Back in the Days of Aquarius – The “Liberator” Rises in Ocean Beach

by on June 22, 2009 · 10 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, History, Ocean Beach, San Diego, War and Peace

Norman Lamssies stand in his front yard in Imperial Beach, California, June 2009. Photo: Frank Gormlie

Former OBcean Published OB’s First Underground Newspaper

In 1966 the cultural revolution that was sweeping the country washed up on the shores of Ocean Beach. Long haired men and patchouli-scented women began showing up on the streets. A few head shops, like the Paisley Pelican, opened. Be-ins, love-ins and a new ethos manifested themselves, starting in OB and spreading throughout the community.

A radio station (KPRI, back then at 106.5)) started playing “underground” music featuring bands like the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & The Holding Company and the Greatful Dead. The war in Vietnam loomed large, with protests and a strong current of pacifism woven into the emerging consciousness. And, somewhere in the mists of that long ago upheaval, OB resident Norman Lamssies  began to print the Liberator, an underground newspaper.

OBRagsters Frank Gormlie and myself tracked Norman down not long ago, living in a south beach community, and visited him, hoping for a chance to view early copies of the paper.

After an hour or so of socializing—you got the feeling he was sizing us up to make sure we could be trusted–, he led us into a back closet in his home and we began the arduous process of digging through boxes of stuff from the past. He spent a bunch of time photographing the upheaval in Mexico during the 1960’s, and there were countless old newspapers and photographs, each documenting the many paths Norman has followed throughout his life.

Finally, we hit pay dirt—copies of the Liberator. Not a complete collection, but enough of a sampling to give a feel of what it was like on the streets of OB back then. Reading those old papers and visiting with Norman brought back a flood of memories, as I played a part in the creation of many of those editions.

Norman is a person who was ahead of his time. He’d moved to OB in 1954 from Chicago, after serving in the Korean conflict. He was (and is) a non-conformist in the truest sense of the word, viewing the world from an alternate universe. Although to look at him, you could hardly call Norman a hippie, his libertarian outlook, artistic sensibilities and anti-authoritarian point of view made him a natural supporter of the counter-cultural commotion that manifested itself on the streets of Ocean Beach.

Norman had a strong dislike of the San Diego Police Department, and for that matter, any authority figure. He was a frequent witness to the SDPD’s attempts to enforce the cultural “norms” of the time, photographing and witnessing their harassment of the growing movement. At some point in his life he’d acquired a small offset press. Working out of garage not far from the beach cottage he shared with his mother, he gave birth to a smudgy and irregularly published “SD Liberator”. (Later on it morphed into just the “Liberator”.) Asked exactly when he started publishing, Norman responded, “I don’t do timelines well”.

I started working with the Liberator in the summer of 1968 not long after graduating from Point Loma High. I’d left behind a normal middle class home on Point Loma, radicalized by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and moved in at 4910 Orchard Street with a group of Vietnam Vets and fellow City College students who’d embraced the hippie movement in a big way.

It didn’t take long for us to become up close and personal with the local law enforcers. It seemed like we’d get stopped by the same group of officers every day as we went about our business in OB. Officer Abbott was our favorite, as he’d call us by name, before asking for ID’s and shaking us down. Anti-war buttons were cause for extra harassment; sometimes it would take an hour plus just to walk down to Newport Avenue.

At some point we ended meeting Norman after a particularly nasty visit with San Diego’s Finest. My roommate Jim Herman signed on as editor. Roommate Terry Galbraith had considerable talent as a cartoonist. And I’d spent my senior year at Point Loma selling ads for the school paper, so it was decided that I would handle selling ads. Steve took great pictures of the cops whenever there was a “police riot”. “Juice” typed up stories, “Dennis” sold papers around town, and we all spent late nights pasting up galleys and hoping that what ever we printed would be legible. Eventually we found another printer with a better press and started farming out the presswork.

The Liberator wasn’t “political” in the same sense that the OB Rag Newspaper would later become. At that point in time, we were more “cultural”, using more often than not satire to attack the “establishment” and the culture it represented. Some of the stuff we printed was just plain silly, and there certainly was no consciousness of sexism on our part.

I think we stayed with the Liberator for about six months. Norman went off to Mexico (he did come back to publish some later editions); Jim Herman got busted for possession up in San Luis Obispo; somebody stole Terry’s fine art pens; and I started getting involved with campus anti-war politics. Sadly, I’ve lost touch with all these folks over the years.

Do take some time to browse the various pages of the Liberator that we’re posting with this story. It was a wild and crazy time back at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Sparling June 22, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Wonderful story, out of Korea in 54 makes him a year ahead of the old hermit. I got out in 55. This means he was in when the first major war for the military industrial complex was still in the kill humans stage. Glad he made it out OK. I was lucky I landed in Inchon 2 weeks after the signed the peace thing. Sure wish I had moved to OB then and joined in the fun. Thanks again for a great story.


Larry OB June 24, 2009 at 6:38 pm

I remember that commie pinko champion of the proletariat. One of those Volkswagon commies that saw merit in the use of interchangable parts. He even built his own tiny catamaran that could disassemble and fit inside a VW bus. Anti consumer AND anti tralier…how unAmerican is that? You should have asked him which side of the Korean conflict he fought for. He was also involved with that Bob Oaks jazz crowd. I can only wonder how many poor souls were subverted by their devil music. Hmmm…what’s up with bird guard on the fountain, Norm? Or is that a cat repeller?


Larry OB June 24, 2009 at 10:53 pm

All kidding aside, Norm is an inspiration. Self sufficient, not anti consumer. He doesn’t just work on his own car. He makes his own parts cleaning solutions and special tools like a custom bearing puller. A handyman with a wide variety of skills from sail making to widget design. He’s a lot like the professor on Gilligan’s Island, except with a dose of Mr. Howell and a little pinch of Ginger in him. When the Russians invaded Afghanistan he was on the phone to his broker right away to talk about the price of gold. Champion of the Proletariat…well maybe not exactly. Subversive? Forget the printing press. This commie has a piano.


molemania June 25, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Norm’s mom was a Christian Scientist so he can’t be all bad. Great article Norm!!


King of Nobes June 25, 2009 at 7:08 pm

Larry OB introduced me to Norman back somewhere in
1980. He reminded me of that guy named SpaceMan.
Larry said he was a original and that with Norman
they broke the mold.
He treated me with respect and seemed like a good guy.
Hello Bursar 2009 Adjudicator Larry OB ‘Lord Leverage’ Master Pulleys Lord of Levers Cave Speleologist O’Brian of the Fellowship of Men
-da king-


Max Razo October 28, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Worked with Norm and a great crew. Handed out alot of issues of the Lib! came with bumps and bruises from the fucken MAN! Power to the people! Got a book I wrote just released, title “Born Under a Bad Sign” got chapter with my expierences with the lib. Check it out. and I hope ypu will support it. Some of the proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society. cause I’m battling Lymphoma C right now. It’s a good read, but only for mature readers! C-Ya!! MAX… Book Web Site Max


Paul Morton June 7, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Hey, Norm if you are out there, contact me. We are in San Diego only until the end of June, 2010.


Frank Gormlie June 7, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Paul, I emailed Norm for you, giving him your email address.


Max razo November 29, 2019 at 4:27 pm

I remember i use to pick up bundles of liberator i was only sixteen passing them out to the masses. My distain for SDPD came from the Hard knocks from STP Day also known as stop the pig day rally at Balboa park when SD’s finest came to knock heads! I came to the conclusion when cops break the law their just another gang! Norm was always cool to me and i was proud to help the cause. Power to the people! Always


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