Remembering “Clean for Gene” and “clapping for Carew”: Great Exhibit about 1968 at Minnesota Historical Society

Do you remember “Going clean for Gene (McCarthy)” hollering for Humphrey, or clapping for Carew (Rod)? “No,” probably would be the reply of about half of the people walking through the Minnesota Historical Society’s  (MHS) exhibit on 1968 last week. That’s because they weren’t alive or were very young in 1968.

Regardless of your age, I strongly recommend visiting the MHS to see this multi-media presentation of “the way we were.”   Here’s a place to start: The 1968 Exhibit

Whatever your political views, you’ll find powerful parallels between national divisions then and now. You’ll find film, frustration, and sometimes fun.  There are examples of serious and silly songs of the era.  A  month-by-month chronology lists momentous events such as Tet Offensive in January, stunning the United States which thought the VietNam war was almost over, and that “we” had won.  Dr. Martin Luther King, and later in the year, Robert Kennedy, were murdered.

Minnesota’s two US Senators, Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey, battled for the Democratic presidential nomination. Thousands of college students decided to get a haircut and cut beards, hoping attract votes by being “clean for Gene.  Amidst all this, Minnesota Twin Rod Carew was named an American League All Star.

Memories vary, depending on age.

Roman Pierskalla, Rogers High School Principal recalls:

“I was 12 years old and living on the south side of Chicago.  I remember riots breaking out one day in the school I attended and policeman dressed in full riot gear lining the sidewalks at school as students were released to go home until tensions eased.  It was a time of tension in many areas.  The Vietnam War, riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy and the fight for Civil Rights dominated the headlines.  It was also a time of hippies, flower children, drug experimentation and some of the best music every produced.”

Jay Haugen, Farmington Superintendent wrote,

“I was eight years old through most of 1968. While it is hard to have too detailed of memories of world events from such a young age, I do remember my parents being glued to the television watching for details of the deaths of two great men. I knew that one had been President Kennedy’s brother whose death had meant that as a very young child I’d go two days without eating much of anything but carrot sticks as my Mom was in shock over the event. I remember thinking after Robert Kennedy’s death that it was pretty risky to be a great man.”

Curt Tryggestad, Little Falls superintendent, wrote,

“I was ten years old and don’t remember much other than farm life and playing baseball with the family whenever we could steal some time away from chores.”

Chuck Ehler, now Rushford-Peterson superintendent recalled,

“I was a junior in high school in 1968… it seemed like things were happening so fast.  There was a country- wide movement against the establishment and ideology of “might makes right.”…
There was lots of unrest and violence was viewed as the only means to get one’s point of view heard.  It was like the whole country was angry and they were willing to express in any forms and means possible… the country seemed to be out of control and coming apart at the seams!”

1968 was an incredible year.  The Minnesota Historical Society has done a great service by recalling these times and providing terrific materials for students and schools.