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Earth Day & the Unicorn

earth day 2017

Do you associate Earth Day with Ira Einhorn, the Unicorn?  Well, don’t!

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unicornFrom the German, the surname Einhorn could be translated “one horn”.  Perhaps this was among the reasons that Ira Einhorn, America’s consummate hippie on the 1970s, liked to call himself the Unicorn.  Unicorns possessed mystical qualities that must have appealed to Ira as well.  A touch of its horn could heal the sick and purify water.  It was irresistibly drawn to virgins, who were used as bait during medieval unicorn hunts. 

Leonardo DaVinci wrote in his notebooks:

unicorn huntThe unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear, it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it.

unicorn & mary

Because of its affinity for virgins, medieval Christian iconography frequently showed a unicorn with the Virgin Mother.  It came to represent the annunciation, and even Jesus Himself. 

However, the legend has a dark side, too.  Only a virgin can entrap this virtuous beast, and only through betrayal.

Marco Polo saw unicorns quite differently.  They were, he wrote:

marco polo…scarcely smaller than elephants. They have the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant’s. They have a single large black horn in the middle of the forehead… They have a head like a wild boar’s… They spend their time by preference wallowing in mud and slime. They are very ugly brutes to look at. They are not at all such as we describe them when we relate that they let themselves be captured by virgins, but clean contrary to our notions.

rhinoPolo seems to be describing the Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) which were common south central Asia in his day, though now they are rare and endangered.  A mostly nocturnal animal, they were seen by day most often through the shifting morning mists of their wetland habitat.  Generally peaceful, a male was prone to deadly violence when another male challenged his choice of mate.

Two very different kinds of unicorn, both embodied by Ira Einhorn:  the counterculture peacenik with aspiration to the mystical, who liked to call himself the Unicorn; and the angry lover and venal beast who, spurned by his girlfriend, became the Unicorn Killer.

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The Unicorn Killer

einhorn thinking 1Born into a middle-class Pennsylvania family, Einhorn studied at the University of Pennsylvania, where he became involved in the anti-war and nascent ecological movements.  Bearded, charismatic, and iconoclastic, Ira rose to prominence as Philadelphia’s #1 Hippie.  He advocated free love, peace and flower power.  On the first Earth Day in 1970, he became a sort of master of ceremonies for the live broadcast of outdoor events scheduled in Philadelphia.  It was a role that suited him well, appealing to his broad narcissistic streak.  He later claimed that Earth Day was his idea, and that he had been instrumental in organizing events across the country.  Other organizers challenge his account, and in fact, there is no record of his having done any organizing.

holly hippieHelen ‘Holly’ Maddux, flower child, was a stunning blonde from Tyler, Texas, attending Bryn Mawr College near Philly when she was drawn into the powerful vortex of the Unicorn.  During the years they lived together, though, Holly discovered that Ira had a dark side, jealous and verbally (at least) abusive.  After five years, she had had enough.  She moved to New York, and became involved with another man.  Incensed, Einhorn holly & irathreatened to throw her remaining belongings into the street if she did not come personally to collect them.  Against the advice of friends and family, she returned to Philadelphia to retrieve her things.  She was never seen alive again.

Meanwhile, Einhorn was cultivating new contacts among the local politicians and corporate bigwigs. Philadelphia’s upper crust invited him to elite parties; businesses hired him as their consultant for marketing to a counterculture growing ever more affluent.  On graduating from Penn, he had become a professional hippie, and was turning it into a lucrative career—a con man for the Age of Aquarius.  Yes, he told the police when they asked after Holly, she had been to the apartment, but she had gone to the co-op for tofu and sprouts, and never returned.

A year after Holly’s disappearance, neighbors noticed a nasty smell emanating from Einhorn’s apartment.  This annoyed but did not surprise, for his personal hygiene and housekeeping were both suspect, consistent with his status as a grown-up flower child.  Then the downstairs neighbors complained of a foul, reddish-brown liquid dripping into their apartment from Einhorn’s apartment, directly above.

When police responded, a nude Einhorn met them at the door.  He offered no resistance as they searched his apartment.  In his bedroom closet, they found a steamer trunk that contained shards of Styrofoam, crumpled newspaper, piles of air fresheners, and the decomposed remains of a woman, her skull smashed by multiple blows with a heavy object.

“Looks like we found Holly Maddox,” said the officer to the Unicorn.  “You found what you found,” was Ira’s sardonic reply.

crime scene

At his arraignment he was represented by Arlen Specter, who would soon begin a 30-year career in the U.S. Senate, represented Ira.  Arguing that his client was a nice Jewish boy from a good family who posed no peril to the public or risk of flight, Arlen got his bail reduced to $40,000.  The $4000 bond was paid by one of his wealthy society patrons.  He immediately fled to Europe and remained on the lam for 20 years.  He had already been arraigned, though, and his trial went forward.  In 1993, he was convicted in absentia of the murder of Holly Maddux.  He got life in prison with no possibility of parole.

einhorn returnsWhen he was finally located in France, extradition was difficult.  France had abolished the death penalty, and the treaty provided that they need not return a prisoner to a country that might execute him.  In 1972, the U.S Supreme court had suspended capital punishment until each state’s procedure could be reviewed and found to comply with the 8th amendment proscription of cruel and unusual punishment (Furman v. Georgia 408 US 238-1972).  In 1977, when the murder had occurred, Pennsylvania had not undergone that review; hence, Einhorn could not be executed then, and could not be now.  After four more years of haggling, France was compelled to return him to Philadelphia to stand trial.

einhorn trial sketchAt a new trial, the Unicorn’s defense was (pardon the pun) outside the box.  His power and righteousness had been so great back then, and his knowledge of secret government mind-control projects so damning, that unidentified enemies (the CIA or the KGB?), in a nefarious plot to neutralize him, had murdered Holly and planted her body in his apartment as a frame.  In self-defense, and out of respect for her vegan beliefs, he had decided to compost her in his closet. 

Had he produced reasonable doubt?  Hardly.  A jury took just two hours of deliberation to convict him of first degree murder.  He is serving life without parole.

bon voyage stinky

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Earth Day


Earth Day, by the way, was the idea of Gaylord Nelson, A Democrat who served as governor and senator for the great state of Wisconsin, and steadfastly refused credit for this signal achievement, preferring to believe that it just growed, like Topsy.  Still, his conservation chops put him in a league with Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and John Muir.  In 1946, he married Carrie Lee Dotson, a nurse he had met during his military service; both she and the marriage were going strong when he died at 89 of heart failure.  He had no use for colorful nicknames or boastful claims.  He just rolled up his sleeves (he was equally at home in denim and linen) and went to work.  He was the real deal.

nelson chats

As governor, Nelson’s overhaul of the state’s natural resource program brought him national recognition as the “conservation governor.” He took a chaotic bureaucracy and transformed it into a single Department of Resource Development. He established the Youth Conservation Corps that created green jobs for over 1,000 unemployed young people in the state. He fought to earmark $50 million for the Outdoor Recreation Action Program (ORAP) to acquire land for public parks and wilderness areas. The extreme popularity of his achievements in conservation paved Nelson’s road to the U.S. Senate in 1962. 

In 1969, having seen the empowerment derived from campus activism in the 1960s, Nelson proposed a day when citizens across the country would host events, preferably outdoors, to raise awareness of environmental problems, and encourage grass-roots political involvement. April, a season of rebirth and hope, seemed the perfect time. 


Judy Moody and Denis Hayes, staffers in the office of US Senator Gaylord Nelson, begin planning for the Environmental Teach-In, which became the first Earth Day

His proposal brought immediate, overwhelming support. National media widely broadcast the plans for this so-called “Earth Day” and enthusiastic letters flooded into Nelson’s office.  Engaged crowds turned out for planned events from coast to coast, including the one in Philly with the sleazy MC who wanted us to believe he dreamed the whole thing up.  He did not.  He was a charlatan, and ultimately a killer, who scammed a nation and then ran away

Nelson created a small national office to offer support to the thousands of grassroots efforts that sprung up everywhere, but he firmly rejected any top-down organization.  “Earth Day planned itself,” he later reflected, and in fact, it did, with just a nudge from Nelson.   An estimated 20 million Americans, young and old, gathered on April 22, 1970 to confront the ecological troubles in their cities, states, nation, and planet—and to demand action from themselves and from their elected officials.

nelson quote 1

Today, with so many of the environmental protections in peril from short-sighted attacks on regulation in any form, and greedy corporate interests that see that valuable natural resources now in public trust may soon become vulnerable to seizure by plutocrats for private gain.

This Earth Day, help the unicorns’ magical horns clean the water and heal the sick planet.  Let it doze not in the lap of a chaste maiden who will betray it, but in the mighty arms of mother Gaia, whom we can trust.  Let us gather behind them like a conquering horde, and advance together to make the Earth a better place tomorrow than it was yesterday.

…and don’t forget, April 28 is Arbor Day.  Make a note of it!

 C’mon, let’s go!