Historic America Reviews

Carbondale After Dark: An Underground History of SIU

The following is not a fable — it all really happened and it has no morals.”

I first became aware of H.B. Koplowitz’s Carbondale After Dark and Other Stories while I was doing research on Southern Illinois University for a book on the legends and lore of Illinois colleges. Carbondale After Dark was first published by the author in 1982. A 25th anniversary limited edition was released in 2007. The new edition contains a foreword by actor Dennis Franz, a Backword by humorist P.S. Mueller, and of course a new acknowledgements by the author himself.

At 132 pages, Carbondale After Dark can almost be read in one sitting, but you will want to pick it apart piece by piece. The book contains standalone articles (as opposed to one linear narrative) so there is no need to read it from cover to cover.

During the 1960s and ‘70s, SIU-C went from a small rural teacher’s college to a major university in just a few short years. That shift permanently altered the landscape of Carbondale, Illinois, creating what became known as “the Strip.” Since then, the Strip has been the scene of mass parties, riots, and a lot of fond memories. H.B. Koplowitz was right in the middle, writing for alternative publications and documenting these changes as they happened.

Carbondale After Dark is divided into three sections: The Strip, Pontifications, and A Koplowitz Now. The highlight of the book is the section devoted to Carbondale’s Strip, which also takes up the most amount of pages. What particularly stands out is a year-by-year history of the strip, from its inception to the early 1980s. Student parties and protests are mentioned, but the author also documents the origin of SIU’s massive annual Halloween party, which was a fixture of campus life until a particularly devastating riot in 2000.

“Seven Days in May,” also in this section, chronicles the 1970 student demonstrations that erupted after the Kent State shootings. The disturbances at SIU didn’t grab national headlines, but they were large enough to warrant intervention by the National Guard. Illustrated by photos from the Southern Illinoisan and Daily Egyptian, the article paints a colorful picture of that tumultuous week.

In one dramatic scene, the author wrote, “A disciplined line of National Guardsmen drove the rioters south. But the mob reformed near the Lutheran Center, at Freeman and University, and when the soldiers got to the area they were showered with a hailstorm of rocks and bottles. Observers saw several guardsmen fall under the barrage, but the soldiers did not break ranks. Several soldiers fired tear gas toward the crowd, but the rioters refused to disburse and continued to pelt the guard with debris.”

The remaining articles in Carbondale After Dark are a collection of various writings from the author, some of which were published in the Daily Egyptian and underground publications in Carbondale.

One of the most moving of these is entitled “A Mystery of Madness: Who Let Frank Hall Down?” Frank and the author grew up together in Carbondale, and the article chronicles his friend’s slow descent into insanity, homelessness, and institutionalization. The mystery is never solved, and Koplowitz is unable to provide a definitive answer, despite wrestling with several turning points in Frank’s life. In life, however, there no easy answers, especially when it comes to mental illness.

Carbondale After Dark is a fascinating glimpse back in time, written in a tone and style that whisks you away to the tumultuous decades of the 1960s and ‘70s. It is worth picking up if you can find a copy.

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