Okoboji Phantom: 1965 Riot by: greg drees

"Youthful civil disobedience still infamous…"

It gave a whole new meaning to the term 'Independence Day.' And it depends on whose memory you test as to how violent the uprising actually was, but the mob action that became known as the Arnolds Park Riot that rocked the Iowa Great takes over the 4th of July weekend in 1965 still evokes notorious memories.

Although some of the news accounts are conflicting, most reports from that experience almost a half-centru ago concur that as the bars on Broadway Street and along a short street near the amusement park known as 'tavern row' in Arnolds Park began to close just before 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, July 4, 1965, a large and boisterous college-aged crowd spilled onto the streets, not yet ready to quit partying. Chants of "We want beer, we want booze" began to emanate from the assemblage, foretelling a harrowing next few hours of events.

Mayor Ben Saunders of Arnolds Park estimated the crowd at about 700 youths. More generous guesses pushed the number to 2,500. Whatever the exact tally, it was a large enough group to warrant calls to law enforcement squads and fire departments from surrounding communities, including Highway Patrol recruits and even National Guard volunteers.

The crowd of rioters took to hurling rocks, beer cans and bottles, "anything they could get their hands on," one officer recalled. The result was broken squad car windows and bruised and cut bodies. Arnolds Park police chief Milo Lenz wore a bandage on a cut ear the next morning from hurled debris. Arnolds Park volunteer fireman Ralph Gregerson suffered a fractured wrist, sever head lacerations and extensive bruises as the result of being dragged 50 feet behind a vehicle of mob participants. Damage to an estimated 100 law enforcement vehicles was extensive.

Chief Lenz reported that the rioters started a bonfire in from of the Peacock Nightclub near the amusement park and "threw everything into it- T-shirts, sweatshirts,lumber, barricades, signs, everything." That part of the mayhem wasn't quieted until about 2 a.m., when firemen quelled he crowd with fire hoses and tear gas. "We then moved them out with sawed-off shotguns," Lenz said.

Mayor Saunders wasted no time in handing out justice, holding court at City Hall beginning around 3 a.m. Sunday and continuing through the afternoon. One of the first to be sentenced by Saunders )to 30 days in the county jail at Spirit Lake) was 22-year old Monte Lee Lockerby of Council Bluffs, identified by many of law enforcement offers and the ringleader of the whole uprising. Special Policeman Forrest McCann testified that Lockerby and a buddy started at the state pier just north of the amusement pair and headed toward the Peacock Nightclub. "He'd stop and holler, 'Riot', riot'," McCann said. "He threw his hands up in the air and said 'Let's tear up this town'." Hundreds of other were then lured into participating in the escalating riot.

In all, more than 150 youths were arrested, taken into court and fined on charges ranging from unlawful assembly to intoxication and illegal possession of beer as minors.

As dawn broke on Sunday morning, the heart of Arnolds Park was littered with debris from the events that had unfolded just hours before. Volunteer clean up crews, however, made quick work of any signs of disorder by midday. By the time vacationers, holiday visitors and locals took to the streets that day there was mary a sign remaining from the predawn uprising. Yet the emotional aftermaths trot hose involved continued to linger for a long time thereafter. Dickinson County sheriff Bob Baker put it succinctly the next day. "They (the rioters) acted like a bunch of wild men. It was a riot, no doubt about that."


Photos by David Thoreson

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