Beat Museum, San Francisco

On the Road by Jack Kerouac is a classic book that transports you to a time and place and encompasses a generation. After reading that book I became obsessed with idea of the Beatniks, reading everything Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs I could find at the library. San Francisco was significant to the movement, so it is only natural that the Beat Museum [540 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133] would live in the city.

The two floors of the space are filled with memorabilia – artifacts, snippets of information, artwork, and poetry from key figures.

I loved the handwritten painted poems.

The bittersweet cheery yet wilting painting of a tall blossom surrounded by associated works, Ah! Sunflower by William Blake – an influence of Allen Ginsberg who wrote Sunflower Sutra.

Definitely not a beat (born in 1757), but just an extra tidbit, Blake wrote one of my all time favorite poems Auguries of Innocence, ‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,’ read it sometime. Back to beats, you may know Neal Cassady as Dean Moriarty or Cody Pomeray – whatever name you call him he was the epicenter of it all. When you hear the word beatnik, you may think of black turtleneck sweaters and Jazz, and it isn’t too far off. Jazz was strongly linked within the culture, and Cassady’s style of rapid rhythmic speaking is intertwined with the music.

Cassady was in the middle of many love triangle, with his different mistresses or wives, most notably Carolyn. She was married to Neal and they had children together, but he would leave her every so often. He even encouraged her to have an affair with Jack Kerouac and she wrote a memoir, Heart Beat: My Life with Jack and Neal which is on my ‘to-read’ list.

As the 50s turned into 60s, the better known ‘hippie’ generation was about to begin. Cassady was the bridge between the two – he was the drier of the Ken Kesey psychedelic bus!

There is a full length movie that plays if you have all the time in the world. With an interest in the time period, this is an excellent museum to visit – close to SF’s Chinatown.

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