beach. But all this seems to fit so, [singing] get along, get along Kid Charlemagne. So we can find out how we get from Baker Beach to a desert in Nevada.

Nicole: All the listener mail's gonna be like, please stop singing. I….

Arnold: [00:24:00] I would not blame anyone for sending us mail about that.

Nicole: Nicole needs to stop laughing, which we get all the time. And please make Arnold stop singing,

Arnold: Sorry, I'm a big Steely Dan fan.

Nicole: Jokes on you. We love music and I laugh at everything listeners. So anyways, so Arnold, I'm so glad you asked how we got to Nevada. Around this time, the Cacophony Society was already planning their 1990 Zone Trip in the Black Rock Desert over Labor Day weekend. And they were calling the event Bad Day at Black Rock after the 1955 film of the same name. And I need to take a minute to unpack this for our film nerds and neophytes, because I can't believe they named an event after this. That film from ‘55 was directed by John Sturges, who was known for Western films like Gunfight at the OK Corral, but also, The Great Escape, with Steve [00:25:00] McQueen, which is one of the greatest movies of all time. And the film stars Spencer Tracy. So, here's the IMDB description of the film's plot, and I quote, “a one-arm stranger comes to a tiny town possessing a terrible past they wanna keep secret by violent means if necessary.” End quote. I, I, I don't know about you Arnold, but this is not the vibe I want of a bunch of hippies and like social disruptors are asking me to come to the desert.

Arnold: Certainly not what the Cacophony Society is all about.

Nicole: No.

Arnold: But since the Society was already involved with Burning Man, they came up with the idea of including a burn at this Zone Trip. So, Harvey was invited to bring along his creation to the Black Rock Desert. This was convenient since Harvey had looked into other Northern California beaches, but nothing seemed workable. I mean, apparently, he looked around and couldn't find a single public beach that would [00:26:00] allow him to build a massive effigy and set it on fire in front of hundreds of people. That's shocking. Just shocking.

Nicole: Like, how is he even having those conversations? Like, hey man, I'm thinking about having this event. Oh, you know, it's not really that big of a deal. Well, we do erect a giant man made of wood and soak it, soaked in kerosene and we just lit it on fire. But it's, you know, it's, it's not a real big deal. Anyways, so these are the things I think of as an event organizer with WNP, right? Anyways. So, they're all set for a desert fire, but they weren't outta the woods yet Arnold. As Labor Day weekend approached, near disaster occurred. Although they paid for a parking spot in San Francisco, the figure's legs extended out of the bed of the truck and somehow blocked neighboring parking spots. So, unbeknownst to the Burning Man's creators, parking lot employees chain sawed off the legs and other [00:27:00] parts of the creation one night, about three weeks before the event. Which is a wild thing to do.

Arnold: Yeah, you might think, you know, they make a simple phone call first.

Nicole: Or tow it. Like so, like that just seems like it escalated quickly. But Harvey would not be deterred and vowed that the event would still happen, and a huge push was made to get it rebuilt. It was finished just a few hours before it was scheduled to be transported to Nevada.

Arnold: And, fun fact, because of this little hiccup, Harvey created a blueprint from which the figure could be built for years to come. And Dan Miller would become the chief engineer for construction for a long time.

Nicole: Yeah. See something positive that came out of it being illegally hacked apart in a parking lot overnight. Anyway, Zone Trip participants filled a number of vehicles, and a caravan was formed for the trip from San Francisco to Nevada. And a truck was rented to [00:28:00] haul the man and everybody's luggage. After leaving the last town of Gerlach. Nevada, they drove about six to seven miles out into the desert and then stopped about 100 feet off the roadway. One of the members drew a literal line in the sand to represent the Zone gateway. And after a few minutes and a few rituals, including a crossing the line ceremony, they got back into cars and drove further into the desert before finding a spot to set up camp.

Arnold: They pitched tents and they started reveling in the local hot springs. But then the group quickly learned about the area’s intense windstorms that knocked down many of their tents. It was also extremely hot, but they planned for this and had built a large tent in the center of the camp, which they marked with a pirate flag.

Nicole: Yeah.

Arnold: For people to hang out when it was the warmest. This must have been exactly how pioneers felt coming through the Overland Pass or via the Oregon Trail, right? Everyone then participated in putting the [00:29:00] sculpture together. And, as with Baker Beach, they built the man lying down in the sand and then raised him with ropes into a standing position.

Nicole: Now this was a Cacophony Society event, and it was in Nevada, so only about 90 people were there for the burning on Sunday, September 2nd, 1990. As with the year before, David Warren lit the structure by spitting a stream of fire at it from about 12 feet away. Unfortunately, this time his face was partially burned while doing so. But nonetheless, it did the job and the fire spread upwards from the legs to the head. Fireworks in the head then went off and the whole thing illuminated the crowd and left them awestruck.

Arnold: And this is what I like about the, this event. The whole thing was treated as a formal cocktail party.

Nicole: Sure.

Arnold: Women wore gowns, men wore tuxedos, while drinks were served and toasts made. One of the attendees, Dean Gustason [00:30:00] accompanied the burn with music from his drum kit. Many considered the event to be life altering, and it was apparent to everyone there, that this really needed to happen again. And from then on, Burning Man became an annual event in the Black Rock Desert, except for one year in nearby Hualapai Flat because they were denied a permit that year for Black Rock Desert.

Nicole: It feels like this is when it starts to transition from like a free event with a bunch of hippies to the insanely expensive corporate event that it is now. But we'll get into that in a second. So, the basic Harvey design of the man has remained essentially the same over the years, except for 2016 when it was modified to look like Da Vinci's Vitruvian man. The size of the man has also remained constant at 40 feet high, but they began building ever bigger platforms for the man even eclipsing 100 feet into 2017.

Arnold: And as the number of participants began growing each year rising to [00:31:00] 4,000 by 1995, the Cacophony Society saw a greater need for organization. So, the next year, Burning Man was opened up to the public and attendance doubled in size as a result. But although they had been operating till then with the hands-off approach, allowing everyone the freedom of their own experience, the event needed more structure. So, with the move to Hualapai Flat in 1997, they formed the Black Rock City LLC in order to comply with all the permit requirements there. The next year, because they, in fact, because they had formed an LLC, they were able to get a permit back at Black Rock Desert in 1998. And that year, a city street grid was created and a number of rules imposed in order to maintain the increased attendance. One of the things that they did was they created the Black Rock Rangers, which is not quite a police force, but kinda helps out with security there.

Nicole: Kinda like the Hell's Angels of [00:32:00] the Human Be-In. Or not like the Hell's Angels?

Arnold: Not like that.

Nicole: No. Well, in my head, they're all wearing leather vests that are beautifully decorated on the back. That's not real. That is a thing I just made up, just to make this, to make that clear on this history podcast. Okay, so it's 2020, Burning Man was of course canceled because of the pandemic, but nonetheless, you can't keep a good burner down. So, about 1000 of them, burners are of course what we all affectionately call Burning Man participants and what they call themselves, so they showed up at Ocean Beach on September 7th, 2020 to celebrate. You know, which thrilled San Francisco's officials and Park Police who were having a hard enough time already.

Arnold: Yeah, the mayor was very unhappy about that, tweeting out her displeasure.

Nicole: Yeah, I mean, you know, our national parks and our state parks and our city parks really got a work out in 2020, [00:33:00] when it was the only thing that you could do. But then, of course, it was harder for those who worked at, at these places to like keep these places clean and safe. So, yeah, not great folks. Mayor London Breed was not pleased. Several thousand people also showed up in the Black Rock Desert for an unofficial event, which kind of feels super Burning Man, to be honest. And virtual Burning Man events occurred in 2020 and 2021 before the event returned to the desert in 2022.

Arnold: So, we've kind of, you know, sped through the Nevada history. Obviously, there's a lot more Burning Man history that can be told, but since it has long since the, left the Outside Lands, we will leave that to you to discover for yourself. But from its small beginnings at Baker Beach to a huge event in the Nevada Desert, Burning Man has really become a cultural touchstone. And also, the best time of the year to have [00:34:00] dinner in that San Francisco restaurant you've always wanted to visit because of what Nicole calls the “Burning Man rapture.” Because every wealthy club kid in the Bay Area has left the city to go to the desert.

Nicole: It's true. Time to try all those fancy places you can get in super easy. And Arnold, have you ever been to Burning Man?

Arnold: I have not, no.

Nicole: Yeah, I have not either. I'm not really outdoorsy. I hate the desert. And, but like every dude I've dated as an adult has gone. So I don't know what that says about me. But…

Arnold: Does that mean Harvey has gone.

Nicole: Yeah, Harvey's gone.

Arnold: Good for Harvey.

Nicole: My ex-boyfriend, I like, we first started dating right when he came back and I was just like, he was, anywhosit? Yeah. I don't know, a little bit about me in this podcast everybody. It feels like we should maybe move on to something else that makes you say, Say What Now?

Arnold: So, there are a number of documentaries about Burning Man, and each year the organizers get [00:35:00] applications for hundreds of projects, film and otherwise, that people want to do at Burning Man. Most of those applications get rejected and they generally always reject applications for fictional films taking place there. However, in 2015, after an initial rejection, a group of Spanish film students appealed to let their project go forward. They explained that they were personally burners themselves. They loved the event and wanted their project, which was basically a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, to be a gift to the Burning Man community. So, the organizers relented and allowed them to film as an art experiment, but also as a commitment to supporting student projects.

Nicole: Yeah. And the film, which was called The Girl From the Song, was released in 2016 and the film is okay. Arnold has seen it. I have not seen it. And the event organizers were [00:36:00] impressed with the filmmakers kind of jumping through all the hoops that they had to go through to get to film there. But to them, it felt weird to see fictional characters on screen at their real event. So, this kind of felt wrong to see Burning Man as a backdrop in a story, and they decided that their event was not an appropriate place to shoot fictional films and would never allow it again.

Arnold: Not sure we agree with that decision. Burning Man is all about community, inclusiveness and art. So, what better way to meet those priorities than to use Burning Man as a platform for storytelling, fictional or otherwise. But it doesn't seem like it'll happen again.

Nicole: It's true. That's a tough call. That's not one that, we're not here we're, we have no skin in this game, as two people who have never been. But from, from the men I've dated who have been, what I'm, what I'm told is that the exciting thing is how temporal it is, right? Like how it feels like you're just in [00:37:00] the moment. You're not on your cell phone, you're not. And so like, I could see how it would sort of like pull you out of the moment to see film crews and them taking several takes and like all that kind of stuff. I could see that. It's like seeing an iPhone at, at the Dickens Christmas Fair, which I go to every year and I can speak to,

Arnold: But there are plenty of people there with their iPhones out taking photos and videos, cause you'll find those all over YouTube.

Nicole: Oh, I know. Burning Man does, just one last thing, like Burning Man does seem really cool. The only way I know I could, I could survive Burning Man is if I went in one of those stupid posh like, you know, mobile homes or like whatever. And that would just make me feel like a jerk. So, I don't wanna feel like a jerk in the desert.

Arnold: Anyways, that's your story of Burning Man.

Nicole: Yeah!

Arnold: Which started right here.

Nicole: Yeah. So, every time you're at Baker Beach trying to shield your [00:38:00] eyes from all the new thing that you didn't expect to see, you can just look up towards the heavens and remember, remember the first Burning Man. The end.

Arnold: Which brings of course, to listener mail. So Nicole?

Nicole: Yeah.

Arnold: How, I know it's difficult for most people, but how does one reach us about one of our podcasts?

Nicole: Well, first of all, you can just email us, podcast@outsidelands.org, which, as the person who opens and responds to majority of the emails sent to the organization, I know it's not easy for everybody. Some wild attempts at emails sometimes, but we're here. We're ready to listen however you wanna communicate with us, which includes taking advantage of our social media presence on Instagram, Twitter, [00:39:00] and Facebook. You can post a comment there. And Arnold, did we hear anything on these social medias?

Arnold: In fact, we did. We received several social media responses to our recent Anza Branch Library podcast. Over on Twitter. John exclaimed, quote, “that was my library. I attended Lafayette Elementary School, late ‘60s, early ‘70s. Was also the location to meet for schoolyard scuffles.”

Nicole: Ooh.

Arnold: “I loved the smell of that place. Great memories. Thanks for posting.” End quote. And thank you very much, John. But you need to write us back, either on social media or send us an email, to let us know why the schoolyard scuffles were always handled over at the Ansa branch library. I mean, I assume you're trying to get away from authorities at the school, but aren't you running into some kind of authorities at the [00:40:00] library who may not want you to do that?

Nicole: I wanna know if it was like of all the library branches on the West side, Anza was the one you got into fisticuffs at? Or if that was just like the one closest to Lafayette that was not the school. I hope it's, I hope it's the former.

Arnold: Gives new meaning to meet me at the library.

Nicole: I'm picturing some like West Side Story, you know, like Grease situation. Anyways, yes, John, we need to know more. So, over on Facebook, Tim let us know, and I quote, “my childhood best friend's sister worked at the Anza branch. We spent a lot of time in that building. It was really cool.” So thanks Tim. And we also think the Anza Branch Library is pretty cool. So, I'm glad you're all with us. Oh, two of you.

Arnold: So, I don't know actually if either Tim or John are members, but if they're [00:41:00] not, maybe they should be. And how do they do that, Nicole?

Nicole: Well, the benefits of membership and donating are practically infinite, Arnold. By just clickety, clickety clacking the big orange button on any of the pages on our website, outsidelands.org or even OpenSFHistory.org, you can give us at least $50 and become a member. Now, I say at least, because the amount of money you give us is also infinite, but anything under $50 and you don't get the full benefits of being part of the WNP family, which includes a quarterly membership magazine, which just went out recently and folks are enjoying it. Discounts on events and other exclusive perks. But mostly, it gives you the satisfaction of supporting all the history that we make available for free. Like this podcast, the OpenSFHistory [00:42:00] treasure trove of historic photographs. Which we are adding more to, occasionally again, whenever we have time. It also supports the Cliff House collection, its care, its exhibition, and the complicated sociopolitical ramifications of having a totem pole on public federal land. So, we do a lot. History is not as straightforward as you would think, and we love doing it, but we can't do it without your money. So become a member today or just give us money, is how that goes. Yes.

Arnold: And I'm not sure that is actually an infinite amount of perks, but it is a lot.

Nicole: Well, we could be adding more new perks all the time, right? It is infinite. The possibilities of the perks are infinite.

Arnold: You know, speaking of those perks, we have a few [00:43:00] announcements.

Nicole: So, if you missed our Restoring the Windmills event at the 4 Star Theater, you can still stop by our home for history at 1617 Balboa Street to see the Sentinels at the Golden Gate, the windmills exhibit that's in front, in our front windows. And we also have an online version of the exhibit at outsidelands.org,

Arnold: But that's not all. Next Thursday, June 22nd, we're having a Zoom presentation on the natural history of San Francisco. Environmentalist and photographer, Greg Gaar will lead the virtual presentation of San Francisco's natural features. These include things like sand dunes, trees, lakes, grasslands, and so much more. This is a free Zoom event for all, but you know, when you're signing up, maybe throw a small donation our way because these things, although I mean we have to pay for a Zoom account, [00:44:00] so…

Nicole: We do.

Arnold: Even though we're offering this for free, the event to us, we have to pay out something for it. So, throw a few bucks our way.

Nicole: Yeah, Zoom's really expensive. They charge you annually, annually, and I'm always like, whoa. Okay. Yes, please. Can we have some more money for the Zoom? Oh, was that a British accent? Oh, I'm so sorry to any Brits listening. That was not okay. Let's move on. Our next history walk happens on Saturday, June 24th when historic preservation consultant Richard Brandi leads a tour of Lincoln Manor. Richard's one of my favorites. He literally wrote the book on residence parks in San Francisco. So, there really is no better tour guide on the subject. But it just costs $10 for WNP members and $20 for non-members. And as always, you can find all these events on our website, outsidelands org. We, [00:45:00] Arnold, are adding events all the time, so I encourage you to join over 350 followers on WNP's Eventbrite. Or join our monthly email list, going to our website again, outsidelands.org. But Eventbrite, really they notify you as soon as we put an event online. So, if you wanna be the first in the know, so you get a front row seat or back row seat, whatever seat you prefer, you're gonna wanna get on that Eventbrite list.

Arnold: And we've got a lot planned this year. I will throw one small hint for something coming up in the future. Shipwreck Week.

Nicole: Oh, Shipwreck Week is the reason Chelsea and I have been living since the year began. Yeah, it's gonna be so exciting. And before we move on from our announcement section, I wanna say we've got a brand-new volunteer in the office, Drew Moss, who has been awesome. He is crushing it. He's a media studies student at USF. And we're not really [00:46:00] taking a whole bunch of extra students and volunteers right now, cause we're, we're a little slammed. But credit where credits due. Drew just jumped right in and said, give me all the things. So, thank you Drew, for being an amazing addition to our WNP team.

Arnold: Absolutely. He is doing a great job so far. And Nicole, we have some kind of preview for next week?

Nicole: Please know the notes for our preview section is just question mark. We don't know. I, we got a lot of irons in the fire right now and we're just gonna have to see what I'm able to research fast enough to pull together coherent podcast. But it is gonna be a history podcast, so stay tuned for that. Until next week. I'm Nicole Meldahl.

Arnold: And I'm Arnold Woods.

Nicole: And this has been another episode of Outside Lands San Francisco. Thanks for being with us history friends.

Ian: Outside Lands San [00:47:00] Francisco is recorded by Ian Hadley. Content creation and media production at ihadley.com.

Nicole: To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more on San Francisco history, go to Outsidelands.org. You can also find us on social media at Facebook, which is outsidelands with an S, at Twitter, which is outsidelandz with a Z, and on Instagram, which is outsidelandz, also with a Z. And check out our historic San Francisco images website at OpenSFHistory.org.

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