Occasionally, someone in Lawrence will walk by wearing a “Keep Lawrence Weird” shirt. Wistfully, the wearer longs for the days when hippie counter-culture ruled the small college town. As wonderful as that feeling was at the time, such thoughts today are only a regretful longing.
Peace and love of the 60’s grew into protest and eventually KU campus destruction by the 70’s. The world was changing as rapidly as it ever has changed. Riding that wave of change, a hippie with an entrepreneurial bent opened a restaurant on south Massachusetts Street in 1974, naming it the Cornucopia. An old two-story house, with a newer dining area attached became an instant hit. Owner Glen Sohl took on partner Todd Murrell in 1976. Together, they brought to Lawrence the benefits of natural foods, a trend sweeping through California at the time. The cornerstone of the Cornucopia was the use of natural grains to bake wonderful breads and rolls and, likely, the first giant salad bar in the Midwest.
Soaking in the aroma of the freshly baked bread while creating a mountain of lettuce and other fresh produce on my plate remains a joy of the time. During those wonderful days, nowhere did the feeling of peace and contentment ring truer than sitting in the Cornucopia with friends, our stomachs delightfully full. At the time, I rarely ate elsewhere when visiting Lawrence. The old house eventually disappeared, yet, long after the “summer of love” became a distant memory I still stopped at what remained of the Cornucopia to create my personal salad of love.
Sadly, in 1986, the Cornucopia closed, and with it Lawrence’s last monument to a glorious time. A variety of restaurants continued in the location with the last being the Italian restaurant, Bambino’s. Every time Laura and I ate there, the footprint of the old salad bar remained etched into the floor as a reminder of past good times. As a sign of Lawrence’s modern times, Bambino’s moved to the west side of Lawrence where the sensibilities of hippie life have, in my mind, been replaced by material gluttony.
Lawrence really is far from weird anymore. However, that does not mean there is not weirdness in Lawrence. Recently, while driving along Massachusetts, I saw a sign that immediately brought me to a stop. The old Cornucopia now houses the Lawrence branch of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
As the hippie movement of the 60’s and 70’s questioned every aspect of life, nothing represented that questioning more than the Vietnam War. Sadly, as the protests over the reprehensible war became more confrontational, young Americans, drafted into a cause few believed in anymore, took the brunt of the mounting frustration.
It took many years after those tumultuous times for a certain sense of peace to bring the combatants to a closer understanding. As weird as it seems, it actually is very fitting for Lawrence’s veterans of that horrible Vietnam War to now have the opportunity to find their “peace, love and understanding” in the same building that once helped keep Lawrence weird.