Rainbows Come To The Forest Gathering Arouses Curiosity In A Conservative Town

Posted: July 03, 1986

WARREN, Pa. — The 17-year-old was heading out to the weekly meeting of the Pleasant Volunteer Fire Company - shiny badge on shiny windbreaker - but he had a moment to speak his mind about the Rainbows.

"Most people think negative toward them," Dan Leasure said, because the locals are turned off by "the long hair and the clothing."

"People think they're bad because they look bad."

Leasure lives three miles south of this town in northwestern Pennsylvania, at a point where the houses end and the Allegheny National Forest begins.

Deep in that forest, the loose-knit Rainbow Family is holding its 15th annual nationwide Gathering - a weeklong collection of environmentalists, peace workers, aging flower children and the free-spirited.

They are a curiosity in this politically conservative corner of the country. Some local residents say that, like the bears, they should be free to roam the woods as long as they are out of sight.

But some here have seen them, and they say that what they have seen is sad.

"They're in their own world - or trying to find it, and that is their problem," said John Pearson, 22, at a Texaco station on the main street where he works pumping gas.

Rainbows have come by asking directions and there have been no problems, he said, but "the more I know about them, the less I want to know."

Some bedraggled Rainbows have been in town looking for used clothes and rooting through dumpsters for food.

"For this area, it's sure bizarre," said John O'Connor, 28, manager of the only McDonald's in town, of those he has seen scrounging through what his restaurant has thrown out.

"There are a few that have done crazy things - such as use our restrooms and wash up quite extensively," he said. "Most of them are very good people," O'Connor added.

"I've had some of my people who went up and brought back literature" from the Gathering about the environmental and peace

aims of the Rainbows. "It's kind of interesting," O'Connor said.

Dr. David Clifford, 32, a family physician who lived in the Philadelphia suburb of Dresher, Montgomery County, until three years ago, was out jogging on the road into the forest the other evening.

"This is generally a conservative part of Pennsylvania - even redneck," he said. But his neighbors seem to think, he said, "as long as they don't bother us, it's OK."

Down in the woods yesterday, the Rainbows in their tepees and tents, campers and live-in buses scattered through miles of timberland were drying out from overnight thunderstorms and a drizzly dawn. A couple of naked young women were drying their clothes by the heat of the main campfire and some children were building stone sculptures in a stream.

Half an hour's walk away, one late-night reveler was sleeping too soundly to be shaken awake, still in his clothes in a chair outside a bus, with Texas plates, labeled the International Coffee and Tea House.

"We saw them out at the Salvation Army collection," in Warren, Harvey Long, 41, was saying yesterday of the Rainbows as he walked along a forest road near Hearts Content, the nearest settlement to the Gathering.

They weren't contributing, he said, they were collecting. They looked, he added, as if they needed to.

But the scruffy and hungry Rainbows, the down-and-outers who draw attention, do not seem to be the majority. Others are driving into the Gathering in decent-looking cars and sleeping out in expensive tents.

Who these outsiders are is itching the locals. "They're curious," Martha Long, 45, said yesterday, walking with her husband. "We were in college in the '60s, so we're familiar with hippies," she said. She and husband teach at high schools in a suburb of Erie and are summer hosts at the Hearts Content campground. But even some of the Gathering, she said, are out of touch with the worth of the '60s flower-power movement.

"They drive in" to ask directions to the Gathering, she said, "18 to 19 years old, California plates, and with 'we're going to party' on their minds."

"They have no idea," she said, "of what the '60s were all about."

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