Once Upon a Time in Hell

What if there were a chemical reason for the chain reaction of the summer of 1969?

A series of odorless but nonetheless noxious fumes: Ben Day dots that color the smog and shape the layers of subterranean gases that swirl from sewer grates and lifted slabs of sidewalk.

A demonic air of delusion that surrounds a comic book Antichrist, satisfying his carnal delectations and furthering (for a time) his criminal designs.

What if an airborne toxic event were the cause of Charles Manson’s August killing spree?

What if the event were only visible while tripping, so as to disguise Manson in the psychedelia of peace and love rather than the blood rituals of his own psychosis? 

This much I know: Hollywood made Manson a star.

How else to explain his ascension, his literal rise from the effluvia of Sunset Boulevard to his entrée in the Hollywood Hills?

In what other time and place could an illiterate ex-convict, dressed as an itinerant street Jesus, convince Dennis Wilson and Terry Melcher that he was Him; that he was worthy of their worldly goods and adoration; that he could park his blue-black school bus, open its folding door, and sashay into Wilson’s home; that Wilson was his doppelgänger, offering food and shelter—and three acres of prime real estate—for the satisfaction of the bastard son of a prostitute and his harem of runaways, teens, and children?

More remarkable is how unremarkable these events were, given the context of the late 1960s.

Given the day, March 21, 1967, when Manson left Terminal Island Federal Prison. 

Given the weather that day, cool and clear, before the inferno. Given later years, when, one year prior to the 25th anniversary of a flash and a fireball, when the winds of war ended the war in the Pacific, when 24 years later, on August 9, 1969, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Tex Watson left the residence at 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles.

Linda Kasabian drove them home.

Visibility that day was half what it was the day Manson had left prison.

Pictures of the sky that day bear the dust trail of the devil winds.

Pictures of that day recall the words about the Trinity, not the rites of the Tridentine Mass.

The words bring to mind an incandescent soul, though the verse applies more aptly to the lights of a perverted killer:

Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

Photo credit: Bettmann/Getty Images

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