By Michael Bisceglia
Hampton Union, Tuesday, August 8, 2006
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Officer Ray Whitcomb and his K-9 counterpart, Shep, patrol Hampton Beach on Labor Day 1964. The photo was taken only hours before a large riot broke out. Whitcomb is now retired and living in Kingston.
HAMPTON BEACH -- It was late summer, 1964. The average teacher's salary was $5,174. American advisers were streaming into Vietnam. The country rocked to the music of the British invasion groups. Civil rights issues were debated in Congress. Nearly 1 million baby boomers were poised to go to college in the fall. None of that was the cause of what was about to happen.
Hampton Beach was the traditional "ideal location for a summer vacation." Oh, yes, there had been Labor Day small-scale riots in the recent past, but those days were long over, or so folks believed.
With the end of summer, Hampton Beach merchants were becoming uneasy, but the town police and fire crews just weren't going to tolerate any serious mischief.
Units from nearby towns were on stand-by. Besides, the National Guard certainly would be sent in if matters got out of hand.
Linda Metcalf was 16 at the time, and very excited about her job as a job as a counter girl for Kohn Brothers' Frozen Custard in Salisbury, Mass.
"Hampton was a sleepy little town. I felt fortunate enough to be here. What could be better than the beach in the morning, and earning a little spending money in the afternoon?"
Despite her mother's warnings about the potential for danger that day, Linda made her way to the beach across from the Casino, but was careful to leave to be to work on time. It just happened that Linda took the last bus from the beach before the situation took a turn for the worse.
"Oh, yes, some kids were drinking beer and there were some shaving cream fights. It just didn't look like a riot was about to happen. It was calm when I left."
Horace "Bud" DesRochers remembers feeling anything but calm as he was called into duty that day.
"I was 19 years old, the same age as most of the kids on the beach. I was making $1.50 an hour being on-call. I always wanted to be a fireman. I thought it was fun, but, boy, did I earn my money that night."
As the sun began to set, there were rumors circulating that kids were coming in from across the country for a riot. The bridge into Seabrook was closed, and an ominous rumble began in the vicinity of the Casino.
"It sounded like angry ocean coming in," DesRochers recalled. "We were all buttoned up' behind the Casino. There was a line of firefighters with an old 1921 water gun on one side and a line of police across the lot. Our job was to keep the crowds from burning the stations. If we lost those, we had no command posts."
With the yell, waves of teenagers and young adults surged up and down Ocean Boulevard. Several storefront windows were smashed in and some establishments were looted.
The firefighters used high-pressure hoses and the water cannon to meet the oncoming force. Meanwhile, the police, using night sticks and rock salt fired from shotguns, worked to cordon off young rioters.
Ray Whitcomb was part of the original Hampton K-9 Unit.
"I was certainly glad that I had Shep with me. I was with a cop from Portsmouth and a Navy shore patrolman. We had been called to a disturbance on one of the dead-end streets south of the Casino. When we were in the middle of the block, we heard lots of war cries behind us. There were about 500 kids coming right at us. Without the dog, we wouldn't have stood a chance.
"When I got home early in the morning, my wife wanted to give me the steak we were going to barbecue that night. I gave it to Shep, and told my wife, Without her, I wouldn't be sitting here now.'"
About midnight, a contingent of Maine State Police rolled in behind the Casino. Right behind it came truckloads of National Guardsmen.
Newspapers throughout the Northeast, including the New York Tribune, carried stories of the riot. Though the mob numbered about 10,000, instigators to the riot were never found. Only 150 would face any charges. Damage was assessed in the thousands of dollars, but no one was killed.
You may be wondering if this writer was there that night. No, if memory serves me, I believe I had an ice cream date that night.
Special thanks to Linda Metcalf of the Hampton Historical Society; retired policeman Ray Whitcomb; and retired firefighter Horace "Bud" DesRochers.
Michael Bisceglia is a former teacher and a resident of Hampton. His history column, A Stitch in Time, appears periodically in the Hampton Union's Currents section.