home icon

'The Year 1968' Puts a Generation on Display

A traveling exhibit looks at a groovy — and tumultuous — year, man

By John Stark | August 30, 2012

What’s the old joke — if you remember the Sixties, you weren’t there?

Well, if that’s the case, you can find out what you missed — or forgot — at “The 1968 Exhibit,” a traveling, state-of-the-art, multi-media show that looks at the turbulent events that took place that extraordinary year. I visited the exhibit, which was organized by the Minnesota History Center, the Chicago History Museum and the Oakland Museum of California, when it was first in St. Paul, Minn., last spring. It takes about an hour to see — any longer, and you'll think you're having a bad flashback. 
 
It’s hard to believe that so much went down in one year, from the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy to the election of Richard Nixon. Then there was the Vietnam War, but I don’t need to remind you of that, or Lyndon Johnson, Laugh-In and the Beatles.
 
You enter the exhibit via a typical middle-class, mid-century American living room, which is juxtaposed to a Huey U.S. Vietnam helicopter. Contradiction is the theme of the show as 1968 marked the point at which the first wave of boomers came of age and the Viet Nam War reached its peak. If you think we’re a divided country now, just look at the display cases: Our top movies then? Bonnie and Clyde and The Green Berets. Our favorite movie stars?  Jane Fonda and John Wayne. As for singersJanis Joplin meet Perry Como.
 
On the Sunday afternoon that I saw the exhibit, it was jam-packed — and not just with aging boomers but with people of all ages. A lot of today's college kids were there (and I'm not giving names, but I saw some of you rolling your eyes at the photos of our generation in tie-dyed shirts and psychedelic headbands).

If you really want to impress your kids or grandkids (while testing your long-term memory), you should play the interactive trivia game at the end of the exhibit. Watching others try to answer questions about 1968, I couldn't help blurting out the correct answers, like "Bob Eubanks!" and "The Cream!” 
 
Hey, maybe I was there after all.
 
Slideshow and Touring Schedule

Here then is a slideshow of assorted images from the exhibit. If you'd like to see it in person, it's at the Oakland Museum in Oakland, Calif., through November 25; the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh from Feb. 1, 2013, to April 28, 2013; the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia from June 7, 2013, to September 2, 2013, and the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis from Oct. 5, 2013, to January 5, 2014.

Peace.
 

Newsletter
Next Avenue in your Inbox

Each week we'll send you stories, perspective and advice.