Artfully packed into a compact space that includes a screening room, combination gift shop and book store, and a 1949 Hudson just like the one driven by Dean Moriaty in On the Road, you'll find a plethora of other unique and interesting exhibits dedicated to the innovative and influential development in American letters known as the Beat movement. Above the automobile hangs a framed picture of Neal Cassady, the character's inspiration, sitting behind the wheel of its real-life counterpart. The car on display was used in the 2012 film adaptation of Kerouac's story directed by Walter Salles.
Elsewhere on display is Cassady's shirt; visitors can also spot Harold Norse's hat in a display case just feet from where the early out poet gave his last public reading in 2009. The organ owned by Allen Ginsberg on which he composed Ginsberg Sings Blake, which had been kept in the home of poet Gary Snyder, now sits in a corner on the museum's second floor. There's a wealth of historic photographs: William Burroughs with Jimmy Page taken for a story in Crawdaddy magazine; protests in support of the Living Theatre Harold Adler in 1974; a number of photographs by Rolling Stone staff photographer Robert Altman, part of a major exhibition that accompanied the launch party at the museum for the release of his book The Sixties: Photographs by Robert Altman and which are now part of the museum's permanent collection.
Longtime staffer Brandon Loberge began working there after a college friend, appalled at his ignorance of Kerouac and company, introduced him to The Beats. Now Loberge can give you a detailed backstory on hundreds of historic objects and the famous or obscure personalities connected with them. Loberge is a capable stand-in for Beat aficionado and collector Jerry Cimino and his wife Estelle, the owners and founders of the museum. Formerly the proprietors of the Fog City Facts and Fiction bookstore in Monterrey, the Ciminos used to display Jerry's collection of Beat pictures and ephemera in their store. When it outgrew the space, Cimino naturally took it on the road, touring college campuses in an RV with John Allen Cassady, son of Neal and Carolyn.
San Francisco being the epicenter of the Beat movement, it was the logical place for a permanent home and the museum settled at its current location at 540 Broadway in 2006 after briefly occupying spaces at the Live Worms Gallery on Grant Avenue and The Cannery. Although the museum is a commercial enterprise, a non-profit organization attached to it, the Friends of the Beat Museum, facilitates tax-deductible contributions to the permanent collection, and also supports programing like The Beat Museum Presents event series which incorporates live performances, lectures, and discussions. For a complete schedule consult kerouac.com or call 1-800-KEROUAC.
Writer and bon vivant J. Eric Miller lives, loves, and laughs in San Francisco and its environs. Follow his further adventures at: theupsanddownsofsanfrancisco.tumblr.com.