The very concept of “counter-protesters” at a protest demonstration is already absurd enough. Imagine the emphatic absurdity, then, of a full-fledged mêlée between left-wing and right-wing student protesters on a college campus–and then throw an onslaught of angry bees into the mix. Sounds like the plot of–pardon the pun–a “B” movie, doesn’t it?
Nevertheless, that’s exactly what happened on the University of Washington campus on the date in focus here. It all began at approximately 12:30 p.m., when roughly 300 members and sympathizers of the UW chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) attempted to shut down the UW’s Loew Hall–then the home of the UW Career Planning and Placement Center–in order to protest ongoing on-campus recruiting by representatives of the military-industrial complex (specifically, on that day, TransWorld Airlines; Aetna Life and Casualty Insurance Co.; and the U.S. Navy).
The scene quickly became confrontational as an organized group of right-wing anti-SDS students, along with a growing crowd of curious onlookers, prevented the SDS contingent from entering the building. The majority of the SDS group serendipitously managed to enter Loew through the back doors. Meanwhile, several spontaneous fisticuffs between angry right-wing students and angry left-wing students–ignited in part by an egg-throwing incident instigated by some among the anti-SDS crowd–quickly escalated into a full-blown radical campus free-for-all.
The absurdity, at this point, was only just beginning.
After SDS had gained effective control of Loew Hall, and at least 2,000 agitated students continued their aimlessly attempted catharses outside, a truck containing eight hives of bees, driven by two beekeepers from Eastern Washington’s Yakima Valley, abruptly stopped in front of the already absurd scene then unfolding in the plaza outside Loew’s main entrance. The abruptness of the stop caused one of the hives to overturn, and its wildly buzzing contents immediately swarmed out of the back of the truck and into the crowd. One of the drivers, clad in protective gear, then–and quite intriguingly–stepped out of the truck’s cab and began haphazardly handling the remaining hives, causing more understandably angry bees to be released, who then began stinging wildly, with noteworthy ideological neutrality.
Walt Crowley (1947-2007), the late radical Seattle historian and, at the time, a 21-year-old UW dropout, would recall the scene for the record many years later with delightfully mirthful pith: “The bees, being both apian and apolitical, stung leftists, rightists, neutrals, and police with equal enthusiasm.”
After several minutes, several of the students outside Loew Hall began pelting the truck with fruit and various other objects, including a brick that went through the truck’s windshield just before the driver took off.
In the sublimely entomological aftermath, no one at the scene was truly hurt–physically, anyway–yet much intrigue remained concerning the allegedly accidental nature of the event in question. The beekeepers involved volunteered their witness to the UW Daily the following week, claiming to have been merely seeking an academically trustworthy entomologist to examine their allegedly ailing freight. At the time, the UW had no entomology department–nor even a degree program in that field–and a mere two entomologists on its faculty.
The buzzing horde ultimately failed to break up the SDS demonstration, although 22 persons were later treated for bee stings at the UW’s Hall Health Center. Longstanding rumors of covert UW administration complicity in the attempted dispollination of radical UW student power by way of strategic serendipity that fateful day remain today unconfirmed.
–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Bruce Olson, “Groups Finalize Loew Plans,” University of Washington Daily, April 24, 1969, p. 1; Lee Rosen, “Placement Center Stays Open: Opposing Groups Clash in 4-Hour Student Confrontation at Loew Hall,” University of Washington Daily, April 25, 1969, p. 1; “Sleepy Bees: Common Denominator,” University of Washington Daily, April 25, 1969, p. 13; “Melees Erupt In Effort to Close Hall,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 25, 1969, p. 1; Melvin Goo, “Confusion Marks Shutdown Attempt,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 25, 1969, p. B; John Hinterberger, “The Many Signs of a Campus Demonstration at U.W.,” Seattle Times, April 25, 1969, p. 1; Julie Emery, “‘Bee-In Driver Is Sought,” Seattle Times, April 25, 1969, p. 16; Julie Emery and Svein Gilje, “Campus Tone Is Moderation,” Seattle Times, April 25, 1969, p. 16; “Student Fights Regretted by S.D.S.,” Seattle Times, April 25, 1969, p. 16; Richard Gollings, “Beekeepers Claim Accident,” University of Washington Daily, April 29, 1969, p. 1; Walt Crowley, “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (University of Washington Press, 1995, pp. 135-136).